Archive for the ‘Construction Techniques’ Category

Where did all the ‘fun’ mugs go?


Roy Overcast - Teaching at Mid-South CeramicsLast year while participating in a clay workshop with Roy Overcast I learned more about the history and construction of puzzle mugs and fuddling cups than I ever imagined. The history extends back when ceramicists over 1000 years ago produced statuary that included ocarina or flute-like functionality. All to say, that Dr. Bowen’s discovery of MugPhlutes should not surprise anyone…nor should my interest in adding whimsy to traditionally functional pots.

Purely by accident, I recently discovered an amazing artist who plays the Teacarina… a rather sophisticated cup that incorporates a four-hole ocarina. It is time to do some exploration of the four hole fingering system for ocarinas. There are some one-handed designs floating around in my head that may require the skills of a second hand, not to mention a few mystical stories from Dr. Bowen.

Comments Off on Primordial Face

Primordial Face


'Playing by Ear' WhistleSome of the earliest whistles and whistle pendants that I assembled included facial features and complete faces…it isn’t an original idea at all but it is definitely fun. The “Playing by Ear” whistle on the right is a favorite concept that needs to be revisited…but not now.  Small whistles happen by a campfire when small pieces are about the only things that I feel comfortable transporting in a delicate, greenware condition and frankly, a campfire is not a pleasant image in Middle Tennessee’s unseasonably hot weather (I regress).

So last night while procrastinating over a honey-do list and watching The Fugitive for the umteenth time, a subconscious acknowledgment the face-in-a-flute concept happenedFace of Primordial Music - OcarinaThis little guy’s face seemed to find his way out of the time-consuming texturing and finger-hole placement and into the world.  The usual curly handle of this series of ocarinas somehow sprouted a nose…and the next thing you know, he is a full octave, primordial faced, ocarina.

Dr. Bowen has been jabbering about broken flutes discovered at Uxmalico… something about captured breath that enters a flute being transformed into something ethereal.  Today’s technology can explain the harmonic vibrations that occur when a column of air splits at the fipple of an instrument and produces a tone.  For ancient Mesoamericans, wouldn’t it make sense that the transformation of human breath into something god-like via a magical implement would be logical?…and the act of breaking a flute at a burial site could represent the unbinding of a last breath to release the departed into an afterlife.  Ahhh, theory and mystery…more, later from Dr. B.

Another Weekend, Another Ocarina


B-Flat Ocarina in stonewareFriends are telling me that an ocarina of this size (approximately 7″ tall and roughly 4″ wide) is a better option for a shelf display than some of the earlier MugPhlutes that are two and three times that size.  That sounds pretty good to me, since this sized piece takes much less time to craft,  is easier to voice, and probably won’t takes weeks of slow drying to avoid warpage and cracking.

So, what’s with the mezoamerican looking pots, anyway?
My reading and research continues on glyphs that feature references to Mayan music, K’ojom.  There are only hints that musical notation ever made it to print and those artifacts have disappeared over time due to the frailty of the bark paper used for writing.  To say that music was never carved in stone illustrates the higher status of the scribes compared to the status of the musical priesthood.  Dr. Bowen’s personal experiences at the Uxmalico archeological site bears witness to this:

EB Note Top“It is becoming clearer each day that conflict developed between the scribes and the MugPhlute priests. Can it be mere coincidence that references to music played for high calendar, astronomical events clearly identifies the date, who ruled the event, what instruments were played…but have the names of the musicians obliterated? Something odd happened at Uxmalico. Something powerful…and it involved the impact of music at these events.  Was there jealousy between those who chronicled these events into stone and those whose music from the event became portable and available in the lowest of households?  Was music a threat to the status of the scribes?  Did the evolution of sophisticated instruments and talented players elevate music to a status beyond simple songs of every day Mayan life?

We’re excavating an area that has exposed large quantities of shards of pipe and bulbous ceramic shapes.  At first glance it appears as little more than a garbage dump from a ceremonial clean-up, but there is a layer below with skeletal remains aligned in a manner to suggest burial of the living.  What did these individuals do to meet their fate in such a cruel fashion?  So many questions and so many new markings to interpret. ”
EB Signature

Comments Off on New Pinch Pot Ball Ocarina in “C”

New Pinch Pot Ball Ocarina in “C”


Pinch Pot Ball Whistle - OcarinaWithout the benefit of specialized workshops or classes on musical instrument construction, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into the learning process.  I would contend that the earliest Mezoamericans who began constructing flutes of clay would relate to the trial and error experiences of construction…compounded by the challenges of inconsistent clay and unpredictable firing techniques.  All that to say, with some additional reading and research on handbuilt ocarinas, I changed the approach to assembly of these pinch pot ball instruments to allow for last minute adjustments in the air way, tone hole, and fipple edge. The result is a much better quality in the instrument’s tone, tuning and perhaps better ergonomics.  Additionally, feet appear on all of the newest versions with the thought that table (or shelf) display will be the best way to present the finished products… I’m not crazy about the foot, but there are practical considerations that might avoid breakage from rolling off a display area.

This particular piece is approximately 8″ tall, plays in the key of “C” in the green ware state, and is constructed from Standard’s mid-fire, Brooklyn Red clay.

Comments Off on Pinch Pot Ball Ocarinas

Pinch Pot Ball Ocarinas


Pinch Pot Ball Ocarina - Finger HolesOf all the flutes, whistles, and ocarinas that I have posted on, the one that seems to show up in search engine results the most often is a simple pinch pot ball whistle from 2008. Entering the search string, Pinch Pot Whistle, into Google image search generally pulls that same image up within the top few results. There are several conclusions that one can draw from that, but I prefer to think that there are other people experimenting with hand-constructed whistles using nothing more than simple pinch pots.

Pinch Pot Ball Ocarina - Head and FippleThis particular piece employs the same basic construction, but raises the bar from whistle to a full octave ocarina. Two half sphere pinch-pots are joined by scoring the rims, adding a bit of slip, then carefully matching the edges so that a hollow ball results. At that point, the ball is allowed to rest in a sealed container so that the joint will mature and the ball reaches the leather hard stage. Meanwhile, the tubular mouthpiece, the pulled handle, and any surface decorations are built and allowed to rest prior to assembly.

Pinch Pot Ball Ocarina - FipplePerhaps the most critical step in constructing a tone-producing clay instrument is the carving of the tone hole and the assembly of the mouthpiece-tube so that the richest possible resonance occurs when air is blown through the tube. There are a few simple rules for the alignment, hole shape, and wedge positioning but I’ll not get into those details here…and certainly there are other methods of getting air into the instrument besides the manner illustrated here. Carving of finger holes is not an exact science but involves placement for ease of fingering (taking into consideration the shrinkage from drying and from firing) and understanding that proper hole size will adjust the pitch of each tone.

Dr. Bowen will have something to say about his discoveries that did not always turn out well for the person playing the instrument. For now, there are still questions of how similar were the techniques used over 1,000 years ago to the techniques that those searching Google for examples will find today. E.B. would say that it is part of the mystery of music and man’s attraction to making music his own.

Comments Off on Tlapitzquiquiztli



Tlapitzquiquiztli - Horned Flute of the ConchCombining large pinchpot pieces with pulled handles can take some time, particularly when there are ceramic gymnastics involved…and this piece definitely qualifies.  The basic components were scored, slipped, joined and then braced while resting on the banding wheel.  At leather hard stage, the fipple of the ocarina was added and scoring for the areas to be sculpted was roughed out.  At each step, the entire piece received a light misting and was allowed to rest, completely covered,  overnight.  There is still much to be done, but a peek into the process might help others understand how these things are built.

The intent of the construction is to represent a snail (or conch), complete with shell and proboscis.  References to animals and use of animal part (tortoise shell, conch, animal bone, etc.) were common among Mayan wind instruments, and although this particular instrument is the object of a fictional story, it will produce multiple sounds.

I do wonder if the workspace of Mayan musical instrument makers ever became as cluttered as the space where this piece is sitting.  I’ll have to ask E.B. if there isn’t some sort of ancient proverb that suggests that out of chaos comes creativity 🙂

EB Note Top“Only brief mentions in ancient text speak of a rare flute that mimics the conch and snail. This rare find could be but one survivor of the Cenote at Uxmalico. The glyph imprints have not been identified, but the instrument is definitely ceremonial. Once clear of silt and several hundred years of debris, I’ll not be surprised if this piece still plays. I have named the instrument, Tlapitzquiquiztli – Horned Flute of the Conch.”
EB Signature