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Happy Blogversary!


It is a massive celebration of one extra cup of coffee, but the fact that “M” is for Mugphlute made it through a year of monthly posts is fairly unremarkable.  Thanks to the many visitors who are interested  in ceramic musical instruments and my recent efforts to explore the world of whistling water vessels.  There are a few people who visit the site regularly and I appreciate the traffic.  It does encourage me to post.

Fowl MaskThis is the latest effort to emulate an ancient whistling vessel. Fowl Mask is a bottle within a bottle. The two separate bottle chambers act much like Peruvian water jars where water passing from one vessel to the other pushes a column of air toward a whistle construction (beneath the mouth and beak).  There is more work to be done on this piece and drying time before the first firing may take several weeks.

I will be experimenting with a new graphic transfer technique that involves powder-based photo copies and Mason stain.  There will be more on that later.

For now, Happy Blogversary!

Fowl Mask Top View Fowl Mask Close-up Fowl Mask Mouth

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Ceremonial Whistling Bottle


Ceremonial Bottle - Whistling VesselThis a different sort of whistling vessel – ceramic musical instrument.  Only the fact that it plays two tones slips this into a category as an instrument, otherwise it is a tone sculpture.  Some 25+ wheel-thrown and hand-built pieces of stoneware were assembled to bring this piece up to its maximum height of 25 inches.  Now that it has been bisque fired to 1700 degrees (F), the actual height is closer to 23.5 inches.

This ceremonial whistling bottle sounds when one of two events happen.  By removing the small, stopper-head on the back side, the vessel can be filled with water.  After replacing the stopper, the entire piece can be rocked forward (ceremoniously bowing), until water escapes through the rolled tongue of the larger head at the top.  Due to the design of the tube that feeds the spout, a slight back pressure forces air up a second tube that will play the whistle locate beneath the surface of the nose on the larger head as the water flows from the spout.  The second way that this piece sounds happens when the partially filled vessel is rocked back to its upright position.  Air passing back through the tube and airway spout create a column of air that plays the whistle in the smaller bottle-stopper head. Yes. I know that sounds complicated… but it is that level of sophistication that the Inca figured out several hundred years ago.  That is a sophistication that I still find humbling in today’s world of high tech.

There are intentional sides to this piece that reveal characteristics of a woman, a posture of worship, a gargoyle-like protector, and the mechanical mysteries of sounding a tone and delivering a stream of water.  I will leave it up to Dr. Ephriam Bowen to tell the story behind this ceremonial vessel.  In the meantime, the stoneware survived its initial firing and awaits staining and glazing.  Pictures of the construction process will be coming soon.


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“M” is for Maquette


I have some serious doubts that ancient, mesoamerican musical instrument builders spent time building maquettes of the ceramic musical instruments they created.  Maquette has French, Italian, and Latin genes, originally translated as “speck” or stain”. In contemporary use, it is more commonly used by architects and sculptors to mean a small-scaled, study model for a larger piece. Arguably, ancient Mayan and Incan musical instruments that feature a character holding/playing a much smaller ceramic musical instrument qualifies, I suppose, as a maquette.

Maquette and Sketches of Whistling VesselFor me, the retired architect, building a maquette for a complex piece that is intended to be both sculptural and functional makes sense. Certainly, sketches are my first step in visualizing what is coming from the mind’s eye and to establish some sense of scale, but there are other benefits. Clay is a very malleable and forgiving media that enables the artist to make mid-course corrections and changes in the designs. Building a small maquette helps to reveal some of those options that might otherwise hide themselves in a two-dimensional drawing.

The maquette and sketches in the picture on this post are for the whistling vessel that is currently under construction. Not wanting to fire the work in multiple pieces, the interior height of the electric kiln became a major factor in the scale of the project. Between the sketching and the constructing of the maquette, a number of changes happened to the original concept as the piece evolved into something that (potentially) will be an unusual whistling vessel. In this instance, the pouring of water through the vessel will play a tone as the water escapes the spout, and, the vessel will play a different tone through the stopper as the vessel is tilted back from a pouring position to its upright state. If it works, I will be thanking that Physics of Fluid Dynamics professor from decades ago. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be blaming the “C-” that I received in the course *grin*.

Unique Mix of Blog and Ceramic Musical Instruments


Springfield High Functional Ceramics BlogThe number of blogs about ceramic musical instruments isn’t likely to make anyone’s Top 10 list of popularly read blogs on the internet, however, there are creative educators who are connecting the dots. One such blog involves Ms. B’s functional ceramics class at Springfield High School in Springfield, PA. I commend Ms. B. and her class for exploring the world of ceramic musical instruments and for using a blog to express ideas and responses to the online questions. I would guess that some of her students view the assignments as just one more thing they have to do, but what they may not realize is the value of writing, sharing, and community building that an online presence offers. Kudos to Ms. B and the several blogs she uses with her ceramics classes! Nicely done!!

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Whistling Vessel Video


I forgot to add a link to the Whistling Vessel Video that I loaded onto YouTube last week. There will be better videos but probably not better tunes coming from the vessels *grin*.

Here is the Windows Media Video file (.wmv) version, uploaded for WordPress:
Whistling Vessel Testing.

Experimentation continues on ceramic musical instruments. New pieces are expected out of the kiln next week (not much of a cliffhanger, right?).

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Whistling Vessel Mystery


Novel writing hit a speed bump last year when I discovered that there were actual, historical artifacts that related to my protagonist’s quest to discover the source of mesoamerican, ceramic instrumental music. OK, so it wasn’t a speed bump, it was more like an aha-moment-stop-the-presses event that sent me into a frenzy of applied research and experimentation.  Whistling vessels are a fascinating mystery.  Whistling jars that involve the use of water are even more mysterious. The key word for the historical fiction writer exploring these artifacts is mystery.

Double globed, clay musical instrument - Whistling Water VesselIn contemporary circles there seem to be a couple of theories regarding the use of  whistling vessel artifacts found primarily from present day Mexico to Peru.  Donald Wright makes a solid case in Peruvian Whistling Vessels that their use involved making metaphysical or supernatural connections:

“…A discovery utilizing sound that could transport human beings into a new and unique realm of experience…possibly to other worlds of existence. This sound was not music, but instead a special toning of whistles which, when blown together with other such vessels, had the ability to induce what has been described as a trance state of a spiritual nature.”

Brian Ransom, (educator, clay artist, musician, and researcher) writes that water rather than human breath played a role in the function of whistling water jars.  His extensive studies into the actual construction and artistic characteristic make a solid case that these instruments may have served a variety of functions but ultimately compound the mystery of their actual use:

“Music, ritual and contact with more-than-human realms via hallucinogenic substances as well as in everyday belief systems are prevalent among indigenous South Americans today. We can speculate that these mystical religious beliefs were also prevalent in ancient times. With these thoughts in mind, we can theorize that whistling jars were used as a means of spiritual contact.”

Daybreak - Ceramic Musical InstrumentToward the end of Don Wright’s article are suggestions that whistling vessels were very personal, evidenced by their presence in a number of Pre-Columbian burial sites. Equally intriguing is the concept that the mysteries of the spiritual qualities, construction, and inherent powers are passed along to select individuals from one generation to another. I count myself as a skeptic to the mysticism and powers of an inanimate object, even a whistling vessel. When demonstrated, however, the reactions by individuals who see and hear, first-hand a whistling vessel in use is often an other-wordly, “Wow”. Those reactions alone are sufficient for Dr. Ephriam Bowen to delve further into the mystery of ancient, ceramic musical instruments as well as the keepers of the skill to construct these enigmatic works of art. The time is approaching that my old friend Ephriam will pick up his pen and wrap up The MugPhlute Chronicles.

Pictured here is the work-in-progress whistling water vessel that will likely inspire Dr. Bowen’s fictional accounts.

Sculpture in Music?


Ocarina - Clay Musical InstrumentDeb and I have both laughed at the influence that “Davey Jones” from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest may have had on this particular piece.  I had mentioned something about the remarkable make-up job and the animation of Davey’s tentacles while watching the movie just recently.  I can accept that there may have been a seed planted, but I’d really like to think that this particular clay musical instrument, an ocarina, is an exploration of sculpture.

So many traditional brass instruments are remarkable works of functional, sculptural art and for the most part are admired only as a delivery system for music, and not as works of art that stand on their own merit.  Flutes and tone sculptures from numerous ancient civilizations are highly decorated, well formed works of art that are celebrated in museums across the globe.  Somewhere along the industrial revolution time line, we lost the celebration of the artist-craftsman-instrument-maker and the products of their hands. This Oca-regal is simply an effort to add attention to the sculptural qualities of a simple, ceramic flute.  This is a variation on a theme from my previous projects, but I am thinking this direction may have some merit for instruments that are intentionally made to be displayed rather than locked up in an instrument case.