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Eight facts about the waterphone

What in this galaxy is waterphone? You’ve might have not seen one, but if you’ve watched a horror or science fiction movie, chances are you’ve heard the eerie sounds of the waterphone. With Halloween around the corner and a spooky soundtrack required, I toured through Grove Music Online to learn more about the monolithic, acoustic instrument.

1. The waterphone was invented in 1967 and patented in 1975 by Richard A. Waters. It was manufactured individually to order by him (formerly under the company name Multi-Media in Sebastopol, California) so each was unique.

2. The Standard model is a stainless steel bowl resonator containing water. The dome-shaped top opens into a vertical unstopped, cylindrical tube that serves as a handle. Around the edge of the resonator are attached between 25 and 55 nearly vertical bronze rods, which (depending on the model) are tuned in equal or unequal 12-note or microtonal systems.

3. Various sizes have been produced; the earliest (‘Standard’) had a resonator 17.8 cm in diameter. Current models (‘Whaler’, ‘Bass’, and ‘MegaBass’) are constructed from flat, stainless steel pans.

4. The rods can be struck with sticks or Superball mallets or rubbed by a bow or the hands.

5. The movement of water in the resonator produces timbre changes and glissandi.

6. It has been played in a wide variety of musics, including rock and jazz, and featured in the compositions of Tan Dun and Sofia Gubaidulina.

7. It is an important element in the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band founded by Waters in 1967.

8. It has been featured in many horror and science fiction film and television soundtracks, such as Poltergeist and The Matrix.

Headline image credit: Waterphone. Photo by Hangklang. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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