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Wednesday, 12 January 2005

wine glasses for music

(I posted a comment to Matt Lagoy's LJ (check out the mp3 posted there) about wine glasses and I thought maybe wine glass information might be useful to some of you.)

wine glasses sound great, but breaking them is always a risk. i used to have a whole set of glasses from cost plus, but they all broke. i was using light metal knitting needles as beaters. cost plus glasses are manufactured very inconsistently, so they all have different pitches, some of them at nice intervals to each other. my ex said that if you show up to cost plus with a mallet and a tuner and try out all the wine glasses, the plainclothes security guys all come stare at you. but they don't kick you out.

the variation in tuning is nice, but the glasses are cheap and break too easy and plus they're hard to get to sing by rubbing (ala the glass harmonium). Crystal glasses are best for that and more durable in general, but at over $100 a pop, they're way out of budget and still fragile. Daniel Lentz uses all cyrstal glasses for his wine glass pieces, however, he's sponsored by the glass company and gets them for free. So he breaks at least one ($150) glass per performance, but doesn't have to bear the cost of replacement.

i've found that the glasses at ikea are much more consistently made than cost plus glasses. they're tough, they speak when rubbed almost as well as crystal and they're just as cheap as cost plus. the downside is that every glass of a particular style is going to have pretty much the same pitch. but you can get different glasses for different pitches or use water to change the tuning. Lentz says that water and different wines create different tones, which makes sense as they have different viscosity. When I played in his wine glass ensemble, we used donated bad wine mixed with quite a bit of water for the concert. We practiced with water only.

so, in conclusion, if you want to use glasses for music, i reccomend ikea as a good source. solidly made. resonant. cost efficient. oh, and not sweatshop. they're all made in finland or something.

And as post script, wine glasses are extremely well suited to alternate tunings when you use them filled with water. Seiko, iirc, makes a tuner that prints out numerical cents values for tuning. It's about $30. jjicalc is useful for converting from tuning ratios to cents.

Lou Harrison's biography has a story in it about bubbles slowly forming on the inside of bowls tuned with water, dulling the sound. Apparently, adding a tiny bit of glycerine added to the water prevents this. However, as far as I know, Lentz left our practice glasses filled with water for days and no bubbles formed. It may be that there was glycerine in the water, though. I don't know. Or maybe this doesn't happen with glass. anyway, this is why Harrison built the american gamelan: because the bubble problem was annoying.

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