“What in the world are these? And how can they make music?”
Those were the first thoughts that went through my head when I viewed this picture. Beautifully crafted, these strips of wood called “tongues” are the heart of an exotic instrument known as the daxophone.
Invented by the German typographer Hans Reichel, the daxophone falls under the idiophone family of instruments , meaning it is played by friction. In concept it is similar to placing a wooden ruler at the end of a table , plucking and sliding it to change the pitch.
Essentially, a wooden box containing contact microphones acts as the pickup. The wooden tongue is clamped to this pickup then plucked or bowed to get the varying sounds. To change the pitch, a separate wooden block called the dax is slid along the length of the tongue.
Almost any material can be used to generate sounds, but the nature of wood fibers produces a broad, earthy, almost-human sound. Each wood species has its own characteristics and every change of shape offers a different sound quality.
On Reichel’s site, daxo.de, you can download a PDF that contains some of the history of the daxophone and instructions on how to build one. Plus, there are more than 100 patterns for daxophone tongues available to download. The catch is that the patterns come in the format of a font , playing off Reichel’s passion for typography. To download the font and the PDF instructions click here for the downloads page, then click the first bubble for the PDF and click the green download arrow.
Describing the instrument is one thing, but hearing it is the most astonishing part of this story. So click on the audio player below and then watch the videos see and hear the daxophone in action.
, Drew DePenning, associate editor for the web