April 23, 2016

The Mythical Jacquaflute

I've been wishing for a vertically held rim-blown flute for some time. There are lots out there but none of them where quite what I wanted (a few examples are the Middle Eastern ney, the Japanese shakuhachi and the South American quena). Then I found someone who makes both Ancestor Pueblo/Anasazi style flutes and keyless transverse wood flutes. I asked him to mix them together in a size that fit my hands. Here is the result.

Cross between Pueblo / Anasazi style flute and keyless transverse flute

Sycamore rim-blown flute in G made by Jon Norris Music & Arts
end-blown flute
Blowing edge

The embouchure is quite different from a concert flute but not harder. Think of it as like blowing across a water bottle but trickier because there's a sweet spot. I spent a couple of days getting the flute to speak reliably and a week getting a feel for the range and different tones it can make. I love playing it outside, especially in the woods.

Like most flutes, getting a good recording takes a few trials and errors. I'm still working out the kinks and feedback issues that go with this flute but I think I managed to get a decent track here.

A short bit about Pueblo/Anasazi flutes.
First, the name. Ancestor Pueblo is more polite but Anasazi is more widely used (at the moment). Archeologists are a bit weird about saying the Anasazi people are related to today's Pueblo tribes. There isn't really a good reason for this. In Europe, they don't hesitate to call ancient remains German or French based on where they were found and then explain that they may or may not be direct ancestors of the people living in those countries. But not here in the Americas where we know the Native Tribes are likely connected to those ancient people. Makes the archeologists seem a bit silly to me. Anyway, the result is you need to know both terms in order to find information about this instrument.
Second, the age. The Pueblo flutes that have been found in the Desert Southwest are around 1500 years old (at least). This means they predate Columbus and even the Vikings in the Americas. It is unusual to find wood instruments this old anywhere simply because of how fast wood decays. Older flutes (and other instruments) have been found in many places but they are generally made of bone, clay or stone. Though that doesn't mean all the oldest instruments were stone or bone. It just means the 40,000 year-old wooden instrument did not last long enough for us to find.
Now the size and range. The Pueblo flutes that have been dug up are all fairly large and deep. The low range is considered part of the "voice" of this type of flute. However, this doesn't mean smaller versions didn't exist just that we haven't found any. The Hopi flute and the South America quena are both examples of more current rim-blown flutes that are smaller and higher than the Pueblo flute. It would make sense for these flutes to be related to the Pueblo flutes but again, we don't know for sure. Individual makers certainly made changes to the design that seemed good to them or to accommodate some lunatic musician's ideas. This is common for all musical instruments in all ages. Nothing in music stays static really. It is a constantly changing art form.
Finally the scale and finger placement. The Pueblo flutes don't use a diatonic, pentatonic or chromatic scale. It's pretty intriguing and seems to be set up to let the musician chose between a major or minor sound (or go back and forth) without having to go up into the higher register. I went for a scale I'm already familiar with for my first venture into rim-blown flutes but may well try out the other scale sometime. In a way, this made my flute similar to the South American quena. But without a thumb hole and with smaller, easier to cover finger holes. And a different blowing edge which gives me a wider variety of sounds and a different tone than the quena. More on the quena in a later post.

So there you go. The Mythical Jackalope flute has been sighted, lured into the open and determined to exist at long last.

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