Quite Possibly the Coolest Instrument Ever—The Cristal Baschet

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     Ok, enough history—How does this thing work? Well as you may have already surmised, it incorporates glass as part of the music producing apparatus. Glass rods are played in sort of the same way you can produce a tone on a piece of crystal stemware. The vibrations are transferred to a heavy block of metal by a metal stem. The length of the stem is what determines the pitch of the individual glass rods. Amplification is accomplished by artistically shaped fiberglass cones placed in a wood framework and with small “whiskers” placed underneath the upper registers

 

     The sound is somewhat similar to a pipe organ since both instruments produce perfect sine waves although it sounds sometimes like the Cristal Baschet is slightly detuned. It’s the resonance created by the metal stems, metal block and the fiberglass cones that give the Cristal Baschet its distinctive sound. Below is a videos that illustrates the playing technique and sound.

    In the course of my research into the theremin and Ondes Martenot, I came across a video with Damon Albarn from Blur and the Gorillaz. It was a short documentary piece about Thomas Bloch, a French multi-instrumentalist and three of the very rarely used instruments he owns. Damon Albarn asked him to contribute to his project with an Ondes Martenot, a glass harmonica and the Cristal Baschet (also referred to as the Crystal Organ and the Crystal Baschet). Click here to see it. The bit with the Cristal Baschet is almost at the end.

 

     He was really just kind of playing around with it but the sound it produced was like nothing I’d ever heard so I decided to investigate a little further. It turns out that it was invented by a couple of French brothers, Bernard and Francois Baschet, in 1952, which was in the same time period as the musique concrete movement. For a definition of musique concrete, click here The brothers Baschet specialized in creating instruments that were also sculptures as you can see below