Hear the Cristal Baschet, an Enchanting Organ Made of Wood, Metal & Glass, and Played with Wet Hands

Play­ing a musi­cal instru­ment with wet hands usu­al­ly falls some­where between a bad idea and a very bad idea indeed. The Cristal Baschet, how­ev­er, requires its play­ers to keep their hands wet at all times, and that’s hard­ly the only sense in which it’s an excep­tion­al musi­cal instru­ment. Have a lis­ten to the per­for­mance above, Erik Satie’s Gnossi­enne No. 1 by Marc Antoine Mil­lon and Frédéric Bous­quet, and you’ll under­stand at once how excep­tion­al it sounds. Both ide­al­ly suit­ed to Satie’s com­po­si­tion and like noth­ing else in the his­to­ry of music — a his­to­ry which may ulti­mate­ly remem­ber it as, among oth­er things, one of the most French musi­cal devices ever cre­at­ed.

“It was invent­ed in France, so per­haps that’s why I have one,” says com­pos­er Marc Chouarain as he pre­pares to demon­strate his Cristal Baschet in the video above. “I put water on my fin­ger and I have to put pres­sure on the glass rods, and the sound is ampli­fied.” That ampli­fi­ca­tion hap­pens, like every oth­er process with­in the instru­ment, with­out the involve­ment of elec­tric­i­ty. Despite being ful­ly acoustic, the Cristal Baschet pro­duces sounds so loud and oth­er­world­ly that few could hear them with­out instinc­tive­ly imag­in­ing a sci-fi movie to go along with the sound­track.

Per­haps it’s no coin­ci­dence that Chouarain is a film com­pos­er, nor that the Cristal Baschet was invent­ed in the ear­ly 1950s, when the cin­e­mat­ic visions of the future as we know them began to take shape. That era also saw the dawn of musique con­crète (1964), with its use of record­ed sounds as com­po­si­tion­al ele­ments, and the influ­ence of the ear­ly Moog syn­the­siz­er, which would go on to change the sound of music for­ev­er. What influ­ence the broth­ers Bernard and François Baschet expect­ed of the Cristal Baschet when they invent­ed it is unclear, but it has sure­ly left more of a lega­cy than their oth­er cre­ations like the inflat­able gui­tar and alu­minum piano.

“Ravi Shankar, Damon Albarn (Goril­laz), Daft Punk, Radio­head, Tom Waits, and Manu Diban­go are among the musi­cal acts who have used the Cristal Baschet,” writes Colos­sal’s Andrew Lasane, cit­ing the offi­cial Baschet Sound Struc­tures Asso­ci­a­tion brochure. The instru­ment also con­tin­ues to get respect from adven­tur­ous film com­posers like Cliff Mar­tinez, who tick­les the glass rods in the video above. Accord­ing to an inter­view at Vul­ture, Mar­tinez first encoun­tered the instru­ment when com­pos­ing for the Steven Soder­bergh remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. He seems to have become a seri­ous Cristal Baschet fan since: the video’s notes men­tions that he now “incor­po­rates the instru­ment in all of his scores,” for more pic­tures by Soder­bergh, as well as by Nico­las Wind­ing Refn — anoth­er direc­tor of pos­sessed of dis­tinc­tive visions, and thus always in need of sounds to match.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Appre­hen­sion Engine: Bri­an Eno Called It “the Most Ter­ri­fy­ing Musi­cal Instru­ment of All Time”

Behold the Sea Organ: The Mas­sive Exper­i­men­tal Musi­cal Instru­ment That Makes Music with the Sea

Sovi­et Inven­tor Léon Theremin Shows Off the Theremin, the Ear­ly Elec­tron­ic Instru­ment That Could Be Played With­out Being Touched (1954)

Hear a 9,000 Year Old Flute—the World’s Old­est Playable Instrument—Get Played Again

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

The Musi­cal Instru­ments in Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Get Brought to Life, and It Turns Out That They Sound “Painful” and “Hor­ri­ble”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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