This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

May 21, 2016

Humanatone used in Disney cartoons

A collection of recordings made on acetate was on sale, coming from the private collection of Hal Rees. Hal Rees was one of the first to help invent sound effects. He worked for the Disney Studios, as well as Samuel Goodwin Studios. And indeed, those recodings were made at/for Disney productions. Two of them (3 recorded sides), dating both of of Apr. 18, 1940, clearly mention the use of a Humanatone. So, it should have been a metal one. Unfortunately, I found only pictures of the acetates, no sound track... Yes, small fry.

[note: the Sonovox was a voice effect, by the Wright-Sonovox company (see here)]

Thanks to Mr. Ken Tanaka, who found The Little Whirlwind cartoon on Youtube,we were able to localize what we think to be played with the Humanatone: some very few notes at 6'19…

May 20, 2016

Nose Flute... Cartoon!

Quite short, totally off season (it dates of last Christmas), but beautifully made! [made by the 3-D artist Dirk Weisshuhn]

May 19, 2016

Nose Flute Demonstrations

As far as I know, there were (at least) five ways to sell nose flutes:

1.- Newspapers (advertisements)
2.- Catalogues (musical instruments, toys or novelties)[see here, for instance]
3.- Shops (musical instruments, toys or novelties physical)
4.- 'Fakirs', or street agents, selling the nose flute among other novelties (see this post)
5.- Demonstrations (in concert halls, parties or world's fairs)

Street 'fakirs'

We already published some documents recruiting musicians for demos, and some other about the performances themselves. Here is an advertisement from a demonstrator looking for a job!

The Era, London (Mar. 21, 1928):

The demonstrations were held in different kind of places. Some were organized in music shops before Christmas, or even in concert halls.

Chillicothe Constitution (1912-11-27) and Santa Ana Register (1913-05-08):

The San Bernardino County Sun (1913-01-25):

The Republic - Columbus (1915-03-26):

Some demonstrations were performed during parties or musical shows as entertainement during other kinds of events. But privileged places for commercial demos were trade show and fairs, particularly the big World's fairs. In the streets of Chicago fair, Seattle or New York, there certainly were fakirs selling Humanatones. But the Humanatone Co. had also probably a booth here and there. We are sure that the Stivers had a stand at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (Seattle 1909)[check this post], but it's more than likely they also got one in other fairs.

I found an interesting picture of a stand for musical demonstration. It dates of 1939 San Francisco World Fair:

Unfortunately, it was not a Humanatone stage, nor even probably for a nose flute, but for the Hum-A-Tune. Yes, there was a nose flute called by this name (see this post), but it is impossible that this 1970s nose flute was demonstrated in 1939. It is not possible to see the instrument played by the musician, but it was certainly the Hum-A-Tune kazoo.
This instrument had many imitators (Hum-Al-Band, etc.) including the FanFare by Paul Brunner. There were also 'special editions' for the Hum-A-Tune, we know one made for the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Now, how did the demonstrators proceed? Well, it was a fair, so it had to be a real show! I found an extraordinary video document in which 15 seconds show a Hum-A-Tune demonstrator on stage, at 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The musician first plays the Hum-A-Tune, pretending to play a mini and damaged trombone… Then we can see him playing the Hum-A-Tune while bowing a totally wrecked violin (The whole document here). There is also a ukulele hanging on the side:

May 18, 2016

Mosurin / The Nose Flute Angels in Oita

A great video shot in Hiji, Oita Prefecture, Japan. The first half shows sensei Mosurin demonstrating the superiority of the Hiroaki Sasaki hanabue over the American plastic Humanatone and beautifully plays several tunes, and in the second part, the Angels of Nose Flute Smile ('天使の鼻笛スマイル笑会'), lead by their founder 'Ojii-san' (野崎 眞歓 / Nozaki Makoto Yorokobi) for a couple of joyful songs.

And a documentary of the NHK channel about the performance:

May 17, 2016

A Nose Flute for Snorers ??

Found in the Taranaki Herald (NZ) and the Truth (Sidney, AU) in Novemeber and December 1894:

«… We anticipate a boom in 'nose flutes'. » :)

May 16, 2016

Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) : Hall of Fame!

Born in Buenos Aires in 1931, Mauricio Kagel moved to Cologne, Germany, in 1957 where he became one of the greatest post-second world war avant garde composers.

« Among the contemporary composers Mauricio Kagel more than any other explored the instrument concept and expanded it. Especially in the sixties and seventies, he created works in which in addition to conventional musical instruments, vacuum cleaners, rubber tubes, walkie-talkies and turntables were used. » [source: Der Schall, Mauricio Kagels Instrumentarium, PFAU, 2008]

Mauricio Kagel in 1968 and 1985:

Among his prolific work, one piece of 1968 particularly retained our attention: Der Shall ('The Sound'). Indeed, and as you can imagine, it contains some nosefluting. Der Schall is a ±40 minutes long piece, written for 54 instruments, played by 5 musicians. [You can listen to the whole piece here, or go directly to the nose flute part here.]

Here is the text written by M. Kagel and printed on the back cover of the LP. You can notice that the nose flute is part of the instruments of group V, played originally by Christoph Caskel:

And here, the front cover, and a portrait of the percussionist Christoph Caskel, who played the Nasenflöte on the record:

In 2007, the Music R&D dept. of the University of Basel (Switzerland), 'reactivated' the original sound objects (kept at Basel Historical Museum) or some replicas in a performance in which the musicians recreated Der Schall. They recorded their experiment, and the CD was published along with the book Der Schall, Mauricio Kagels Instrumentarium, PFAU, 2008. This books contains lots of info and reproductions of original documents.

The font cover already shows a Nasenflöte in a box (rather well hidden though :):

The books is subtitled 'Mauricio Kagels Intrumentarium', and is an opportunity to show in detail the list of the instruments originally used (and preserved at Basel museum). They are categorized in several sections: Conventional Instruments, Historic Instruments, Extra-European/Exotic Instruments, Special/Non Classical Instruments, Percussion/Home Made Instruments and Signal Instruments.

That's among the Special Instruments that one can find a nice paragraph (p.81) about the nose flute…

… which says something like (edited Google translation):

« The nose flute perhaps constitutes the most striking example of the aforementioned contrast between the modern Western European form and the Asian or South American forms of the same instruments. While the variants from Southeast Asia, Oceania and Polynesia are usually whistle-like tubes made of natural materials that are blown with air from one nostril, the breath of the nasal air has a special symbolic meaning as the bearer of the soul, the Western European Nasenflöte is a quaint, almost funny-looking structure made of plastic (see photo inventory p.98). It is found to be extremely effective in many toy stores music, hardly anyone knows then, however, how the nose flute has to be played. The upper gap is for nose air entrance, while the lower opening stands for the lips, so that the pitch and timbre can be determined by the opening of the mouth and tongue. The nose flute can therefore be quite compared with the Jew's harp, with the difference that the pitch is changed freely and the sound is similar to a whistle. The plastic nose flute therefore requires a radical reconsidering of wind instrument players for unfamiliar tongue-mouth-acrobatics. Like the cuckoo clock Kagel gives a solo passage in which come the special capabilities of the instrument to bear. »

And page 98, between a tortoise shell and a straight mute:

Well, well well... Look at the bright and shiny red on this Schwan... This definitely is not the original Kagel's Nasenflöte, but a new one (the reference # begins by 2005...). I suppose the vintage one has not been preserved in Basel museum... Schade!

The book also offers lots of copies or original notes and execution sheets in which the Nasenflöte part is specified:

We can also find some great pictures of the 2007 'musical happening', and see the Schwan nose flute on the right desk of Matthias Würsch, the percussionist in charge of section V:


Now, it is very interesting to compare the 1968 and the 2007 interpretations and recordings. I isolated the two 2 minutes nose flute parts:

1968 excerpt:

2007 excerpt:

Which one do you prefer ?


It is very rare to find some nose flute in the work of a serious composer, that is, used as a real instrument, and not regarded as a carnival toy.

For having included a nose flute as a real instrument in his 1968 composition Der Schall, Mauricio Kagel has been inducted to the Nose Flute Hall of Fame, in the 'Promoters' section!

May 15, 2016