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Fire and lightning. The music of Pirofoni and Zeusofoni
Would you believe it? There are instruments that play thanks to fire and lightning!

With i pyrophones is Zeusophones, which would seem the prerogative of the imagination and instead are real, we conclude our overview dedicated to musical instruments activated by the four elements of nature: water, air, earth and fire.

(See our articles: Land: the stalactite organ (Grand Stalacpipe Organ) in Virginia link - water: the sea organ of Zadar and the wave organ of San Francisco  link  - Air: Aeolus and The Singing Ringing Tree, both in the UK link)

A very suggestive musical instrument is the pyrophone, which produces - as the name suggests - music by means of fire. Also called organ of singing flames, was invented by the Alsatian physicist and musician Georges Frédéric Eugène Kastner (Strasbourg 1852 - Bonn 1882), son of the composer Jean-Georges, at the beginning of the 1870s, and patented at the end of 1874.

Frédéric Kastner
Frédéric Kastner

The pyrophone is based on a fascinating phenomenon that was first observed at the end of the 18th century by the Irish natural scientist Bryan Higgins (1737-1820): a flame enclosed in a glass tube can generate a sound. The studies relating to this phenomenon were deepened during the nineteenth century, in particular by the famous physicist John Tyndall (1820 - 1893), but it was the young Kastner who developed these assumptions and drew practical applications for the creation of the instrument.

The pyrophone has a structure similar to that of the traditional organ: it is equipped with a keyboard and pipes of different sizes, made of glass, inside which flames fueled by hydrogen or gas burn. The vibrations caused by the combustion of the flames generate a note determined by the size and height of the barrel. The note is produced, however, only when the blaze is divided into several flames - as soon as they come together again, the sound stops. By pressing the key corresponding to the reed to be made to resonate, the division of the flame and its consequent is obtained 'I sing' while releasing it the flames rejoin, stopping it.

The instrument invented by Kastner in a sense makes sounds visible, allowing for a spectacular synaesthetic experience of music and lights. The sound of the pyrophone in contemporary descriptions was perceived similar to the human voice, but with unusual tones and an alienating beauty.

Both Berlioz and César Franck were intrigued by the new invention, while Gounod thought of using the pyrophone for an installation of the Giovanna D'Arco, but in general the instrument was appreciated more from a scientific point of view than in musical practice. It remained a fascinating curiosity, but it did not know a real diffusion.

Nevertheless, several pieces were written for the pyrophone, both by Théodore Lack (1846 - 1921), French pianist, composer and teacher, and by the German Wendelin Weißheimer (1838 - 1910), composer, musical director and essayist (Five Sacred Sonnets for voice, flute, oboe, clarinet, pyrophone and piano, 1880), who personally played the instrument as a pyrophonist.

Several modern versions and variations have also been made of the pyrophone.

The Zeusophone or Thoramin

Even more impressive than the pyrophone is it Zeusophone or Thoramin, also known by the English term Singing Tesla Coil, an instrument that produces music with lightning.

It is a kind of plasma speaker, a so-called Tesla coil modified to produce musical notes.

The coil invented by Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) is a high voltage resonant transformer capable of generating lightning similar to those of atmospheric origin. For use as an instrument, the coil is modified to reproduce musical notes by modulating their sparks. Musical tones are produced directly by the passage of electric currents in the air, and the instrument is therefore also defined musical lightning‘.

Hence also the name Zeusophone which pays homage to the father of the gods, lord of the sky, god of thunder and lightning, and his Norse equivalent Thor, to whom - in a pun associated with the Theremin, the first electronic tool invented in 1919 - the definition refers Thoramin.

The Zeusophone appears in the Disney movie 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'(2010), and was used by Björk in the song Thunderbolt of the album Biophilia (2011) and in various rock and pop performances, for which it lends itself beautifully, but it is also possible to play classical music pieces.

The trademark was filed in 2007 'Zeusaphone ', a brand that still sells different models of the instrument, which use a power of up to one million volts.

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