What is it?! Answer:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Although it may look like an otherworldly laser gun from a science fiction movie, this is actually a Japanese instrument called a shō. The shō is a free-reed mouth organ; it features pliant metal tongues fastened on one end to a fixed plate. The shō is a part of the modern gagaku ensemble, the Japanese court music ensemble that was used solely to create music for leisure and ceremonies in the Imperial Household during the Meiji era (1868-1912).

Fifteen to 17 small bamboo pipes are placed in holes cut into the cup-shaped end. The mouthpiece is what protrudes from that cup. Each of the 17 pipes has a metal free-reed in it and a finger hole placed just above it so the player can stop the vibrations of the reed when necessary. Each pipe is precisely tuned in order to create its specific pitch, making the shō the only instrument in the gagaku that had fixed, tunable pitches and whose accurate tuning was of utmost importance.

Modern composers, including Toro Takemitsu and Tōgi Mideki, have used the shō in compositions.

This instrument is a part of the Frans and Willemina de Hen-Bijl Collection of Musical Instruments, where most of DUMIC’s ethnographic instruments can be found.

Image of sho player Mayumi Miyata, part of the Anraku-Miyata Duo. (Courtesy of Columbia Artists…) From The Washington Post http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-30/lifestyle/35449152_1_john-cage-mayumi-miyata-traditional-music