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.

Oct 1, 2014

A Beautiful Early Humanatone

I recently had the great luck to acquire an old tin Humanatone, with its box and user manual. They are in very nice condition, regarding their old age. The nose flute is a chromed model, and its shiny coating (after some ultrasound cleaning) appeared to have kept its integrity in all of its beauty. The box has missing side flaps and is a bit worn on the edges, but has still its beautiful sticker on the top. And finally, the user manual, which was a bit wrinkled, shows a great conservation condition, after a soft ironing session.

The nose flute itself is beautiful. It's an early Stivers' era tin Humanatone in its whole beauty. The chrome plating is in a very great condition, with very few traces of corrosion (mostly in the nose rest).

The stampings are crispy, show the usual patent numbers, and are of the type "Trade Humanatone Mark" (meaning the mention 'Trade Mark" is symmetrically split on each side of the name Humanatone), contrarywise to later Humanatones, which wears a "Trade Mark Registered" line under the brand. It is also stamped with "Other Patents Pending" (which never will be registered...)

This Humanatone stampings, compared to two later models:
The other remarkable point is the shape of the two flaps which hold the rivets on the sides of the airway. Here, they are shaped like the tip of an ice cream stick (prolongated half disc), with a nice little dome rivet in the middle. I am not totally sure, but I think this is the second type of flap: the original one would have been the rounded rectangular one ("bolster" shape, with 2 rivets) and the later one (the most usual), half pear shaped (1 rivet).

This Humanatone flap, compared to the bolster shape (earlier?) and the pear shape flap:
But contrarywise to both rounded rectangle and half pear shape, the rivets ends are visible on the other side of the nose flute:

Last detail on this Humanatone: a little hole above the nose saddle. I am not able to tell if it is original or was made by the nose flute owner. The fact is I have never seen such a hole on another Humanatone, and when some people drilled or punched out their flute in order to pass a neck cord, they generally did it at the bottom of the mouth shield.

Despite its missing side flaps, the box is beautiful, with its gorgeous sticker applied on a grained paper. It is absolutely similar - a small detail and the color excepted - to the one we published here, but should be a little later, since the Humanatone contained in this other box was of the "bolster flap" type. Also, this earlier burgundy color box was printed with "Style No. 20" and "Price $1.00" :

This Humanatone box, compared to the earlier (?) one:

The user manual, as said above, is in great condition. It is a 5½ by 10¼ inch document, printed on one side only, contrarily to a later user manual (1920s?) that we published here.

This user manual, compared to a later (double-side printed) one:
The user manual is interesting at least on two points. First, it shows a little engraving of a woman playing a nose flute... which is a Magic Nose Flute! This drawing directly comes from the 1903 Magic Flute advertisement, being another evidence of a continuum from this early nose flute and the Humanatone (Couchois (?) having sold the brand and patents to the Stivers).

Detail of this user manual, compared to the 1903 Howe catalog Magic Flute ad:

Another detail is important. On this user manual (contrarily to other ones or boxes), the "Humanatone M'F'G Co." address is specified: 15 Ann Street. Booom! We know that the Stivers moved from 15 Ann Street to… 35 Ann St. (see here), a small step for Geo. Stivers, one giant leap for nose flute historic research: we are able to date this chromed Humanatone.

This nose flute is prior to 1911, and posterior to 1905. Indeed, the trade mark design, with the heraldic lion rampant dates of Apr. 18, 1905 (filing the trade mark by J.J. Stivers). 1905-1911 is the time frame during which the nose flute was produced, but I guess the reality is in the second half, since, as shown above, there was a different model produced before this nose flute, but having the same lion logo. So, our shiny Humanatone should date of ±1908-1911, more or less...(but not more:)

Sep 29, 2014

Geert Leurink's Great Playing

We already had the opportunity to mention Geert Leurink as a great noseflutist in ou pages, notably here and here. Here is a new video, called Dag 36 - De Buitenpianist van Cultuurschip Thor: met Geert Leurink op neusfluit (which translation is somehow Day 36 - The Outdoor Pianist of Culture Ship Thor with Geert Leurink at the nose flute). The Cultuurshchip Thor is a floating concert scene for Jazz and cultural activities (check here, and here for a Google translation).

The pianist is Rik Elings, co-owner of the Thor, and the video is part of his project of playing outdoor piano every day, whatever the weather...

Sep 28, 2014

Nose Flute Physics - II

In a previous post, we began to analyse what would be the best acoustic model to be applied to nose flutes. The simplest model was provided by Mr. David Lapp, physics teacher, who published his study (available here), with a part devoted to the nose flute. The model used assimilates the nose flute to a closed pipe, which resonator (the mouth) is simplified to a (variable capacity) tube shape. The prediction of a frequency, depending on the volume of the mouth, is therefore the result of the equation F = v/4L. My experiments shown that the simplifications operated on the model lead to wrong results (in the proportion of 1 to 3!).

Thanks to our friend and Jew's harp expert Harm Linsen, I was driven to the reading of a 2010 Master thesis in Traditional Arts, produced by Mr. Sylvain Trias at Telemark University College: Helmholtz & coupled resonators acoustics in jew's harp playing (click on its title for a download).

This work deals with jew's harp, which is the other instrument that works as the nose flute: the pitch is driven by the mouth cavity size, with an external vibration production. Thus, the acoustic model used for the nose flute should be the same than for the ancient lamellophone: a Helmholtz resonator.

Helmholtz resonators:

The Helmholtz resonator is a simple apparatus: a sphere with a neck, and the Helmholtz resonance is the acoustic phenomenon that occurs when someone make a sound when blowing in a bottle. Hermann Helmholtz set up the equation predicting the frequency of the sound produced when blowing in the resonator. This frequency depends on the sphere volume, but also the dimensions of the neck.

I had the opportunity to have a chat with Sylvain Trias (very kind person!) to whom I wanted to ask if the Helmholtz resonator was the right model for the nose flutes. Mr. Trias confessed he didn't know much the nose flute and asked me if I could provide spectrograms. I bought a $3 spectrographic app, and produced 3 spectra: a glissando from the sharpest to the lowest note I can produce with a Bocarina, the lowest note held during some seconds, and an extract of Queen of the Night:

Sylvain Trias confirmed the Helmholtz resonator is the right model for the nose flute, adding (sorry, it's a bit serious):

« Tu peux voir page 14 qu'il est possible de moduler avec la cavité de Helmholtz des frequences proches de 500Hz. Cela signifie tout de même avoir le larynx dans une position extrèmement haute (p89). Au pire, vu les spectres au dessus, tu auras juste un renforcement possible du volume des frequences basses de ton jeu comme illustré par le graphique p76. Rien qui ne soit remarquable devant les changements de volume liés aux variations de ton souffle. Les modulations sont bien dues au changement de volume de la cavité resonnante avant. Cela est aussi confirmé par la bande des frequences que tu produits qui est la même que celle de la mélodie d'une guimbarde - les limites étant physiologiques. »

that is:

« You can see on page 14 that it is possible to modulate frequencies around 500Hz with the Helmholtz cavity. This means still have the larynx in an extremely high position (p89). At worst, given the spectra above, you just get a possible strengthening of the volume of low frequency of your playing, as illustrated by the graph p76. Nothing that is not noticeable regarding to volume changes associated with breath variations. The modulations are really due to the change of volume of the front resonant cavity. This is also confirmed by the band of frequencies that you produce which is the same as the melody of a Jew's harp - the limits are physiological. »

Well... the equation to predict the frequency for a Helmoltz resonator is built from the resonator measurements and "c", the speed of sound. So, I decided to measure (estimate) the parameters l1, l2, A1 and A2 for my mouth. I found around 7 cm for my mouth in depth while shaping it as I do when I reach my lowest note on the nose flute (having reduced the measure of the lips depth), and estimated to 1 cm the lips depth. The measurement of the mouth section was more tricky, but I estimated (as Mr. Trias did) at 9 cm2. The trickiest part was to estimate the surface of the small opening between the lips. Mr. trias used 1 cm2 in his calculation, but remember that when playing the Jew's harp, you can't close the lips as tight as you can with a nose flute, because the lamella has to be able to vibrate in between. I estimated my opening when reaching the lowest note at 0.25cm2. Finally, having made my experiment at around 20°C (68°F), I chose 343m/s for the speed of sound (that is 34300 cm/s, since I used centimeters as a unit).

A1 : 9 cm2
A2 : 0.25 cm2
l1 : 7 cm
l2 : 1 cm
c : 34300 cm/s

F = c/2π*SQR(A2/(A1*l1*l2) = (34300/(2*3.1416))*SQR(0.25/(9*7*1)) = 343.88 Hz

This result is incredibly accurate in comparison with my experiment (remember that I measured 347 Hz), and it is a great piece of luck since modifying just a little bit the parameters leads to very different results. Anyway, this result *does not invalidate* the Helmholtz model, contrarywise to the "slide whistle model" David Lapp used. This globally means that the lips forming a "neck" to the "bottle" of our mouth are very important in the pitching of the note (and dramatically impacts the model).


Accurate or not were my measurements and estimations, the calculations can provide anyway relative info. For instance, what happens when "c" evolves? Indeed, the speed of sound is not the same when the weather is cold or hot, and also depends on the altitude.

With the same mouth measurements, if I tried reaching this lowest note on the top of Mount Fuji (3776 m), the speed of sound would be 325 m/s, and my lowest note at 325.84 Hz, which is more than 5% lower, and represents a semitone (F4 at 349.2 Hz and E4 at 329.6 Hz).

Contrarywise, if I joined Mr Schuermans in South Africa on a very hot Winter day, with a 40°C (104°F) air temperature, the speed of sound would be around 355 m/s. My lowest note would be a 355.92 Hz sound, between a F4 and a F#4.

If all my dimensions were 10% larger (big head!), instead of my 347 Hz, I'd get a nice 312.62 HZ D#4, etc.

Sep 25, 2014

Another Transitional Humanatone

We recently published the pictures of a very early Gretsch plastic Humanatone, which appeared to be a transitional product between the famous metal nose flute and the plastic model designed by Ernest Davis (please check this post). Here is the other end of the Gretsch era: another transitional Humanatone.

Indeed, the instrument is (still) branded by Gretsch, but the user manual is printed by Trophy Music Co. So, we can state that Trophy bought from Gretsch not only the brand and moulds, but also the current stock, exactly as Gretsch had done some ±25 years before with the Humanatone Co. products. This instrument is one one the last Gretsch nose flutes.

Sep 23, 2014

Stereo Total - Tour de France

Stereo Total is a German-French electro-pop-punk duo based in Berlin, Germany, comprising Françoise Cactus and Brezel Göring. The band was formed in 1995, and has released 15 albums (13 CD) since.

In their 2010 album Baby Ouh!, the Original Oberkreuzberger Nasenflötenorchester appeared as guest star on one tune: Tour de France. Indeed, this funny and joyful song about the famous french bicycle competition includes a nice choir of nose flutes playing between the verses. It is a Kraftwerk cover (I personally prefer this cover to the original...)

You can listen to an excerpt of Tour de France (and of the other Baby Ouh! CD songs) on this page. However, if you have iTunes installed on your computer, I suggest you click on the link at the right of the line in this page, in order to be able to listen to a much longer (1'30) excerpt.

You can buy the song on iTunes, or the physical CD Baby Ouh! at this webshop.


[EDIT] : Our friend Hiroshi Tachibana found this video (not official, but song in full...):

Sep 22, 2014

Psychedelic Hanabue

A psychedelic hanabue! Mr. Fumitaka Hamachi, Japanese nose flute amateur from Tsu (Mie), has given one of his nose flutes (by Mr. Ikeyama?) to the good care of Mami Funahashi, a painter of his acquaintances. Here is the beautiful and psychedelic result:

Sep 21, 2014

Nose Flute Physics - I

In june 2003, the Wright Center for Innovative Science Education, department of Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts) published a book by David R Lapp, ant entitled The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments.

Mr. David Lapp is a Physics teacher who is the author of many Physics and Education publications (see here).

The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments is a 119 pages PDF book (download it here) with 7 chapters, among them one is dedicated to Aerophones (wind instruments). Those 24 pages are obviouly mostly devoted to the study of vibrations, air flow, sound waves, differences between open and closed pipes, providing the right equations for each type of instrument. The chapters include exercises and are ended by one or more "Investigation" sections. One of those, in the Aerophone chapter, is devoted to the nose flute.

The Nose Flute Investigation part begins with a presentation of our beloved instrument (represented here by a Trophy Humanatone specimen), and exposes it as being incomplete — Actually it is only part of a musical instrument — immediately followed by a a reassuring completion — the remainder being the mouth cavity of the player. No offence then, and contrarywise, it is a very clever point of view. Indeed, Mr. Lapp seems to be a nose flute friend: The result is a clear, pleasing, flute-like tone

The nose flute is comparable to a closed pipe, with a variable pitch, exactly like a slide whistle, which stopper would be your tongue. At the very end of the book, there is a Physics of Music Resource Vendors section, and the very last paragraph is this text:

Well, I'm not going to paraphrase what Mr. Lapp explains in his article, but just sum it up:

- Vibrations in a nose flute act as in a closed pipe, like a slide whistle
- The frequency provided by closed pipes is the result of the equation F = v/4L

(where v is the speed of sound and L the vibrating length)

The two next pages are a form of 6 questions-exercises. The two last are interesting, notably the #5:

If you played the nose flute, what is the lowest theoretical note on the Equal Tempered Scale that you personally would be able to get? (You will need to make a measurement to answer this question.)

Well, using the F = v/4L equation, with (v = 343 m/s for the speed of sound) and measuring my mouth depth drove me to wrong results... Indeed, I previously checked with a frequency meter the lowest and sharpest notes I can produce with a Bocarina nose flute.

I got 347 Hz (near F4 stands at 349 Hz) and 2321 Hz (near D7 at 2349 Hz). So, with 347 Hz at the lowest, with v=343 m/s, I get L=343/(4*347) = 0,247 meaning the vibrating length of my mouth is 24,7 cm !!

If someone can explain me this result...
Is F=v/4L really the right model to apply to a nose flute ?
Should it not be a Helmholtz resonator (much more tricky, by the way)?


>>To Nose Flute Physics - Part 2

Sep 19, 2014

Nose Flute on the Bellowphone!

Found by our friend and high class guitarist-ukulelist Herman Vandecauter, the video of this incredible instrument, the Majestic Bellowphone. In this video, its inventor, Mr. Leonard Solomon (see this article), plays the Hungarian Dance by Johannes Brahms, and whistles some notes on a purple Humanatone: at 0'51 and at 1'51.

Sep 18, 2014

The Amazing Nose Flute

In 2005 (October 1), the Amazing Nose Flute was launched by Andrews McMeel Publishing. It was a little box containing a nose flute, a small book, 4 cards and a card holder, well designed with funny graphics. It was sold $6.99 in the USA, but apparently available in any country of the Commonwealth too. It should have met some commercial success, since it went out of stock, and the samples findable here and there (Amazon dealers) nowadays are very pricey (kind of $50 or more!).

The graphics design is pleasantThe nose flute itself is a simple Humanatone by Trophy Music, packed in its regular blister and so, no need to say more about it. The four cards are supposed to work as basic music sheets, with staff and notes on one side, and the song lyrics on the other. The songs are Shenandoah, Oh Susanna!, On Top of Old Smoky and Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

The book is a small 32 pages (+ cover) paperback booklet, with great illustrations. It contains a nose flute user manual (including troubleshooting section!), advices, anecdotes (gentle mixes of "urban" and "traditional" nose flutes) and... history facts.

The scanned pages that follow are copyrighted by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Their publication here is made on an informative purpose (book review and critics), and with no intention of infringement.
The booklet is pleasant, funny and well done. However, one page (P24) made me jump on my chair because I had dropped some hot tea on my pants!

So much nonsense per square inch! How could some redactor have written that ??

We know that the name Humanatone already existed in 1894 (even before), that plastic nose flutes appeared in the 1925s (the Humanaphone made in celluloid), that the shape of the plastic Humanatone was patented in 1940 (only) by Ernest Davis, that those plastic Humanatones were issued by Gretsch in 1943, and that the Humanatone nose flutes were launched probably by Garrett J. Couchois (who used the brand name), but surely then by the Stivers' Humanatone Introducing Novelty Co., who registered their brand in 1904, then 1905 (which had been "continuously used in [their] business since July 6th, 1903".

So, how could someone have written that ? : lazyness. Yes, "the rest is history", because this was not.

Indeed, there was a company which produced a "talking machine" (phonograph) called Humanatone, and which published its first advertisement in 1917 in the World of Talking Machines. Yes, the company was settled in New York (Brooklyn, actually). But it had nothing to see with the Stivers. The same "brand name", but not the same "trade-mark". And why would someone use the same name without using the same logo? Either you want to get the benefit of a reknown brand and you use both, or you don't and use none. If James J. Stivers had founded a talking machine company with the famous tin nose flute name, he would have used the regular Humanatone logo, designed by his brother George. Last, the Stivers weren't implanted in Brooklyn in 1917, but Ann St., Manhattan downtown.

OK, nobody knew those facts before researches, but when I don't know, I stay mute.

Please, Mr. McMeel, if you ever publish a second edition, please change this page 24!