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.

Aug 20, 2011

Controversy : Nose flute sold as a « joke item » !

I found this old advertising, printed in a german musical instruments catalog from the beginning of last century, probably dedicated to european customers. The flute featuring in the page is not a Humanatone (Humanatone had no « 8-shaped » nose hole and had a shorter « lower lip rest»). Is it a german model ? (or maybe the belgian Vociphone ?)

In the description, the nose flute is qualified in four languages as Grösster Radau-Sherzartikel, funniest roaring article, article de plaisanterie de bonne vente and articulo de burla. A shame for such a divine instrument!

Aug 19, 2011

Music : the delirious Grindchor

If you are a pure and sensitive music lover, don't spend your time reading this post. The Grindchor, a.k.a. Das Original Oberkreuzberger Nasenflötenorchester is a band of delirious post-punk berliners playing mass nose flute. German press used to compare them to a parakeets choir, and I must say the comparison is particularly well chosen : imagine nine joyful psittacinae singing classic hits accompanied by saturated guitar, heavy bass, binary drums and so...

The CD Stille tage in Rüsselsheim (issued in 2002) offers 20 tracks of pure nasenflöten delirium, full of joy and malice. My prefered ones are the covers of Apache, My Way (S. Vicious version of course...), Peter Gunn, Somewhere Over The Rainbow and an indescribable version of Zorba The Greek...

Listen Tip Toe Thru The Tulips
Listen My way

The CD is a bit difficult to get (not in Amazon listings...) but is findable new on Ebay, but definitely too expensive. But a must for collectors.

The Grindchor website :

Help needed : nose flute identification

Please, do someone know what is the brand of this very pure design little plastic baby ? More, where to get one ?

Aug 18, 2011

Mathematics : how many colors ?

Everybody knows that you can pick your Humanatone among 8 colors : red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet plus pink and bordeaux/purple.

But how many different colors for the german plastic Nasenflöte ? I do not know which is the maker (if someone knows it, please let me know!). It is mainly distributed by Gewa and Arnold Stölzel, and wear a swan as a logo :

So, how many colors for the "swan" nose flute ? These Nasenpfeifen are two colored. And there are 13 different colors : white, yellow, orange, red, bordeaux, purple, violet, blue, green plus 4 scarcer colors : pastel blue, pink, silver and gold.
The trick is that no swan flute has got its two parts by the same color.

The answer is (n x n) - n.
(13 x 13) - 13 gives the choice between 156 different flutes to the public !

Oh! For sure, with online shops, you are never able to choose the color...They generally say "Assorted colors, sorry, no choice".
So, how many flutes in average a compulsive collector has to buy to get the complete collection (according to a homogeneous distribution of colors...)?

The answer is n x ( Ln(n) + γ) where γ is the Euler-Mascheroni constant (~0,577).
That is 878 swan nose flutes !

Very interesting post, isn't it ?

Andrew W. Proctor : tremolo nose flue

On 25th of november, 1910, Andrew W. Proctor of New York, files a strange invention at the Patent Office. Registered July 25, 1911, the patent US998985 is simply entitled « Whistle », but refers to a certain "improvement" to nose flutes.

The base of Proctor's invention is a nose flute quite similar to the first Humanatone, but with a rounded upper lip rest.
But to the flute is added a curious device, a flat metal spring screwed on the nose bulb and ended with a revoluble damper : by pressing on the spring, the operator can mute the sound, and thus, create a tremolo.

« By pressing against the spring 15 so as to move the damper 17 toward and from the opening 11, as above described, the damper is brought partially into the path of travel of air escaping from the passage 10. The damper is thus caused to turn and in turning into different positions it offers different degrees of obstruction to the escape of air from the passage 10. The result is that the whistling sound is modified and gives a rapid and peculiar throbbing. »

I don't know if the invention was released to the public, but it works. Grab a flute, quickly clog and release the mouth hole with your index, and you'll get a perfect vibrato.

The Proctor's novelty was referenced by two later patents : a "warbling musical whistle" (US2996839) in 1961 and an "auto-pipe" (US3745871) in 1973.

Aug 17, 2011

Review : Sasaki Hiroaki clay nose flute

Today I received two nose flutes by ceramics master Sasaki Hiroaki (佐々木浩章さん) I ordered at Temiruya.

Regarding this online shop, I have to say that Mr. Sudare Tetsuyuki is a very kind man, prompt in giving info, and who speaks a perfect English, so it's quite easy for a Japanese language ignorant like me to send an order by e-mail ( pbc03434 [at] nifty [dot] ne [dot] jp )

Sasaki Hiroaki is located in Chichibu, in the province of Saitama, Japan. After a travel in the USA where he got a Humanatone, he decided to produce hanabue (鼻笛), i.e. nose flutes. He created this funny face design, with some traditional look of japanese masks. Mr. Sudare told me that Shinto shrines are used to sell small masks of clay for amulets and that in Japan, the sound of mouth whistles is supposed to call the deads.

So, I received those stunning magical flutes made of raw clay with enameled strabismic eyes and swirled (Gidouille in french!) cheeks.

The coarse clay, with visible translucent sand grains, is certainly rougher for delicate skins than the plastic surface of an industrial nose flute, but that is the (small) price to pay to have the privilege to play this little work of art. And the texture is as beautiful as grandma's cinnamon cookies.

The very simple shape is obtained by molding the clay, and then, I suppose, intervening with sticks of different shapes to make the holes. Then smoothed a little bit (I can see a fingerprint on the back), air cured, enameled and baked.
The baby is a bit heavy (respectively 84 and 88 grams = 3 ounces).

The nose flute is ready to become hand-free, with its 2 « temporal » holes, provided that you add a leather lace. Contrasting with the raw material, some details make the object very pleasing. The enameled eyes for sure, with divergent shiny black pupils, a little seal stamping a さ (hiragana "Sa") for the initial of the surname Sasaki.

All in all, the Sasaki's hanabue measures 8 by 6 cm.
The windway is quite thin, and decrease from around 2mm at air entrance to less than a millimeter at the exit, allowing the Bernouilli effect, which accelerates the flow, lowering air requirements.

Compared to a Humanatone, the air duct is much longer (3.4 cm vs 1.6 cm), and the mouth hole smaller (0.5 vs 0.7 in height). Despite the coarse clay, the double-cut blade is quite sharp.
This configuration drives to a large range : I can reach far sharper and lower notes than I can get on a Humanatone. I personally can reach G to G (2 octaves) with clear sound, while I go from A to E (1.5 octave) with the Humanatone, and with blurry sound at the edges of the range (blend with "shhhhhhh" noise). [People with heavy puff and another mouth configuration than mine could certainly get both larger ranges, maybe 3 octaves, but the fact is that the Sasaki's nose flute is much better in response that the Humanatone.]

In exchange, the sound amplitude is a bit more discreet than with the plastic reference, probably because I cannot get a perfectly hermetic junction with my nostrils.

Price ? Well, prices may vary with time. Currently, this clay hanabue is sold ¥2800 at Temiruya, plus shipping (I'm not a shareholder :).

In conclusion, the clay nose flute by Sasaki Hiroaki is well designed in two ways : techno-musically on one hand, with a nice playability, and esthetically on the second hand, with its gorgeous, funny and... magical mask face.
It surely costs more than an industrial plastic flute, but it is reserved to the connoisseur !

Mr. Sasaki Hiroaki and a drawing he made to explain the correct use of hanabue :

Aug 16, 2011

Free music : Humanatone, by Rudy Sims

Quite a good bunch of nose flute mp3s for free download, described as « An eclectic mix of ambient guitars, temporal experiments and nose flutes nose flutes nose flutes! »

Just here

Video classics : Will Grove-White

Will Grove-White is a member of the famous UOGB (Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain) since 1989. In this video, he plays what I suppose to be a german wooden nose flute made by Rainer Schwarze, from Naturklang an Austrian wooden nose flute made by Mr Handler (I got this info from the person who offered it to Will.)

- Will Grove-White website
- Interview of Will Grove-White
- Excerpts form his solo CD

Aug 14, 2011

Humanatone - Part I : the metallic era

In 1904, James Joseph Stivers, associated with George W. Stivers and John H. Dreyer, founded the Humanatone Introducing Novelty Co. in New York, with a $15.000 capital.
On the 1st of July 1904, Stivers files the trade-mark Humanatone (43264, reg. Aug. 30, 1904) designed with an uncial typo.
The brand was renewed on April 18, 1905 (45056, reg. Aug. 1, 1905), under the new denomination ("A nasal wind musical instrument") and with a new design, the name Humanatone floating over a lion rampant, grabbing a tuplet of semiquavers, like playing an harp.
The documents note "This trade-mark has been continuously used in my business since July 6th, 1903".

Under this brand, the Humanatone Company sells a boxed metal nose flute. Two pieces of stamped tin plate are assembled by pewter soldering, plus a pair of rivets on the base of nose cap.
The shape design is very new, comparing to Carter's or Couchois', in the way that the whistle part does not enter the mouth anymore. Moreover, Stivers invents the upper lip rest, a flap bent from the mouth-hole, and designed in order to help placing the flute in a good playing position. The circular base of the instrument is bent on the purpose to offer a lower lip rest.

Curiously, no patent was registered neither for this innovative design, nor for the whitle external to the mouth, nor for the lips rests. However, a first version of the flute was stamped with references to Carter and Couchois (477167 & 31876) plus the mention "Other patents pending". But in a later version, this last stamp has been replaced by Leech-Couchois mention (641025).

The Humanatone was really a cool instrument, easy to play, and it became popular. It has been sold from 1903 until the emergence of a new material in the 40's : plastics. The brand Humanatone was renewed in 1926 (fil. 5/3/1925, reg. 2/9/1926), then was sold by Stivers to the Fred Gretsch Mfg Co., and this will be the topic of a future post : « Humanatone - Part II ».


About metal Humanatones, check :

- Humanatone - part I : the metallic era
- New Humanatone ads
- The Two metal Humanatones
- Another metal Humanatone
- Humanatone boxes
- Another Humanatone box
- Humanatone: A very early user manual
- The Magic (Nose) Flute: only questions... .
- A Humanatone and clones chronology
- A Humanatone in 1892 ?
- Humanatone: Early promotional demos
- Another Humanatone archive
- Huma... something
- Rectification: Humanatone appearance date
- Great paper from 1903
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part IV
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part V
- A Humanatone as a scientific tool
- Two other Humanatone Ads

And on later Humanatones :

- Humanatone - Part II : the Gretsch plastic era
- Humanatone - Part III : the Gretsch metal era


Controversy : Nose flute pitch accuracy

Our friend Cyril LeFebvre sent these 2 scans to us. In the book, Gabriel Yacoub, founder and singer of the folkloric band Malicorne, wrote :

« In Polynesia, the nose flute is a ritual instrument. In Europe, it's a "gizmo". The instrument, frequently made in plastics, fully envelops the nose sides and the mouth. It is held by one hand, the air is blown by the nose, and the open mouth works as a modulator. It allows to play melodies which accuracy is very approximative... »

Well, back in 1986, our beloved nasalette maybe was still a gadget. But since, it had gained the status of a real instrument. As for tone accuracy, it only depends on the player's skill, and not at all on the instrument.

Just watch and listen to this video by master Mosurin and be judge of the pitch accuracy :

Master Mosurin biography
Other videos by Master Mosurin
Music samples from his CD Hanabue no Hibiki 4