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 28, 2012

A Humanatone as a scientific tool

A Humanatone as scientific tool? Yes, and as early as 1916. The scientist? Wilfrid Perrett, a british erudite, rather eccentric.


London UK, 1919, is published the first volume of a book called Some Questions of Phonetic Theory. The author is Wilfrid Perrett, "B.A. (Lond.), PhD (Jena)". Perrett details himself as the « Author of The Story of King Lear from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Shakespeare, « Reader in German in the University of London » and « Officier d'Académie ».

Indeed, his 1904 King Lear (318 pages) was probably remarked, since it will be kept by Perrett as a title of honour. Wilfrid perrett is an erudite, and will publish many works. Beside his Questions of Phonetic Theory, he'll write Some Questions of Musical Theory (many volumes), still quoted in modern books for its originality, and several other books dealing with musical critic (The Heritage of Greece in Music, 1931, On the Hildebrandslied, 1936, On the Wessobrunner Gebet, 1937,...). In collaboration with the mathematician G.B. Jeffery, he'll also translate Einstein's Principle of Relativity, with a remarkable (and remarked) mistake though:

in Concepts of Simultaneity from antiquity to Einstein and beyond, Max Jammer, 2006 :

Published in 1919, the first part of the Questions of Phonetic Theory was written in 1916.

As planned and exposed in the preface, Perrett intends to publish the fourth first chapters as Volume I, then chapter 5 as a separate volume (because it could interest a wider public), and then the last chapters in a third book.

Here is the Vol. I preface, which shows Perrett's originality, humour and self-confidence, as his harsch tickling towards the scientific establishment, notably the famous Helmholtz:

But we'll see that Perrett is also full of self-mockery. A genuine english eccentric.


I won't try to sum up Wilfrid Perrett's work, since it is very technical and I must admit I didn't understand the core topic, having absolutely no knowledge in the phonetics fundamentals. But something interested me: the use of a Humanatone in experiments, and some other "side info" regarding nose flutes.

From the very beginning of the §46, Perrett mentions the existence of a recent Humanatone german copy, made in Berlin. Very interesting!... but this will be the topic of another post in this blog.

Then, the text exposes the nose flute principle and its compass: 2 octaves and a half, starting from G1 (49 Hz). Then, the searcher tries a "Low Philarmonic C2" (around 65 Hz, I guess) with his mouth alone, and notices that when the Humanatone is applied, keeping the same lips position, the pitch is sytematically down a semitone. « I am so confident of this result that I have more than once performed the experiment before an audience »

§47 is more interesting because it relates what probably was the first experiment with an external air supply mounted on a nose flute.

First, Perrett invents a "soft palate" « fixed up against the back of pharynx and so kept clear of the tongue ».
Then the author tells that he has had the Humanatone modified in order to get a greater volume of air, by connecting a bellows. Perrett is a bit disappointed by the result, having obtained "much windrush" and a higher tone, concluding (more or less) that the tuning fork will not be noticeably reinforced, whether the mouth cavity is closed at the fauces or not. I'm not sure to understand exactly what is at stake, besides some ironic assault upon Helmholtz, who « must have been a poor experimenter »

The Humanatone reappears further in the same chapter, at §53:

Then, no other occurence in the volume, nor in the whole volume II.

The Perrett's plan had to change, as he explains in the preface of Vol. II, not without humour, evoking the « five and fifty honoured patrons who have purchased Part I »!

Indeed, Wilfrid Perrett is full of self-mockery. At the end of Volume II, some comments about Volume I are displayed, sent by readers or collegues from all Europe, or published in scientific magazines.
Some are quite elogious, like this one published in the famous Nature:

But the three last ones are really negative (and rather funny):


So, the second volume was not the one expected about the "Abolition of Spelling", but the Chapter 5 of the Part I, The Perception of Sound, which is published in 1919.
However, Peetickay, An essay towards the abolition of spelling is separately published in 1920.

And finally, the Chapters 6-6a of the Questions of Phonetic Theory: The Mechanism of the Cochlea are issued in 1923, as a separate volume.

In §116, the Humanatone blown by a bellows reappears, with another interesting experiment:


By the way, I made the experiment of singing (it's more humming actually) while playing a nose flute (for Science, not for Music!). I didn't use a metal Humanatone, but a simple Schwan, and didn't connect it to a bellows.

And I noticed that:
1) it is possible to play and hum at the same time (I thought it was not)
2) it is absolutely true that the nose flute tone is lower than the humming tone, provoking interferences between the 2 sounds.

So Helmholtz was a ... "poor experimenter" :)

Here is my (disharmonious but efficient) test:


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



  1. Maybe disharmoniuos, but very interesting!

  2. Where on earth did you manage to find this book? How very interesting for a number of reasons, although the book seems to be something like "The Hunting of the Snark"! How wonderful to read about the "recent German copy", the "Wunderfloete" and the "bellows"!

    About producing two sounds: not only is it possible to simultaneously use the voice and play the nose flute, both can actually be played unisono, parallel and even independently, which opens up a whole new range of possibilities.

    Both the voice and the flute can be used to produce a drone for the other to perform a melody on. Both can also produce different melodies at the same time, which is rather difficult but do-able. These are 100% facts. There is even more....


  3. Well, finding the existence of this book was a bit of luck. Then finding the book itself was a bit more tricky. And regarding the last part, I made a collage of many many excerpts I got on google books, searching for the last words of one excerpt to get the next ones... like a puzzle piece you can look for only if you have already the previous one. hahaha!

  4. It really is like this: one fragment leading to another... As long as it isn't a red herring or a dead end street...! I can finally see an outline emerging concerning the history and the development of the early nose flute... What would be fantastic to see is an original metal "Schwan".

  5. Oh, I don't think there was ever metal Schwan. There was the nose flute made or distributed by Paul Brunner in Brunndöbra, and/or the Wunderflöte produced in Berlin by Goldstein (I d'ont know if there are the same instrument or 2 different), then the plastic Schwan in 1955, which was a copy (the shapes) of that german metal nose flute.

  6. Hmmm... Could the "1925" metal German nose flute from the Piet Visser collection be such a Wunderfloete? It doesn't have any stamp or brand name on it, so could be anything basically. However, I was struck by the similar design to the plastic "Schwan", particularly since there are 30 years in between them.

    In addition to the "scientific" approach to the nose flute, it may be of interest that the instrument is actually used in speech therapy.

  7. Well, everything's possible. However, the other german nose flutes I have, with no round groove around the shield look even more like a Schan, that is, like a Humanatone...

    All in all, I guess the Schwan is inspired from the nose flute of the Brunndöbra catalog, which is probably not the Berlin Wunderflöte. But I am sure of nothing.

    Regarding the use the therapoietic usage, I already made a post about that. But, I would like one day, to write a better one.