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.

Sep 5, 2014

The Roland Kirk Question

Great and innovative musician, Roland Kirk (Aug.7, 1935 - Dec.5, 1977) pioneered many jazz techniques, like circular breathing, playing up to three saxophones at once, simultaneously playing the flute and singing... He is also famous for his nosefluting, as we can read in many records captions.

But as you know, there is a huge difference between playing a nose flute and blowing a flute with the nose. So far, I haven't found any picture of Roland Kirk with a Humanatone, and more, I saw several pictures of Kirk playing a recorder applied on of his nostrils, while regularly blowing a transverse flute. Something quite impressive, but not related to the little urban instrument which is the topic of this blog.

So, reading things like « Beyond being a fine (traditional) flute player, Rahsaan was the undisputed king of the nose flute » was annoying me a little.

But sometimes, in the forums or in the magazines, a "nose whistle" was mentioned. And you cannot mix a flute up with a whistle. I found this article of the Muhlenberg Weekly (Sept. 27, 1962), saying "nose flute (appears from his coat pocket)". Nobody can hide a recorder in a coat pocket, but a Humanatone, yes. However, the headline of the article was mentioning a "small African nose flute". So, what to think?

I spent hours listening to Roland Kirk recordings, trying to discern a nose flute between other flutes, saxes, drums, ... Then I received the light!! an urban nose flute needs the nose and the mouth to be played, and nobody could play a Humanatone while playing another wind instrument. So, if there was urban nose flute in Kirk's recordings, it should be easily audible, and monotonal.

Indeed, I finally found 3 tunes with nose flute, and there are certainly many more in Kirk's works. And as expected, these occurences are very short (because Roland Kirk had to leave all his other instruments to play some notes, no fun...). They are used for a kind of rythmic signal, but they are bi-tonal, as if Kirk played 2 nose flutes at the same time: in this case, they must have been those small African nose flutes (pipe shaped and fingered) mentioned in the Muhlenberg Weekly, and not some urban and buccal pitched instrument. And why "nose" flute? Just because the audience laughs at those moments (and also because it's specified in the captions)

Here are the excerpts (sorry to cut these exceptional performances, but I had to, not to infringe copyrights):

On the Corner of King and Scott Street (Kirk in Copenhagen) - 1963
(nose flute at 0'22)

The Monkey Thing (Kirk in Copenhagen) - 1963
(nose flute at 0'13)

One Ton (Volunteered Slavery) - 1968
(nose flute at 0'09)

Roland Kirk was one of the greatest jazz flautist, no doubt about that. Probably the most innovative. But did he play the urban nose flute? I really seeked for the answer to this question, and still found no evidence. If someone reading this blog had a picture or a recording proving Rahsaan Roland Kirk played a Humanatone or so, we would be glad to induct him to the Nose Flute Hall of Fame, but without, we can't.


  1. Ah, Roland Kirk..! For many years I was triggered by the stories about Roland Kirk playing the nose flute, just like the stories about Elvis Presley. As I couldn't find anything on the net other than him playing flutes by nose, I had discarded the idea. I imagine that a nose flute cannot be played together with any other wind instrument, as it fully occupies the nose and the mouth.

    Roland Kirk would try and play as many instruments as he could simultaneously, including several different saxophone type of instruments with various embouchures. The man was crazily talented. He was known for sticking a pencil in the corner of his mouth of in his nose in order to reach for a key he normally wouldn't have been able to reach.I think he was the first to introduce the use of voice whilst playing. What I also loved about him, was his skills in circular breathing which allowed him to playeverything he did for 45 minutes straight or longer, intensely and continuously.

    The nose flute here does sound like it could be 'ours'. Indeed, we don't truly know. What I do know, is that Roland Kirk would hand out 'our' nose flutes and other 'toy' instruments during his performances so that the audience could participate. I have a few of these recordings. It would make sense if he himself also used it on stage.

  2. In all 3 excerpts I hear a nose flute over a transverse flute, which simply can't be done. I would love someone to prove me wrong, though.

    Towards the end of the 3rd excerpt I hear a nose flute on its own, which sounds way too reedy to be 'our' nose flute.

    The audience probably laughs, because here is the first time they see and hear someone play a flute with his nose. I guess the same applies to the woman who "plays" a kazoo with her vagina. Totally different class, though probably just the same effect.

  3. "In all 3 excerpts I hear a nose flute over a transverse flute, which simply can't be done."

    That's why it CAN'T be a nose flute (urban type). We need a piece of evidence... a direct testimony, a photo,... Because if we find one, RRK will enter to NFHoF.