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 16, 2012

Very interesting experiment

Besides the architecture school, I teach in an engineer school (Industrial systems engineering), in a master's degree specialized in design and innovation. The peculiarity of the class is that the students come from everywhere (mostly South America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia,..., but also Europe (Spain, France for sure), and Japan, China, Saudi, Africa... They also have a very different background: mostly "industrial engineers", in mechanics, plasturgy, logistics but also "global designers" specialized in packaging, woods,.. and this year, there are also a mathematician, a chemist, a PhD in Psycho-motricity, an economist and a specialist in food processing industry.

Today was the first course, and I'm used on that occasion, to ask the students to invent and draw something, just to be able to evaluate their potential. This morning, I first explained to them how a simple whistle works, with a thin air flow splitting on a sharp labium, part of the air going "outside" and part of it in a closed cavity, on which capacity depends the tonality of the whistling that is produced. I drew this on the blackboard :

I also told them that, if the whistle cavity could be voluntarily shrunk or enlarged under control, it would be possible to play music.

Then, I asked them to invent and design « a wind instrument of variable whistle type, adapted to be played 1) by blowing the air with the nose, and 2) using the mouth as the variable cavity. »
None of them had never heard of the nose flute existence, and for sure, I didn't show any one to them. They had one hour and a half to produce a front view, a side one and a cross cut. Ouch!

Some of the students didn't perfectly understand the necessary requirements for the instrument to be functional, but most of them succeeded, with more or less "engineering".

Among the best results, it was funny for me "almost to recognize" existing shapes. On the following one (despite the bizarre labium), the student re-invented the Carter's nose hood, but designed a mouth shield rather similar to the Davis' Humanatone (the plastic one). Both parts are linked by a funnel-shape airway. The whole shape is very interesting and quite elegant :

Another one used a "nose hood" and a partial "mouth tube", on which was added outgrowths designed to avoid air leaks. And one also featured a partial tube, plus a long airway made as a handle, like the Cello-phone.

A student drew a flute made like a partial egg-shaped mask, hermetically covering the nose, with a sharp-ended mouth shield, a bit like a Bocarina, while another one invented an instrument with a long nose skirt (a double wall):

Some designed very bizarre or baroque shapes. Here is a "double" nose flute, with a double nostril-plug and with two airways leading to a double labium. The explanation was « so, the airway can be put around the ears to hold the instrument on the player's face ». One student invented a very surrealistic one, equipped with a huge handle and a helix airway.

But my preferred one is certainly the following one, because it is full of innovations. First, the student intuitively called it "nose whistle". He wrote as a description: « The visible part is exactly shaped like a whistle, with pure forms and sharp angles. The holding is provided by the nose hood and the flexible part which is inserted in the mouth. Only one air duct from the right nostril, in order to breathe with the left one. »

Indeed, I asked the student why he invented a "mouth balloon"... The explanation was that he was feeling as non-hygienic to "blow the nose air to the mouth", so he designed that flexible cavity - "actioned with the tongue" - to contain the "nose air" (great idea!). The soft "nose case" with a rubber circling the head is also a good idea. Maybe the "one nostril work" is not such as functional, but it shows that this student had a real reflexion about how to make such an instrument to work at its best.

Let me tell you I was very impressed by the results, and remember all of that was designed in 90 minutes, by people having never heard of nose flutes!!

One last word: the students' reaction was great when, after they brought their work to me, I took the Bocarina out of my pocket and played something... Oh! This bloody thing does exists for real, and it works!


  1. You are as much a genius as you are a little devil!!!

    Great, great, great, great, great experiment! You have finally managed to push aside my scepticism about the origins of the instrument. This proves that William Carter actually could and probably did invent the nose flute totally independently, and that others could create their own version according to the principle of bringing together air supply powered by the nose and pitch controlled by the mouth.

    Now I look forward to see these designs actually made in 3D! By the way, I reckon that you teach this subject in English?

  2. « You are as much a genius as you are a little devil!!! »

    I agree on the second part!!! :)

    Your reflexion about Carter was my secret goal: to see if clever people were able to re-invent a thing just from its technical principle, and *how* they would do it.

    Oh yes, most of the time, I teach in Globish, since my South-American students generally do not speak French.

  3. I applaud all these approaches and just love the drawings. This truly brings new designs to the fore. The air supply circling around the ears and the head is right out of this world, as if a wondrous invention from "Back to the Future"! I can only imagine what a few great Steampunk artists would make out of this concept...

    It would be funny to watch the students' reactions to your personal designs and the authentic patents and instruments! I would love to hear their comments.

  4. I may show them on next session. What i'm sure of, is that I will discuss of their work next time. I am really deeply impressed and surprised. I want to tell them that, besides their very impressive work, I found there is a kind of archetypal scheme raising from such a demand (nose-blown air and mouth as variable cavity). Then, with models and tryings (that they unfortunately won't do because we need to work on other things), they would have reached shapes very near what's already existing. What I mean is that I feel that the nose flute has already reached its own perfection. I do not imagine great invention, besides "shape design". It's a simple instrument, already in its "classic age".

    well, I don't know if i'm understandable. I'm very tired from my afternoon with arhcitecture students "drawing week' outside (freezing and raining).

  5. I agree, great experiment. Very appropriate for the subject of design and innovation. And so interesting for nose flute fans.

    If I was younger I think I would enjoy taking your class, I used to be fluent in French.

    I wonder how the South Americans may react if you show them a Guarani nose whistle. Maybe they have seen it before but not thought about it.


  6. I didn't think of that, but it's avery good idea : i will show them my Guarani nose flute!

  7. Very interesting experiment!
    You should mention to the student who designed a one nostril balloon flute, that the nose cavity normaly contains a lot less bacteria than the mouth.....

  8. Thank you Chris!

    Unfortunately, I didn't think of it, but you're totally right!!!

  9. Isn't it strange then that the nose is considered repulsive and the mouth attractive? The thing I like about the name of the Bocarina, apart from the reference to the Ocarina, is that it redirects to the mouth, 'boca', and leads away from the nose, as in 'nose flute', 'nasalette'.

  10. I just read an interesting article online about a certain Asian tribe who play a double nose flute. Their main reason why they consider the air from the nose to be cleaner than air from the mouth is that a nose cannot twist the truth, unlike the mouth which is very capable of telling lies!

    Also, the nose offers access to the brain without any barriers. There is a straight and direct link between the two.