About Yatri's Glass Armonica
The Glass Armonica used in this recording was built especially for Yatri with the combined efforts of two contemporary inventors based on the 1761 design plans of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's Glass Armonica has been extinct since 1830.
Master glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner blew the 35 bowls from pure quartz crystal taking into account the complex combination of dimension, thickness, shape, and pitch. The bowls were fired at 3500°F. As in the Franklin invention the bowls are nestled inside each other mounted on a horizontal spindle. Whereas Franklin's original instrument used a fly-wheel and treadle mechanism to turn the bowls, the spindle for this instrument is turned by electricity.
Inventor Oscar Bookbinder, who created the beautiful cherry wood case and many of the electric inner mechanical workings for this instrument convinced Yatri that "Franklin would surely have used electricity if he were alive today!" Bookbinder also included a hand-turned crank as an alternate way of rotating the bowls' spindle.
How the Instrument is Played
The sound is created by placing moistened fingers on the edges of the revolving crystal bowls. The principle is similar to "playing" wine goblets at the dinner table, with the difference that with this instrument up to ten bowls can be played at once. The resulting possible harmonies and harmonic overtones create an unusual sound effect.
Sometimes 'ghost' notes and complex rhythmic beats, caused by the combination of pitches played, give the effect of multi-track layering. In an acoustical study of the vibrational modes of wine glasses, Thomas Rossing of Northern Illinois University writes, "when we rub a moist finger around the rim, we produce a sound spectrum which features harmonic partials...during a part of the vibration cycle, the rim of the glass at the point of contact moves with the moving finger; during the balance of the cycle it loses contact and slips back towards its equilibrium position. This results in a sound that consists of a fundamental plus a number of harmonic overtones."
Gerhard Finkenbeiner who recreated the Armonica
Gerhard Finkenbeiner, a brilliant inventor born in Konstanz, Germany, is largely responsible for the contemporary revival of Franklin's instrument. His background education in music, electronics, and glassblowing was a perfect combination for his destined role in reviving the Franklin Armonica. This fascinating master glassblower, whose Massachusetts company's main industry lies in making specialty lab equipment and scientific quartz components for the electronic semi-conductor industry, had such a passion for music that he also has developed church carillons made from electronically amplified glass tubes.
The significant musical and historical breakthrough in reproducing the once-extinct Glass Armonica of Benjamin Franklin began when Finkenbeiner first thought of making a glass instrument in 1956. It took many experiments until he made his first satisfactory Armonica of one octave in 1982. To make the bowls he took large tubes of crystal and under tremendous heat blew the shape of 2 cups which he then cut apart. After blowing hundreds of bowls, he selected ones that fit and are near the correct pitch. Then he very carefully refined the tuning by grinding and acid cutting.
Finkenbeiner felt that the sound of the pure crystal glasses, as compared with the lead and soda-lime glasses of Benjamin Franklin's time, was superior. According to Finkenbeiner the lead content of the glass used during Franklin's time was around 30%. That, plus the lead paint on the rims of the Franklin bowls, may have been responsible for the illness associated with the nervous systems of the early performers. The quartz does not contain any lead. Fused quartz or "fused silica" is purified to 99.999% SiO2 and quenched into a homogeneous state. The rims in the Finkenbeiner instruments have real gold baked onto some of the quartz bowls to identify the pitches. The pattern is similar to that of the black keys on the piano.
Others before Finkenbeiner valiantly tried to resurrect the Armonica. In 1956 on the occasion of the Mozart/Franklin anniversaries, there was a great amount of money and time put into reviving the Franklin instrument at the instigation of organist E. Power Biggs. The combined input of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Franklin Savings Bank, the Corning Glass Company, and a team of engineering students from M.I.T. were unsuccessful in reproducing what Franklin had invented. Thanks to Finkenbeiner's ingenuity and persistence the Franklin idea has been brought back to life.
Tragically,Gerhard Finkenbeiner and his private airplane went missing during a flight in New England in the summer of 1999. Intensive search and rescue missions were mounted but Finkenbeiner and his plane were never found. He is deeply missed by all who knew him.
His company, G. Finkenbeiner Inc. in Waltham MA USA, is continuing production and repairs of the Glass Armonica under Thomas Hession, who has worked with Gerhard for over 20 years. For more information regarding purchasing a glass armonica contact G.Finkenbeiner, Inc.