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The Pyrophone for Stella Artois

The Pyrophone is a glass pipe organ that uses flame instead of reeds. It is part of the Stella Artois Chalice Symphony. It uses Stella chalices to change the timbre of the highest pipes.

pyrophone tall

pyrophone detail

This video preview was produced by Stella Artois.

Photo by Jenny Long

Set design by Andrea Lauer. Photo by Jenny Long

The Inspiration

The first Pyrophone was invented by Georges Frédéric Eugène Kastner sometime in the late 1800’s. Our few clues about how to build one come from this beautiful old photo.

That's one flammable looking room.

That’s one flammable looking room.

Sound from Fire

We knew that the glass tubes would behave a little like organ pipe tubes. The pitch of the sound changes with the length of the tube. And we adjust the diameter to accommodate the shape of the sound waves in the contained column of air. The flame must act like the reed or mouth of an organ pipe. But why does the flame set the air vibrating? How do we make sound from fire?

The Fire

Karl designed several experimental torches with electronic controls. We got a lot of fire in our first glass tubes. But the only sound was us shouting with excitement and fear.

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

Karl’s many gas actuator prototypes:

After many experimental prototypes, we finally started producing sound using high pressure flammable gasses and torches with Venturi tubes.

The Glass

How do we make specific pitches?

Once we could make sounds, Matt put his skills to work with giant tubes of laboratory glass, specialized blades, and digital and analog tuning equipment.

Tubal Ligation

Tubal Ligation

The process was both scientific and surgical. Matt, his apron caked with wet glass dust, measured lengths, widths, gas types and pressures, pitches, and overtones. He wrote his findings on the glass, covering the tubes with lines, numbers and symbols.

Cutting the sturdy Pyrex tubes

Cutting the sturdy Pyrex tubes

Flame test with Matt Nolan.  Photo by Green Card Pictures.

Flame test with Matt Nolan. Photo by Green Card Pictures.

Gettin' vertical with Matt Nolan.  Photo by Green Card Pictures.

Gettin’ vertical with Matt Nolan. Photo by Green Card Pictures.

The Sculpture

Kastner’s pyrophones were gorgeous instruments. I wanted to do their memory justice, but use a new and original form. Ours would have the general aspect of a person. A 14 foot tall person! Its palette of materials would be light maple, dark steel like an approaching storm, flame, and glass tubes reflecting and counter-reflecting everything.

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The original star base was inspired by the eight-pointed star on the Stella Artois chalice. And the instrument’s eightfold radial symmetry echoes the star.

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The steel tuning collars can telescope up and down at the tops of the tubes to fine tune the pitch.

Photo 2013-07-12 04.59.27 PM

The original wooden base worked well visually. But we needed a much bigger one to contain all of the machinery and gas tanks. It still echos the star.

Photo 2013-07-12 05.10.44 PM

And here is it all together for an early test.

I am forever grateful to these kind and ingenious people for all of their assistance:

Karl Biewald – Mechanical Engineering and Fabrication. Electronics.

Matt Nolan – Pipe Tuning, Torch R&D

Marina Litvinskaya – Fabrication

Devin Budney – Fabrication

 

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