The Mysterious Voice of the One String Phono Fiddle
The phonofiddle is not to be confused with the Stroh Violin. It is a relative in the same family, but has not got a violin fingerboard, rather a long flat fingerboard, and most notably, it only has one string.
At the beginning of the 20th Century these instruments were a bit of a fad. They were novelty instruments, they sounded strange and looked stranger. You would typically find them being played in the music halls of the day. The majority of them were produced by A.T. Howson in London at the end of the 19th Century. Few of them survive in a playable condition.
Initially the most striking thing is that they have no resonating body. How do they even project the sound? They use a sound producing diaphragm as found in an old phonograph. The sound is then projected through an attached metal horn, this gives it quite an evocative and interesting tone. Depending on the talent of the player it can sound like anything from a ‘thin’ violin, to an old 78 record, to a mosquito with a sore throat. The instrument can be played with any horse hair bow, a cello bow is possible, but a bit unwieldy for such a fragile instrument. A violin bow works fine. The fiddle sits between the knees and is played vertically, actually in a similar way to many bowed instruments from India, China and other parts of Asia.
You will not find many of these instruments left in the world. You may see old and damaged ones in museums around the globe, but it is a disappearing artifact. Since it was little more than a novelty instrument to begin with, there is also obviously no traditional repertoire for it. It is a tricky instrument to play, having only one string and a very small musical range of just over one octave. This severely limits the types of music it can produce.
‘The Mysterious Voice of the One String Phonofiddle’ is an album of music which aims to not only introduce the instrument to the curious quidnuncs of the public, but also to address some of the questions raised about musical styles and idioms. The album, by Makmed the Miller, contains fifteen tracks. Most of them are original pieces of work, some more or less improvisations, others ‘real’ tunes. The styles move between tunes of ‘the old world’ and the blips and bleeps of the post-situationist musical landscape in which we find ourselves today.
If you would like the opportunity to hear this album, you can purchase a CD from this blog. Please send an email to Makmed at firstname.lastname@example.org