[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]
While I was doing some research on an Ongoing History of New Music program on the endless battle between tech and music, I rooted around in the backgrounds of some popular instruments like guitars, drums, and synthesizers.
As often happens with the internet, I was dragged down a series of ratholes that led to some strange devices designed to make music in unconventional ways. Maybe someone can take this list of the weirdest musical instruments and put together a truly avant-garde orchestra.
When Louis XI of France — a brutal sort who ruled from 1461 to 1483 — wasn’t subjugating his peasants and vassals to all sorts of misery, he found himself in need of amusement. He challenged Abbé de Baigne, his master of royal music, to create a piano-like instrument using a selection of pigs. De Baigne had no choice but to say, “Hold my beer.”
The result was the Pianino, also known as the Hog Harmonium, the Schweineorgel (pig organ), and the Porko Forte. Each pig was laid out on a flat surface, smallest to largest. Above the hind end of each porker was a spike connected with a piano-like keyboard. Pressing a key poked the corresponding porker, causing it to oink in its natural voice. It was thus possible — almost — to play a tune by poking each of the pigs in a melodious manner. Louis was pleased and didn’t seem to care that the pigs were greatly annoyed.