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FLUTES Susan playing water flute
Susan playing water flute.
Audio Art Festival, Krakow, Poland.

(click photos to view a larger image)

Listen to large water flute sample

Listen to small water flute sample

Video clip of water flute

I make both traditional and innovative flute forms in clay, many in highly unconventional shapes. By studying and cultivating their peculiar acoustic systems, I can generate extraordinary sounds. My work evolves through a circular process of making acoustical copies of ancient and contemporary specimens, learning to play them, and investing new insights into the creation of more instruments to then learn to play. Playing them teaches me how to make them. Descriptions of my instruments follow.

Many of my instruments are rooted in an earlier flute tradition. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the people of Mesoamerica made a great variety of ceremonial flutes. Most made of perishable materials are now lost, but many made of clay have survived. I have studied these instruments, published articles in scholarly and popular journals (see Abstracts ), lectured on them and given workshops. Many of their construction techniques and acoustic innards have been incorporated into some of my instruments; in all my work they serve as a source of ideas and inspiration.

Additional information is included with the price list.

LIMITED PRODUCTION INSTRUMENTS are individually constructed using designs developed over years of making and playing clay instruments. A series is produced in steps: constructing the body, the mouthpiece, tuning if applicable, firing, decorating, firing again and sometimes tuning again. Their quality ranges from good to excellent.
movie ocarinas
Single necklace ocarinas
Necklace ocarinas sound wonderful in the woods or in the bathroom. The first two fingers and thumbs of each hand fit on six finger holes and play the standard Western scale. A chromatic ninth can be played with some cross fingering and is depicted on the included fingering tag. Ocarinas are very sensitive to air pressure changes. Thus, blowing harder causes the pitch to rise, and by blowing more softly, it will diminish. Each looks like tiny fat pillows or large ravioli and is uniquely decorated. Necklace ocarinas can also be ordered precision tuned and pitched in any key. Ocarinas are also available in larger sizes, and thus, deeper tones.
  T whistles
T whistles
T whistles are great rhythmic whistle/flutes. The mouthpiece is in the stem of the T; the larger crossbeam forms the whistle's body. The thumbs slide on and off the two open ends. By also blowing harder and softer, a variety of pitches can be produced. They have a hanging loop and are easy and fun to play. Good for beginners.
  Y double whistles
Y double whistles
Y double whistles have two mouthpieces in the stem of the Y, and two whistle tubes forming the arms. By sliding the thumbs over the open end of each tube, and blowing harder and softer, strong gliding combination tones and perfect intervals are produced. Combination tones are created through the interaction of the two generating tones by the way the ears hear. For further information about these amazing psychoacoustic tones, see the description in the Space Flute section.
  Tuba flutes are made from large, open tubes and are easy and fun to play. While blowing harder and softer into the mouthpiece at one end, the hand opens and closes other end. A great variety of pitches can be produced with these hand gestures. Together, two or more tuba flutes make wonderful chords. Great for beginners.

Primitive trumpets are also a limited production instrument. Please see below.

  UNIQUE INSTRUMENTS are made using a developed design or by creating a new one; they all are more complex to make and/or tune than the above. It is frequently necessary to make several instruments at one time to produce one or two great ones.
Whiffle ocarinas

Listen to Whiffle ocarina sample
Whiffle ocarinas are very versatile flutes with two chambers and a mouthpiece off to the side. The enclosed chamber (or ocarina) has five finger holes tuned to a pentatonic scale; with cross fingering, a diatonic and chromatic scale can be played. A large tube open around the mouthpiece is played like a tuba flute, bending tones, and generating high tones and complex interactions between the chambers. A range of wonderful melodies as well as vocal, animal and bird cries is possible.
Polyglobular (ball and tube) flutes

Listen to Polyglobular flute sample
Polyglobular (ball and tube) flutes have a haunting, intimate, thoroughly lovely sound. Round chambers are interconnected by tubular sections; when folded back and forth, small flutes can produce unexpectedly low tones. The saddle shaped mouthpiece, similar to that of a bass flute, requires a flute embouchure. Having an irregular internal shape, each flute plays irregular overtones and multiphonics. I tune to maximize the sound potential; each seems to have its own built-in melody.
  Listen to large water flute sample

Listen to small water flute sample

Video clip of water flute
Water flutes have two balls with one fingerhole each and a tube in between; a perpendicular section contains the mouthpiece, either end-blown, shakuhachi-style or airducted, recorder-style. Water inside the hollow tube and balls runs from side to side as the player rocks back and forth, altering the tone in ways not fully controllable. With the rocking motion, a performance becomes almost a dance. Wonderful interactions occur between the flute sounds as shaped by the water, the water sounds themselves, air pressure changes, and added vocal sounds.
Flute rack

Listen to /Hooded pipe sample
TUBULAR FLUTES & PIPES: single, double & triple pipes; hooded pipes; pipes & flutes with diatonic, Pre-Hispanic or other alternate tunings. They range in size from small space flutes to very long folded up harmonic flutes with deep, rich sounds.

Hooded pipes have a hood over the aperture, which deflects the air stream back into itself, causing a wonderfully reedy to rough timbre. Depending on the instrument, this timbre can be manipulated by air pressure. The more the hood covers the aperture, the less likely it is that this pipe will play into the second octave, and the more complex the timbre is likely to be.

Multiple pipes and ocarinas: Ocarinas are round vessel flutes; pipes are tubular. Multiple flutes have airducted or recorder-style mouthpieces. Complex to make and play, they can have a variety of tunings. With multiple instruments, melodies and chords can be played simultaneously. (Listen to a triple pipe in the performance section.)
  folded up flute
Sculptural folded up harmonic flute

Listen to Red harmonic sample

Listen to Big harmonic sample
BIG harmonic flutes are sculpted and sometimes folded forms, usually with one palm hole. They produce a wide and lovely range of deep sounds and harmonic overtones through air pressure variations.
  space flutes
Double space flutes
SPACE FLUTES AND WHISTLES are constructed in a variety of forms to produce combination tones. Combination tones are felt inside the ear through the interaction of two generating tones. Most participants' experiences of these sounds include: a sense that sound is physically moving the ear drum, an impression that the sounds are moving through the head from ear to ear, and a feeling that the sounds are generated inside their own head. They are only for the strong-hearted.
  double space flutes
Space whistle set for multiple players
Space whistle sets or combination tone whistle sets are designed to have at least one pitch in common. Each whistle has one fingerhole. Sets of single, double or triple space whistles are available, for play by small groups of people. When a group plays these potent combination tones together, the effect can be remarkable. In addition to the above sensations, participants usually can't tell who is playing which sound, themselves or another, thus perceptually erasing the barriers between people.

Double space flutes have piercing high tones which are painstakingly tuned so that with air pressure control, a range of perfect and dissonant intervals can be produced, with all of the effects discussed above. Their tones interact to create some of the most bizarre, physically potent sounds you will ever hear--they'll just about lift you out of your seat. They have two tubes, one usually with four holes and the other three. Two double space flutes are sometimes tuned to play together.
  chamberduct howler flutes
Chamberduct howler flutes

Listen to Howler sample
HOWLERS OR CHAMBERDUCT FLUTES were uniquely produced by the prehispanic instrument builders and have two to four acoustically coupled consecutive chambers. The chambers interact as a complex unit to produce sounds like raspy air noises, throat gurgles, wrenching cries or raucous sounds, as well as plaintive oboe-like tones, depending on construction and performance practices. They can sound like babies crying or like howler monkeys. Chamberduct flutes come in a variety of forms, from flute-like to sculptural.
  primitive trumpet
Primitive trumpet


Primitive ceramic trumpets
make a powerful sound with a limited range of pitches. By adding merlitons or membranes made from fish skin, bamboo paper, or thin plastic, the result is the 'trumpet kazoo', loud, vocal and buzzy. Additional interesting interactions occur by singing and talking while playing. Trumpets are a limited production design and can be cylindrical or conical and with or without fingerholes. They usually have a glazed mouthpiece and fired on underglaze and engobe colors.
Polyglobular trumpet

Polyglobular trumpets are deep, breathy and very powerful; played using didjeridu technique to pull out different harmonics, vocal sounds can also be added. Their form is inspired by an Amazonian design, with large chambers connected by short tubes, a trombone type mouthpiece and a bell.
  susan playing claydoo
Susan playing unfired clay-doo
CLAY-DOOS are ceramic didjeridus; excepting the possible presence of fingerholes, clay-doos are played with the same techniques, such as changing the shape of the mouth, vocalizing with the sound, and circular breathing. Their construction is similar to harmonic flutes: tubular pieces may be connected with hollow balls of clays, and folded into complex almost sculptural forms. Each has a unique sound.
Due to problems with clay availability, musical bowls and tubular ceramic xylophones are currently not being made.

Musical bowls
are played with mallets, producing lovely and individual tones. They come in a wide range of sizes and therefore fundamental pitches. Individual musical bowls cannot be tuned; by selecting among a sufficient number of bowls, lovely and unique sets can be formed.
  Tubular ceramic xylophones have a wonderfully crisp and melodic quality. As with the bowls, each tube can be tuned only by selecting among a grouping of them. One tube can be easily changed for another to vary the scale.
  exotic unique sound sculpture
Mad Plumber
Big harmonic flute

SOUND SCULPTURES incorporate flute-like acoustic systems into larger ceramic pieces, including some created for multiple players. The sounding element might be space whistles, howlers or hidden internal water activated whistles. Large harmonic flutes and clay-doos may also be treated as a sculpture. Each of these flutes is unique visually and sonically. Please see the Price List section for more Sound Sculpture images. Contact me for additional details.

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For workshops, performances or other information, please contact:
Susan Rawcliffe
P.O. Box 924
San Pedro, California 90733

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