Yes, that’s Aqua-Flute, not Aqua-Lung, you Jethro Tull fans! This is a tale that I’ve been wanting to get out for some time, especially since reconnecting with Steve Mann, the inventor of the Hydraulophone, or Aqua-flute as I affectionately call it. Not just a unique solo instrument, here you have a chance to discover – as I did – just how wonderful it can sound in ensemble with the flute, when we had a chance to collaborate recently. Playing by ear, this is our spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, our musical sounds blending as water gurgles soothingly in the background.
As odd as it might sound, I first met Steve in the wading pool area of the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre, adjacent to their 50-metre pool during one of U of T’s Sunday community swims. Even more strange, perhaps, is that I had somehow already heard of his crazy contraption, which turns pumped water into heavenly music. Part keyboard, part celeste, and all fun, Steve had one of the more portable versions of his instrument set up at one corner of the smaller pool, and the other-worldy melodies and chords drew me like a magnet. And just to keep up the nautical analogies, you might say I was hooked!
So flash forward 12 years or so, and by bumping into one of his business partners at Papa Ceo’s one night and offering up an impromptu didjeridoo lesson (long story!) over pizza and beer, I learned that this new-fangled and wondrous instrument was going to be featured in U of T’s upcoming science fair. And with my Urban Flute Project well under way, what terrific content, and there is even some discussion about putting on some in-house concerts at their storefront down on Dundas Street.
As described in a recent edition of WaterShapes magazine, the instrument in its different shapes and sizes goes by a variety of names, the Nessie being my favourite! Suitable for water parks and indoor settings – perhaps even in a public space like Dundas Square – the ingenious instrument is being welcomed by a growing number of international clients. Judging by the activity at their storefront-cum-laboratory directly across from midships of the newly Frank Gehry-fied Art Gallery of Ontario, business indeed seems to be sailing along at a steady clip. The new AGO admittedly looks like a futuristic, billowing ocean-vessel – no surprise, given the Toronto-born architect’s love-affair with sailboats and music – so it seems appropo that there be water-based musical industry right across the street.
When I had a chance to meet up with Steve and some of the Aqua-Flute team there last week, the space was kind of turned upside down since they had just been scrambling to get a big order out to Texas that afternoon. For a Texas-sized version of the ‘Aqua-flute’, you don’t have to head to the Panhandle – just drop by the Ontario Science Centre where there is an exquisite stainless steel, hands-on version of the FUNtain in a public area that has water being pumped through it 24-7 and where it resides, just begging to be played!
I haven’t been to the Science Centre for over a decade – shame on me – and I can’t believe I haven’t checked out the newly renovated AGO. Now Steve’s Hydraulophone gives me an excuse to kill two birds with one stone, and I can get that albatross of apathy from off my shoulders!
P.S. You don’t necessarily have to trek all the way to the wilds of Don Mills to check out this incredible instrument…word has it that a small orchestra is being assembled to offer up some in-house ‘Aqua-Salon Concerts’ right down on Dundas, between Beverley and McCaul…check back here for details, and I’ll be sure to do a shout-out, should be pretty cool…or wet at the very least!?
P.P.S. Alright, here’s Aqua-Lung for you Ian Anderson fans…what, you thought I’d hold out on you? ; )