Music Thing: The Waterphone

Each week Tom Whitwell of Music Thing highlights the best of the new music gear that's coming out, as well as noteworthy vintage equipment:

Why would any self respecting geek care about an acoustic musical instrument invented 30 years ago by a hippy artist in San Francisco? Because everyone has heard a Waterphone, they just don't know it. If you've seen The Matrix, or Poltergeist, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you've heard it. When the bronze rods are played with a violin bow, and the water is sloshing around in the bottom, it makes an instantly recognisable sound that says 'Ooh! Something scary is happening!'

You can hear samples of a Waterphone at the Freesound Project. It was invented by Richard Water in the late '60s in San Francisco. He patented it, and has since hand made over 1,000. He'll sell you a little one for $800, or a big one on a stand for over $1,700.

Alongside Tom Waits, Miles Davis, Evelyn Glennie and loads of film composers, one Waterphone user is Jim Nollman, founder of Interspecies Inc, who uses music to communicate with animals, particularly wales and dolphins. He says that orca wales are particularly fond of the Waterphone.