Photo of an overtone tube

Overtone Tubes

Imagine an orchestra of automated flutes that sound like wind rushing through a cave or an aeolian harp!

The Overtone Tube is a kind of “harmonic flute,” that is to say a very long recorder without holes. Its “head,” made of white acetal, has a bevelled notch, like a recorder. This head is attached to a long plastic tube, as well as to a compressed air inlet. The note produced is “windy”—i.e. you can hear the air going through the column—and rich in harmonics.

The Overtone Tubes are at the heart of Jean-François Laporte’s “Qi,” a sound installation premiered in 2014 in Hellerau (Dresden, Germany), then reprised at Musée Quai 5160 in Verdun (Quebec), as well as at Maison de la culture Pointe-aux-Tremble in 2019. About forty tubes of various lengths are set in equidistant rows in the exhibition space, and each compressed air inlet is controlled by a computer that follows a “score” loaded with rhythmic and spatial games. Visitors are invited to stroll around the room to alter their perception of the work.

There is a lot more to explore in this evanescent sounding instrument. This one has a bright future.