These Musical Instruments Play With Fire

Pyrotechnic projects from DIYers

Most musicians are content to produce beautiful sounds. Others aim bigger and brighter—and hotter. These three musical instruments are literally playing with fire. It goes without saying, but don’t try building these at home.

Pyro-Trombone

Pyro-Trombone

Longtime trombone player Valentin Guérin spent a year building his Pyro-Trombone, which shoots a stream of flame from the horn. Guérin activates the fire by pulling a trigger rigged up to a container of fuel. To prevent imitators who might burn themselves, the musician is wary about sharing more details of how his instrument works: “It is very dangerous,” he says, “and I don't want people to harm themselves if they try to replicate it.” This fall, Guérin has organized a series of pyrotechnic performances around his native France, including a fire opera. "It's a big production with lots of pyrotechnics where the musicians are also manipulating the fire," he says. The artists include a singer who wears a fire crown and "levitates" two fire balls above her hands. You can watch Guérin putting the Pyro-Trombone through its paces in the video above—it gets good at about 1:10.Valentin Guérin
Fire Organ

Fire Organ

As a teenager at music festivals, Mark Rosin loved how music with heavy bass that made his body vibrate in time to the beat. Now the director of science event agency Guerilla Science, Rosin decided to visualize the vibrations that music emits—by turning them into flames. He enlisted artist Michael Kearney to build a “Fire Organ” that shoots flame patterns that correspond to the notes played. “Michael designed it, wonderfully, according to my specifications,” says Rosin. Their organ consists of a standard piano keyboard hooked up to five stacked Rubens tubes. A Rubens tube is a metal cylinder filled with flammable gas, with a line of holes punched in the top. Users light the gas, and small flames dart out of the holes on top. Then, a musical note from the keyboard is piped through the tube. The sound vibrations push the gas in the tube into a wave pattern, which creates a pattern in the flames peeking out of the top. Rosin's Fire Organ, which includes Rubens tubes ranging in length from just under 3 feet long to well over 6 feet, has been on display at various Guerilla Science events. You can watch it, along with other visualizations of sound, in this video.Illustration by +ISM
Candle MIDI

Candle MIDI

Adam Berger, a computer science student at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, has been making music since the fifth grade. Today, he indulges this interest with musical DIY projects such as tone generators and even a speaker made from a Solo cup. His latest, completed last March, is a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller that lets the flickering of a candle modify an audio signal. As air blows over the candle, a flame sensor monitors the flame, picking up on air motion from the room's unique environment. Berger connected the flame sensor to his digital audio workstation. With this extra input from the room music is recorded in, Berger hopes to increase the realism of his digital recordings. See how it works here. Berger notes that although this is generally used to modify a sound, “One could have it do anything, even play notes.”Illustration by +ISM