Friday, 6 November 2009

My new shaker

For a man whose book of music games claims to be equipment-free I have been enjoying props lately. First the non-standard dice and now this shaker. It was the end of my weekend away and we stopped in a little market town called Ashbourne. Having endured a café where the service was so bad it was actually funny, we took advantage of the extra hour created by the switch from British Summer Time back to GMT. What to do? Window-shopping! My partner, with an eye for clothes, spotted an ethnic shop with a tiny street frontage, the size of a door. The interior was far larger, taking up two floors of an old Georgian house. And while she perused the garments I surveyed the various knickknacks: bangles, beads and mantelpiece clutter, all at pocket money prices.

I’m always on the look out for a musical instrument I’ve never seen before but this shop was rather disappointing: Indian bells on strings that were de rigueur for self-respecting hippies back in the seventies, and some gourd shakers. The shakers looked like the worst kind of tourist tat: over-decorated and unwieldy; an ornament not an instrument. To confirm my suspicions I picked it up and shook it. And was pleasantly surprised.

It’s actually more like a rain stick than a shaker, despite being just under a foot (30cm) long. In itself that wasn’t enough to interest me as the ‘shower’ lasts barely more than a second: all over before you’ve even opened your brolly. But the quality of the sound is intriguing. It has musical notes that suggest metal or ceramic elements inside, although there is no sign of the gourd having been opened. Some aspects of the sound recall bamboo gamelan instruments while others remind me of a self-righting plastic baby toy (circa 1987) that had a bell inside. Play the clip and judge for yourself.


  1. Could the "rain stick" sounds be little sticks of wood inside it, do you think?

  2. Possibly. There are two marks at the stalk end that may have been holes but may have been made by whatever held it while the gourd dried out. The diameter of the holes is less than 2mm. I think the seeds rattling about inside are what's making the sound. The inside surface must be very uneven and acting ass the sticks that are inserted into rainsticks. In this way it is just like any other gourd shaker. It was just the timbre that I found intriguing. It really does sound more metallic 'live' than it does in the recording.

    Sooner or later it will break, probably in the hands of some hapless child, and the truth will out.