Bulbing a reed stem: troubles with bulbs and cups in Hellenic auloi

In my recent experiments making aulos reeds and pipes based on Hellenic finds, I have encountered some problems which I’d like to share in the hope of sparking a discussion.

First, some useful terminology:

At the time of Martin West’s seminal work, Ancient Greek Music, it was commonly believed that some Hellenic auloi had two bulbs between the main body of the instrument and the reed (West 1992: 85; Landels 2000: 27, 32). This assertion was based on many 5th-century iconographic representations that appear to depict the instrument in this way (e.g. Figures 1 and 2).

Fig. 1. Met NY 25.78.66, Photo: KW
Fig. 2. BrM London E68, Photo: KW

However, none of the excavated instruments dated to the Classical period seems to have been constructed according to such a design, which has led some researchers to question the existence of a second bulb. Admittedly, most of the surviving aulos pipes have deteriorated at the reed end, but the loss of an entire bulb section in all known finds is highly unlikely, especially in the case of finds which appear to have lost little material.

Approaching the problem of these instruments’ design, Stefan Hagel proposed some time ago that they required a long reed (see his forthcoming article ‘Understanding early auloi: instruments from Paestum, Pydna and elsewhere’; cf. Sutkowska 2010, 80-1). Ever since, reed-makers have been following his suggestion when producing reeds for Pydna and Poseidonia auloi (Figure 3; see blogposts on reed-making).

Fig. 3. Reconstruction of a Poseidonia aulos pipe (upstream end) with a long reed

While this method yields results that perfectly match some ancient depictions (e.g. the famous BrM E271, or the kylix from Tarquinia reproduced in Figure 4), it does not explain the hourglass-like double bulge visible in Figures 1 and 2. 

Fig. 4. Tarquinia Museo Nazionale, RC 6848. Photo: KW

Was it just an iconographic convention or were the stems of some long reeds bulbous in reality? I decided to explore this question by trying to force cylindrical reed stems into more curvaceous forms. In my quest I was inspired by a YouTube film on making duduk reeds https://youtu.be/QocUPXY5zpI, as these have a bulbous profile (Figure 5).

Fig. 5. Duduk reed profile

Applying a similar procedure, I was able to narrow the downstream end of a long reed (Figure 6). The result, produced from an Arundo donax tube of 13mm diameter, resembles a bulb only vaguely. A larger diameter of tube, a softer piece of cane, or another species of cane, would perhaps produce more of a bulge below the constriction. This result made me wonder about the shape of the cup, or upstream end of the pipe, where a slightly conical flaring receives the reed.

Fig. 6. Long aulos reed

From a practical perspective, the design of the reed seat is very important. In order to avoid air leaks, the reed must be firmly seated in the socket. I learned this the hard way, initially producing too conical a reed seat for my Pydna (Figure 7). Although none of the ‘early’ reeds survive, the way the internal walls of the reed seat are shaped could tell us a lot about the shape and the diameter of the downstream end of the reed.

Fig. 7. My first attempt at reconstructing the Pydna aulos

Stelios Psaroudakēs suggests that ‘early’ auloi often had a conical inlet for the reed (Psaroudakēs 2014, 119; cf. Psaroudakēs 2013), in which they differed from later finds (such as the Louvre pipes) that have a cylindrical socket in the reed cup. Unfortunately, the part receiving the reed has disintegrated at the rim in most of the ‘early’ aulos finds. With regard to the aulos of Pydna, Stelios Psaroudakēs suggests a flaring conical shape of both the external and internal profile of the reed seat (Psaroudakēs 2008, 209). The internal profile is what matters for reed makers. If it was indeed conical, it would most likely require a conical stem end. Another feature which is found in the early period (beginning from the 4th century BC) is a joint between cup and bulb: a two-piece construction, with a spigot on the cup entering a socket in the bulb (Psaroudakēs 2013, 111-13). The aulos of Pydna is an example (Figure 8).

Fig. 8. Aulos of Pydna, Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki, Photo: KW

Interestingly, 5th-century iconography does not provide many examples of a flared cup between the reed and the pipe (cf. Psaroudakēs 1994, 347). Are the artists depicting a type of cup and bulb made in one piece, which is known from the Perachora (Figure 9) and Ialyssos fragments and perhaps the aulos of Poseidonia? Was this whole piece called a holmos (ὅλμος – Greek for a drinking cup possibly with a foot and stem)?

Fig. 9. Section A 482 of Perachora aulos. Neck, bulb and cup in one piece. Image from Perachora: the sanctuaries of Hera Akraia and Limenia: excavations of the British School of Archaeology at Athens, 1930-1933, 1962, Plate 190.

This makes me wonder about the variety of designs of reeds and pipes in the Classical period. If some reed stems really bulged below the constriction (like an asymmetric hourglass), was it possibly because a player was using reeds made from tubes of greater diameter than the reed seat of the instrument allowed? Did the one-piece upper end (e.g. Perachora and Ialyssos) which is often depicted in Greek vase painting develop into a two piece structure (e.g. Pydna) with a flaring cup?

Just as I was pondering these questions, I came across an image of unequal pipes, comparable in their relative length to the auloi of Pydna and Poseidonia, and with a similar design of reed seat and reed to my experiments. In this depiction, the reed cups appear to form one piece with the bulbs and necks. The combined shape looks like a champagne glass: is this the shape that gave rise to the term holmos? Furthermore, the reeds (which seem to be differentiated from the rest of the instrument by a lighter shade of ochre) have the familiar asymmetrical hourglass shape. Our confidence in the truth-to-reality of this depiction is increased by the detail of the reed blades, which are represented at slightly different angles (Figure 10).

Fig. 10. Detail of Met NY 96.9.36 Public domain

I am still curious as to whether the marriage of reed and pipe represented here is effectively the same as that in Figures 1 and 2, or whether the deviations I have been discussing reflect deviations in reality. Moreover, I would like to know which parts of an aulos upper end were called holmos and hypholmion (cf. Psaroudakēs 1994, 346-7). It would also be interesting to investigate why Aristoteles (Hist. an. 6.10) compares a dogfish egg-case to aulos reeds (cf. Psaroudakēs 1994, 504). Could it be because of the bulbous shape of the long reed stem?’ As an aspiring aulos reed-maker, I hope for a publication that focuses closely on the internal profile of ‘early’ aulos reed seats.

Many thanks to April and Barnaby for helping me with my English, to Stefan for kindly sharing his unpublished research with me, and to Barnaby for helping me clarify my thinking.

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Pydna Aulos Exploration 1

Hello, My name is Ben Peters, and I’m just starting up on playing the Pydna Aulos. These videos that I will be posting every once in a while will be not only a record of my learning, but also a place for practicing ideas if you ever want to learn to play the Pydna as well. I hope you enjoy these videos!

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Let’s shed some light on ancient Near Eastern doublepipes!

Since the beginnings of the Workshop of Dionysus, a small number of replicas and reconstructions of doublepipes have become popular while others remain on the shelf. In this last category, we find the doublepipes of great civilisations that predate those of the Greeks and Romans. They present a dichotomy: on one side, they are simple instruments to make, at least in our industrial world; on the other, the musical theory embedded in their physical design is a conundrum. We don’t possess written keys that help unlock our understanding. In this short article, I introduce two venerable relics of the past. Their simplicity makes them very appropriate choices for doublepipe beginners!

Ur’s silver pipes

In the late 1920s, a silver doublepipe was found buried, broken and distorted (probably for ritual reasons) in a tomb at Ur (Mesopotamia). It is dated to around 2450 BC, making it the most ancient of all the doublepipes found up to the present day. In a study published in 2000, Bo Lawergren deduced that it was originally composed of two thin pipes measuring about 24 cm long, respectively with 4 and 3 finger holes (cf. Fig. 1 and a reconstruction by Marco Sciascia).

Fig. 1 – Old photograph of the parts constituting the two main silver pipes (with B2 revered). University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia (Neg. # S8-8251), from Lawergren (2000).

The revival began with single reeds, but in 2016, at Stefan Hagel’s suggestion, Barnaby Brown switched to using double reeds. These offer more flexibility (in sound and pitch), richer articulation possibilities and seem to be more reliable. Moreover, the existence and design of ancient double reeds is well attested (e.g. Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Egyptian reed and pipe dated from the Ptolemaïc era, i.e. between 323 and 31 BC, kept in the MIM (Inv. 3396), Brussels (Photo: © Katia Novoa, 2018).

Unlike Greek musical theory, Mesopotamian music remains quite obscure to us. Stefan Hagel (2016) showed that the tablets of Ras Šamra (Ugarit, modern Syria), dated to the 14th century BC, are a sort of tablature for a 9-stringed instrument. It notates a succession of dichords (i.e. chords consisting of two notes only) that may have been used to accompany a melody, either sung or played by one or more melodic instruments. Even if at first this sounds exciting, because dichords are child’s play for a doublepipe, we must avoid getting carried away. Why should Sumerian music of the 25th century BC have anything to do with the Ugarit tradition of the Bronze Age? After all, music that survives from the Middle Ages has little in common with that of the present.

An Egyptian doublepipe

Fig. 3 – Inscription on the bottom of the golden scarab:
nb.t (lady) pr (house) Makt (Maket)
i.e. ‘Maket, mistress of the house

In 1890 during an excavation at Kahun near Faiyum, the English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie found a pair of well conserved arundo donax pipes carefully stored in their reed case. The discovery did not go unnoticed at the time and the musician and musical journalist Thomas Lea Southgate published a paper on those “Egyptian Double-Flutes”. From this article, as well as from Petrie’s excavation report from 1891, we know that this instrument belonged to a woman, probably a member of the aristocracy. Her tomb was dated to the XXth dynasty (around 1100 BC) and her name and function can be read on a small golden scarab whose symbols are transcribed in Fig. 3.

Fig. 4 – Sketches by Petrie from the excavation report (1891).

These pipes are double the length of the Ur instrument. They may have used similar reeds, and interestingly, have the same number of finger holes, though not in the same places (cf. Fig. 4). Here, interpreting the pitches produced by the doublepipe is even more elusive, as the Egyptian civilisation did not leave any trace of musical theory. It seems that, unless the pipes were imported from outside Egypt (as some of the objects of the tomb were), they could be a key to understanding a bit more the kind of scales that sounded during the late New Kingdom.

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Phragmites australis vs Arundo donax

So far as I am aware, no aulos player today uses reeds made of Common Reed, Phragmites australis. We all use Giant Reed, Arundo donax. The reason is simple: the doublepipe revival began in a cultural environment that only esteemed Arundo. The expert reed players who influenced us had little or no experience using Phragmites. It cannot be ordered from reed cane suppliers because Arundo is the only species used to make the reeds for oboe, bassoon, clarinet, Sardinian launeddas and the bagpipes of Spain, France and Scotland – and this has been the case for at least 300 years. Had the aulos revival begun in Africa or Asia, it would have been a different story.

On 30 August, I made my first Phragmites reed. Here it is beside a prospective partner (scraped but not yet formed) with reed caps made of driftwood. The off-cut ring shows the wall thickness of the unworked tube:Phragmites reed by Barnaby Brown

Dimensions are: external diameter 13.0–13.5mm; unworked wall thickness 1.1–1.2mm; internal diameter under binding 4.5mm; length of scrape 23mm; tip to top of binding 34mm; total length 97mm. I scraped between forming the waist and forming the blades in in case the tube was too fragile and ruptured while forming the waist.

The scrape is where high precision, excellent light, a keen eye and patient perfectionism make all the difference. It must be evenly scraped all the way round, with a smooth taper all the way to the tip, no bumps. Look at the fibres of the cane closely. Use a quality reed knife and know how to sharpen it. I picked up tips from many people but particularly from Callum Armstrong and Robin Howell. Thank you both for sharing your expertise! I am especially grateful to Robin for sharing his suspicion that Phragmites fitted the historical evidence – literary and material – better than Arundo.

Phragmites reed by Barnaby Brown

In this photo, the internodal section above the tape measure shows what has happened to most of the stems of Phragmites I have harvested since Robin shared his concern that were not using the same material that auletes used in Classical antiquity. As Phragmites dries, it wrinkles. Deep buckles form that render it useless. Not expecting my first attempt at a reed to work out, I used an internodal section that had partially buckled. There was only enough cylindrical length to make a singleton. Now I regret that I didn’t give myself the option of making a complete ‘yoke’ (zeugos) of two reeds from the same internodal section.

Astonishingly, this singleton plays like a dream in my Pydna, Elgin and Megara auloi. I can’t believe it! A reed which took relatively little effort to make – my first attempt using Phragmites – plays better than any of my Arundo reeds, which are made by makers far more experienced than me. Its tone is gorgeous, its response is exciting and reliable – you might say ‘bomb-proof’ – and it has a dynamic and timbral range superior to anything I have experienced. I don’t think this is due to my skill but to the material: Phragmites australis.

Perhaps it is beginner’s luck, but I will stick my neck out and predict that most doublepipers will switch over to Phragmites within three years. Here are my reasons why, with the proviso that this is initial speculation, far from proven:

  1. The success rate making reeds is higher: a lower density and greater plasticity make Phragmites less prone to cracking when forming the blades.
  2. For the same reason, reeds are less likely to crack after hours of playing; the frustration of your best concert reeds cracking will not be experienced so frequently.
  3. The chances of making a yoke of reeds from a single internodal section are higher, resulting in less time spent balancing singletons and more time spent playing beautifully-balanced reeds, matched by nature (because the vibrating tips grew ‘kissing’ each other on either side of a cut).
  4. The time and effort involved in making reeds are lower: there is less substance to remove and much less force required to form the waist.
  5. Only Phragmites fits the botanical description of aulos cane written in the decades after 338 BCE by Theophrastus. Arundo grows large and strong enough to make aulos reeds without any water in sight, whereas Phragmites is too small and weak to make reeds unless it grows in fertile soil in, or beside, a lake or river that hasn’t run dry for at least two years.
  6. Only by using the historically-accurate plant species can we hope to penetrate the meaning of this passage by Theophrastus:

Before the time of Antigenidas [fl. 387-53 BCE], when they played without plasticity [aplástōs, ? without pitch-bending], the time for the cutting, they say, had been under Arcturus in the month of Boedromion [i.e. late September: Arcturus was barely visible before 20 September in Boeotia, in the late 4th century BCE, and Boedromion ends at the new moon after 21 September]

When they embraced the plastic [plásis] style, the cutting changed too: now they cut it during the months of Skirrophorion and Hekatombaion, shortly before or just at [the summer] solstice. They say it becomes usable within three years, requires little preparation [kataulēsis, presumably either soaking the reeds before playing, or breaking in new reeds], and the reeds permit down-pulls [kataspásmata, ? greater downward inflections of pitch]. This is necessary for those playing with plasticity [lit. “of plastic pipe-playing”].

Historia Plantarum IV.ii.4–5

This translation (and those below) is my own revision of Andrew Barker’s, informed by conversations with Stefan Hagel and Sylvain Perrot, and by my own experience as an aulos player. Today, Arcturus rises some weeks later. The time for harvesting cane, however, has nothing to do with the influence of the stars: in ancient Greek culture, dates in the agricultural calendar were fixed to star-risings simply because the lunar months moved. A thirteenth month had to be inserted about every third year to keep the months in sync with the seasons.

I began harvesting Phragmites last year, initially finding it in Cambridgeshire, Tarquinia and Cyprus. My first mid-June harvest (for the more bendy, ‘plastic’ playing style) was in Athens with Chrestos Terzēs:

My first late-September harvest (for the older, ‘non-plastic’ playing style) was in Orte, just north of Rome, with Marco Sciascia. But the best stand of aulos cane I have found so far was with Felipe Aguirre in Palma de Mallorca, a couple of months ago. In a convenient location near the airport, I found a mass of canes suitable for both the reeds and bodies of pipes, some of them naturally seasoned and ready for use. Here are four photo albums showing details of the cane I harvested in each location:

Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, UK. 12 February 2018
Antonis Tritsis Park, Athens, Greece. 23 June 2018
Lago Vadimone, Orte, Italy. 23 September 2018
Camí de Can Alegria, Palma de Mallorca. 4 July 2019

Like Robin Howell, Stelios Psaroudakēs suspected that Phragmites australis was the most likely candidate for ‘aulos cane’ (auletikos kalamos) over 25 years ago. He recently uploaded a PDF, ‘Auletikos Kalamos’, of the relevant pages from his doctoral thesis (1994). Thank you Stelios! These 15 pages are essential reading for every aulos player – solid scholarship to be re-read every few years, guiding our practical work and opening our minds to potentially better solutions.

It is regrettable that we did not respect Theophrastus’s writings earlier. By using reed cane ordered on the internet, swayed by convenience and modern Western cultural prejudice, I think we have lost a lot of time and energy travelling in the wrong direction. Arundo makes life as an aulos player unnecessarily difficult. The fact that Phragmites is disparaged or completely overlooked by Western reed makers is perhaps best explained as a cultural blind spot. This appears to be a perfect example of preconceptions hindering progress.

I ruled out making aulos reeds in 2013 because I found it so frustrating. None of my efforts were successful. My experience using Phragmites this last fortnight, however, has completely changed my mind. I am converted: from now on, I will make my own reeds.

It is almost time for the late-September harvest. I would encourage every aulos player to go out and find some Phragmites. It is one of the most widely distributed flowering plants in the world! This photo shows the basic difference between Arundo and Phragmites:


Phragmites is in the foreground, being cut by Marco Sciascia. Arundo donax is taller: its name is Giant Reed for obvious reasons. I took this photo in Italy in late September; the next one I took in Athens, two days after the summer solstice:


Note how the flowers of Arundo (on the right) are bolt upright, whereas the flowers of Phragmites (on the left) droop to one side. Arundo can also be distinguished by the presence of offshoots on older stems; many more ‘children’ grow from its nodes than on stems of Phragmites.

Variation in the material characteristics of Phragmites is enormous. It really matters where and when you harvest – even more so than with Arundo. The variation is caused not only by different growing conditions (climate, quality of soil and access to water) but also by reticulate evolution. This means that there are no sharp borders between subspecies:

At present, five species are recognized, of which Phragmites australis is the most widely distributed. There is, however, morphological and cytological variation within Phragmites species, and in particular within the cosmopolitan P. australis, that has resulted in the description of a number of subspecies and varieties, whose taxonomic rank has been discussed and frequently revised. In Europe, two P. australis subspecies were proposed by Clayton (1968): P. australis ssp. australis, distributed in the temperate regions of both hemispheres in the Old and the New World, and P. australis ssp. altissimus, distributed along the shores of the Mediterranean, extending to Iran, Arabia, Kenya, Ethiopia and the southern edge of the Sahara. The name P. australis ssp. altissimus has been accepted in the world checklist of selected plant families in the Kew database, where the holotype is conserved. The epithet ‘isiaca’, referring to the borders of the ancient Egyptian Empire, is also frequently used for the Mediterranean Phragmites both at the subspecific and the varietal level…
The lack of structure within the European group, as opposed to other geographically distinct P. australis groups, suggests largely reticulate interrelationships within a metapopulation with indeterminable borders.

Theophrastus tells us that the thinner-walled stems (growing in water that remains all year round) were used for aulos reeds, whereas the thicker-walled stems (growing where the water dries up) served for aulos bodies – i.e. the tubes with fingerholes:

It grows whenever there has been an abundance of rain and the water remains in the lake for at least two years; and it is better if the water stays longer. People recall that this happened, in recent years, most notably at the time of the battle of Chaironea [338 BCE]. Before that, they told me, the lake was deep for several years, and at a later date, when there was a severe plague, the lake filled but the water did not stay in it: the winter rain failed and the cane did not grow. They say, and they seem to be right, that when the lake is deep the cane grows to a greater length, and if it stands during the following year it becomes mature. Thus grows matured reed cane [suitable for the zeugos, lit. ‘yoke’ of two reeds, one for each pipe], and that around which the water does not remain is bombyx cane [suitable for the body of the instrument].

Historia Plantarum IV.ii.3

The bodies of auloi were called ‘bombyxes’ because, when made from sections of bone, they look like a silkworm:


Several other traditions recorded by Theophrastus are worth noting:

  • Don’t remove the leaves! They protect a fragile material from damage in transit and slow down the seasoning process, reducing the extent of wrinkling and buckling.
  • When cutting stems down to a length that fits in your car or suitcase, cut immediately above the nodes. A superfine razor saw with 52 teeth per inch is perfect for this, or a thin-bladed knife that is seriously sharp.
  • Discard any sections that are less than two palms’ breadth between the nodes.
  • In Boeotia, the heartland of Greek aulos-playing, they left the stems in the open air for the winter, removed the leaves and thoroughly rubbed them down in the spring, then laid them out in the sun until the summer. Cutting above the nodes, they then cut the stems into internodal sections and laid them out in sun again for some time. Those of us who live in colder, wetter climates will depend on those living in sunnier parts!
  • In each ‘yoke’, the reed whose mouth points upwards, towards the flower, goes in the low pipe; the reed whose mouth points downwards (marked by the node at its base) goes in the high pipe.
  • “If the reeds are made any other way, they do not sound properly in consonance.” (Historia Plantarum IV.ii.7)

Theophrastus describes several species of cane, none of which fits Arundo donax. The most likely explanation for this is that Arundo was not growing in Boeotia in the fourth century BCE, but is a later introduction:

According to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), this species is native only to a fairly narrow area bounded by Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in the west, the Gulf States in the south and Japan south to Myanmar in the east. The same source describes it as occurring as an introduction from the Atlantic Ocean island groups and the Iberian Peninsula throughout the Mediterranean.

Lotus wood and tibia bones were used for the bombyxes of more expensive, professional instruments – the ones buried as grave goods that survive in museums. Ancient Egyptian doublepipes, however, (several of which survive from around 1100 BCE) are made of Phragmites. This is also the species used for aulos-like reeds in living musical traditions all the way from Egypt to Japan.

Although the evidence weighs overwhelmingly in favour of Phragmites, my speculations above have yet to be tested. Above all, we need to find our modern-day “sharp bend” – the place where aulos reed-cane grows just right. Not too hard, not too soft; not too thick-walled, not too thin-walled. The story of the aulos revival so far has been one of reeds that are unbalanced and prone to cracking, or desperation lacking any reeds that work adequately. This is no fun. It puts a huge strain on a small number of reed makers and is incompatible with the historical evidence. There must be a better solution.

Please share your experiences using Phragmites australis here. By working as a community, exchanging pockets of knowledge, we have a better chance of building up within our lifetimes a level of expertise consistent with that of the ancient world.

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First score for Megara aulos: Alcestis, Kommos

In this video, I discuss my approach to composing and playing music on an aulos reproduced by Chrestos Terzēs after an original buried at Megara in c. 300 BCE. The reeds are by Robin Howell. The occasion is the 2019 Bradfield Greek Play – the Alcestis of Euripides.

The aulos part that I am demonstrating is still in pencil. The first score for Megara aulos that I have finished engraving is from later on in the play – an abridged setting of the Kommos:


Here is a 360 degree video that corresponds to this score relatively closely:

It was filmed in the Greek Theatre at Bradfield College, UK, on Tuesday 25 June 2019. Special thanks to Polly Caffrey, Armand D’Angour, Stephen Wallace, Matthew Lowe, David Quinn and the cast of Alcestis 2019 — the 40th Bradfield Greek Play. King Admetus is played by Jack Kidson.

For more info, see https://www.bradfieldcollege.org.uk/blog/2019/06/19/revived-ancient-instrument-to-feature-in-alcestis-2019/.

All the scores and rehearsal MP3s that I prepared for this production are available at https://figshare.com/articles/Euripides_Alcestis_for_Bradfield/7770731.

The following video gives more information on the auloi of Megara:

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The Euripides Orestes Chorus

Score and commentary: Euripides-Orestes-Chorus_2018-08-02.pdf
Open file formats: doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6885089

A tiny piece of mummy cartonnage with musical notation was found in 1892. Written in about 200 BCE, it is thought to transmit music composed by Euripides for his tragedy Orestes (408 BCE).

My creative journey interpreting this fragment began in November 2016 when Armand D’Angour sent me the first version of his reconstruction. I had recently received a reproduction of the Pydna aulos, buried 400–350 BCE. This seemed like a perfect conjunction of events. Since then, several patient collaborators have suffered my determination to play the Pydna aulos in public, well before I was a competent player!

I am particularly grateful to Geoffrey Webber and the Caius Choir; to Tosca Lynch and the singers at the 10th MOISA meeting in Oxford; to the participants of the 1st Euterpe Doublepipe School; and to Stef Conner. These co-performers have all been encouraging, accommodating and constructive, helping me to develop an accompaniment on an instrument that no-one knew how to play.

The Pydna aulos has been slow to shed its secrets – it certainly challenges Western preconceptions. I am indebted to Stelios Psaroudakēs who measured it, Robin Howell who reproduced it, the Actors Touring Company who helped me pay for it, and Stefan Hagel whose dedicated aulos software helped me interpret it.

This reconstruction of the Euripides Orestes Chorus has now benefitted from 21 months of testing and development. A total of nine performances with varied vocal forces reflects the University of Oxford’s commitment to building public engagement into the design and conduct of research. I am also grateful to the European Music Archaeology Project for funding three of these performances and a recording soon to be released by Delphian Records.

Last week, Stef and I performed the latest version at the 11th MOISA meeting in Reading:

This was the first time I actually managed to play the notes I intended (I am thousands of hours away from mastery). This performance is perhaps slightly under tempo – a result of us rehearsing at half speed to increase our intonation accuracy. It corresponds to the performing materials that Armand and I released today at doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6885089.

This video offers a window on the development process:


Armand and I are not suggesting that this is Euripides’ music, or that this is the best way of interpreting the papyrus fragment. It is an experiment. For me, the aulos revival is about deepening our connection to things that are remote, historically and culturally. We do this best, I believe, by creating music that is excitingly new, assertively original and daringly experimental.

Releasing open file formats means that other people can make whatever changes they wish. There are many possible solutions and next time I would want to do it differently myself, responding to feedback. This poses a problem. Traditional forms of publication fix things; our interpretation is on the move and I would like it to remain that way.

A solution to this problem is offered by figshare. This free platform provides elegant version control, generates Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and can host open file formats that many sites (like this one) don’t allow for security reasons.

Over the next few months, I will be releasing four more volumes of editable performing materials: the EMAP Resources for Euterpe. Each will have a figshare DOI for the open file formats and a page like this for discussion, documenting developments and linking to alternative versions. This is a ‘soft’ launch. Once the doublepipes.info and figshare pages are ready, then we can publish a homepage for the series on the EMAP website.

Don’t hesitate to make suggestions for how these performing materials could be made better. Any feedback is much appreciated!

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Poetovio Tibia I

It was 2011 when I visited the wonderful city of Ptuj for the first time in order to study the Poetovio-fragments for my PhD project on the acoustic and mechanical systems of the doublepipes from the Roman Empire period. I was especially interested in their organology, that means in their construction, trying to understand the different types of mechanisms present on the instrument. Apart from that I immediately started looking for any indications for the original order of the nowadays separate fragments of the pipes. During this study I was tremendously supported by a wonderful and extremely helpful team from the Ptuj Regional Museum (Pokrajinski Muzej Ptuj Ormož ), Tatjana Štefanič, Darja Koter and Boris Farič, who made professional photographs, and also by my husband Adje Both.

Then, the EMAP started and the reconstruction of the Poetovio tibia could not be missing in the “Archaeomusica” exhibition, especially as the exhibition was going to be shown in Slovenia. The Poetovio tibia is, next to the possible Neanderthal flute from Djive Babe, the most significant archaeological musical instrument found in Slovenia so far. The reconstruction project became a reality and I could continue my work together with the great researchers and instrument makers related to the EMAP – my personal dream team – Peter Holmes from London and Stefan Hagel from Vienna. Peter was the one who in fact produced the first reconstruction of the instrument seen on the photo below. Stefan, in turn, was involved in creating the design of the reconstruction. He enriched my organological interpretation by the use of his dedicated software for auloi/tibiae reconstructions, which gave the reassembly of the instrument fragments another dimension – he interpreted the instrument fragments according to nowadays knowledge on the ancient Graeco-Roman musical system. Stefan also created the .stl files for each of the pipes, so that we were able to print them out and check them before starting the production from bone and metal. The print out was done at the Middlesex University London (one of the EMAP’s associated partner) with the great support of Neil ‘Spike’ Melton.

Peter, Stefan and I are working currently on the design for Poetovio tibia II, so the instrument reconstruction will soon achive another level of maturity. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tibia from Poetovio (Ptuj, Slovenia), 2nd or 3rd century AD, Pokrajinski Muzej Ptuj Ormož. Photo on the left: the original fragments of the instruments; © Boris Farič and Olga Sutkowska. Photo on the right: preliminary reconstruction of the Poetovio fragments made by Dr Peter Holmes according to his and Olga Sutkowska’s measurements, Olga’s organological research, and the reassembly idea of Dr Stefan Hagel; the reconstruction project has been coordinated by Olga on behalf of the European Music Archaeology Project; © Olga Sutkowska.

Tibia from Poetovio (Ptuj, Slovenia), 2nd or 3rd century AD, Pokrajinski Muzej Ptuj Ormož.
Photo on the left: the original fragments of the instruments; © Boris Farič and Olga Sutkowska.
Photo on the right: preliminary reconstruction of the Poetovio fragments made by Dr Peter Holmes according to his and Olga Sutkowska’s measurements, Olga’s organological research, and the reassembly idea of Dr Stefan Hagel; the reconstruction project has been coordinated by Olga on behalf of the EMAP; © Olga Sutkowska.

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Euterpe 2018 preparation

This page contains experiments in sound and notation. We are sharing these experiments so that 1) participants can prepare for the 1st Euterpe doublepipe school, and 2) scholars can send us feedback before rehearsals begin on 3 May. After the scores have been road-tested at the school, they will be revised and published on the website of the European Music Archaeology Project, together with videos and audio recordings made during Euterpe 2018.

Please use this SoundCloud playlist to download the MP3s and the links below to print the scores. They are all snapshots of work in progress. Your critical feedback is most welcome. How can we make these performing materials better?

Note to participants: Please bring a music stand! Callum and I will be helping you write your parts into the blank staves, using these pieces as vehicles for practising. The notations we generate will be collected as starting points for future schools. No-one should do all 4 pieces. Excuse yourself from at least one and use its rehearsal slots to practise, fix reeds (with Callum or Marco), or relax. In the pieces you choose to rehearse, you have the option of singing or playing or both.

DAGM = Documents of Ancient Greek Music: The Extant Melodies and Fragments edited and transcribed with commentary by Egert Pohlmann and Martin L. West (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Pindar’s 12th Pythian Ode (on the invention of the aulos)

Score for chorus and Poseidonia aulos corresponding to this January 2018 recording with Stef Conner.
Enharmonic genus. ‘Dorian’ and ‘Mixolydian’ Aristides scales. Rhythm and pitch contour informed by the ancient Greek words

Two Anonymous “Bellermann” Exercises (DAGM 37 & 35)

Score with vocables prepared by Stefan Hagel 
Diatonic genus. Ancient notation and vocables edited by Stefan Hagel for the 4th Meeting of the Workshop of Dionysus (May 2017)

Euripides Orestes Chorus (DAGM 3)

Score for chorus and Pydna aulos
Enharmonic genus. ‘Phrygian’ Aristides scale. Melody 27% ancient notation, 73% reconstruction by Armand D’Angour

Athenaios Paean (DAGM 20)

Score for chorus at a pitch for Louvre aulos
Section 1: spondeion scale. Section 2: chromatic genus, modulating style. Section 3: diatonic genus. Melody 82% ancient notation, 18% reconstruction by Stefan Hagel


We are not attempting to produce definitive texts or performances. Please treat the draft scores above as members of evolving families of ‘indefinite’ performing materials; part of a rich ecology; starting points for new music and for doublepipe education. The ensemble arrangements we will create in Tarquinia next weekend will be tailored to suit everyone’s individual playing abilities, bringing together a glorious mixture of doublepipes.

With 20 participants, mostly beginners, we are not in the business of scholarly reconstruction: our music-making will accommodate everyone’s individual level and all the different doublepipes that we have. This means mixing up historical periods. We will be forming small ensembles dictated by the temperamental tuning of the pipes we want to play. The principle is to compose simple exercises that sound good and stretch us gently in the direction of becoming better players. It just happens that some of these exercises will be integrated into a final performance: this serves as a stimulus to practise and provides a holistic learning experience, touching every aspect of being a doublepiper.

Where ancient evidence is contradicted, we will make this clear and give reasons. For example, I have transposed the Athenaios paean down a minor 3rd to suit the Louvre aulos. I don’t believe it was performed at this pitch in 128/7 BCE, or that the Louvre aulos is the right type of aulos. We are using this pitch at Euterpe 2018 because: 1) we don’t have instruments at the original pitch, 2) it makes it easier for all participants to sing (not too high or too low); and 3) actively performing this piece without physical strain makes us more receptive to ancient Greek musical conceptions and idioms – we are better able to internalise an alien style when we are less stressed. The Athenaios is the best introduction to ancient Greek music that we have, lets enjoy it!

All the scores use sounding pitch, rather than the transposing pitch used in scholarly materials to date, for the following reasons:

  1. Ease collaborating with other musicians (particularly singers) – I see no sense in preparing scores for voice and aulos in which the vocal part is in a different key to the aulos part. This would prevent singers from reading the harmony, which is helpful both for pitching and for tuning.
  2. Ease collaborating with composers and scholars who ask you what notes you can play. As French horn players know, composers tend to get transposing instruments wrong even when textbooks are clear and numerous (neither of which is the case for doublepipes). Transposing introduces hazards which mean significant time is wasted as a result of mistakes and misunderstandings.
  3. Ease producing scores – when engraving software transposes a part, you loose the manual formatting. This can represent hours of work, getting the spacing to look good.  Even if the transpose button didn’t throw things awry, having to produce two scores (one in concert pitch for the singer/director and one transposed for the aulos player, with cues transposed) represents significantly more work. This is a waste of money and time.
  4. If all doublepipes behaved like the Louvre, but in different keys, then there would be a case for treating the aulos as a transposing instrument. But they don’t. Greek and Roman finds span a 700-year period and are significantly different in their tonal behaviour. Sometimes the pipes are a tone apart, sometimes a 4th, sometimes in unison. Without a fixed standard, transposition offers no practical advantage to the modern aulete, as it does to the clarinettist or would have done to the ancient aulete who played instruments from a single time and place.

Rather than making life difficult for our colleagues – singers, lyre players and composers – I think it is wiser for the doublepipe community to learn to read at pitch. The only slight exception I make to this is in scores for the Pydna/Poseidonia aulos: these instruments behave almost identically and sound only a semitone apart, so I split the difference and write at a pitch in between. Depending on reeds, the Poseidonia sounds about a quarter tone higher, the Pydna a quarter tone lower than written.

With the Athenaios, note that we are doing Stefan’s version, not Armand’s – there are major differences in the melody and in the pronunciation. Stefan’s view is that the pronunciation would have been old-fashioned, which makes life easier for us as we can use the same pronunciation rules in all three songs: Pindar, Euripides and Athenaios.

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Hichiriki reeds

by Jean Jeltsch, Robin Howell and Barnaby Brown


This Japanese hichiriki reed was photographed by the bassoon reed researcher Jean-Marie Heinrich in the 1980s. It bears a striking resemblance to an aulos reed acquired by the Berlin Egyptian Museum in 1894:


This image is from Stefan Hagel’s study, ‘Understanding the aulos Berlin Egyptian Museum 12461/12462’ (2010). The reed was in the low pipe of an aulos bought on the antiquities market, presumably in Egypt. A drawing in the museum inventory is all that remains. The drawing is not to scale, but because the reed was fitted in the low pipe when it came into the museum (they share an inventory number) we can estimate that its total length was between 3cm and 5cm. This is roughly a third of the length of the hichiriki reed in Jean-Marie Heinrich’s collection, photographed above.

Hichiriki reeds are made from Phragmites australis. This 2015 study investigates why stems from one particular lake make the best reeds. The following three videos each show a different method of hichiriki reed making:

In the video above, skip to 6:56 for the reed-making sequence.

We are fortunate that Gagaku musicians are sharing this information online – traditionally, such matters were closed and secretive, as they have been in Scottish piobaireachd and Sardinian launeddas traditions. To have expert hichiriki players contributing to the revival of ancient doublepipes could be very illuminating. Their different approach and musical conceptions have a venerable lineage and may steer us in valuable directions, helping aulos players to escape modern-Western musical training. If you are a hichiriki player, please get in touch!

In his account of traditional performing techniques, Thomas Piercy notes:

Sliding notes and tonal variation obtained by producing the same pitch on different fingerings is a feature of its style… Traditionally, tonguing is not used… Instead phrases are shaped by the control of the airflow and selected pitches are accentuated by tapping the instrument’s holes with the fingers.

Hichiriki came to Japan via Korea, which has a similar tradition and instruments. In China, it is called the guan. Below is a 12th-century painting depicting three guan players and two dizi (transverse flute) players, accompanied by a paiban (wooden clapper), performing in the home of Han Xizai, a minister to the Song Dynasty emperor Li Houzhu.


Further west, we find closely-related instruments in the Azerbaijani balaban and Armenian duduk (for which there are some reed-making videos here). All these instruments are essentially monauloi with an entangled transcultural history – the result of centuries of trading along the Silk Road and Indian Ocean routes:

Silk Road_06 copy

This map was produced by The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

In a recent study, Ingrid Furniss and Stefan Hagel find substantial evidence for direct contact between China and the Hellenistic world during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 CE).  Remarkably, they also draw attention to an image of a doublepiper on a bronze vessel thought to have been made in north China, buried in the 5th century BCE. This photo was taken by Ingrid Furniss at the Sichuan Provincial Museum:


The doublepipe was evidently known in China long before the earliest written accounts, which suggest that musicians from Hellenistic regions regularly reached the Han court and the eastern seaboard between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. For more details, see ‘Xiwangmu’s double pipe: a musical link to the far Hellenistic West?’ in Imago Musicae 29 (2017), pp. 7–32.

In Japanese culture, reeds have powerful metaphysical associations. Toyoda Mitsuyo writes:

The Japanese narratives of the emergence of the world… depict chaotic, complex, and organic processes of genesis. They do not assume creation controlled by a supernatural being but illustrate an unpredictable spontaneous power of nature that continuously generates life. Things in nature have been metaphorically used to describe the divinity and dignity of the process of becoming. In Kojiki, the Records of Ancient Matters, for example, the words ashi (葦, reeds) and ashikabi (葦牙, reed-shoot) appear repeatedly as an expression of the vital organismic force of deities and the world.

… When wetland covered most of the lowlands of Japan, the landscape of thick reeds was symbolic of the prosperity of the country… In spring, strong reed-shoots grow straight up from the web of roots hidden in the soil or in the water. The power of growth represented by reed-shoots is also a wish of further development of life and culture.

This is from ‘Recollecting Local Narratives for the Land Ethic’ in Japanese Environmental Philosophy, ed. J. Baird Callicott and James McRae (OUP 2017), section 10.2.

We have yet to find videos of the old style of hichiriki reed photographed by Jean-Marie Heinrich above, either being played or being made. If anyone could let us know more about traditional methods of making reeds with a waist, looking like the one lost in Berlin, we would be extremely grateful.

Warm thanks to Jean-Marie Heinrich for permission to publish his hichiriki reed photos. Essential viewing for all reed makers are these photos showing the difference between high- and low-density cane (2017). In this one, he has sorted 1000 tubes of oboe cane by density:


Lowest density is on the left (0.47 g/cm3), highest on the right (0.78 g/cm3). For aulos reed-making, we want low-density tubes (10-12mm diameter). Softer cane significantly increases success rate during manufacture and reduces the problem of blades cracking during a reed’s working life. These issues have plagued the aulos revival so far. It could be that the answer lies in Phragmites australis, which has a lower density than Arundo donax.

Jean-Marie has published many articles of interest to reed makers. His doctoral thesis investigates what makes one reed better than another: Recherche du mécanisme régulateurde la qualité musicale de l anche double confectionnée en canne de Provence’, Université de Paris, 1986.

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The 1st Euterpe doublepipe school

Our parent organisation, the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP), is organising a doublepipe school in Tarquinia, Italy, 3–6 May 2018. For the programme and further information on the Euterpe school, see www.emaproject.eu/events/euterpe.


Euterpe is the Greek muse of music, commonly represented playing a doublepipe. The Roman mosaic above (c. 240 CE in Vichten, Luxembourg) shows her playing a mechanised tibia. We dream of playing an instrument like this in a future Euterpe school!

A detailed timetable will be published in mid-April, when registration closes. Meantime, please help us spread the word by sharing the Euterpe 2018 prospectus. We are particularly keen to reach woodwind players in conservatoires, universities, jazz schools and traditional music schools.

Anyone is welcome. You don’t need to bring an instrument: on the first day, we’ll be making simple Ur pipes that you can take home. These narrow-bore pipes are ideal for practising quietly and for learning circular breathing. They are based on Bo Lawergren’s study of a find from 2450 BCE. Below is a reconstruction by Marco Sciascia, hammered from solid silver in 2016. I made the reeds using Arundo donax that I cut in September 2014, while on holiday near Girona.


The other doublepipes that Callum and I will be focusing on at Euterpe 2018 (providing staff notation of exercises and group arrangements) are the Louvre, Berlin, Pydna and Poseidonia. Callum has been making exciting progress on the Berlin and I have been exploring ways of playing the ancient scales transmitted by Aristides Quintilianus on the Pydna and Poseidonia. This has been possible thanks to the development of superb reeds by Robin Howell, who made a Pydna for me last year from Scottish deer bonePydna-in-bone-by-Robin-Howell

The Euterpe school is associated with two websites. Let me explain the difference. For  discussion and work-in-progress, you can follow developments here in the Workshop of Dionysus (www.doublepipes.info). This is a workshop. We get our hands dirty, experimenting, sharing drafts. It’s OK to make mistakes: we learn by getting things wrong in a supportive environment, one that understands the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration. Everyone can get involved, contributing to the evolution of ideas. What matters here is: 1) creativity breaking new ground; and 2) a spirit of generosity, curiosity and respect for other people’s ways of thinking – both in the distant past and in other cultural and professional spheres today.

The focus of the Workshop of Dionysus is the revival of doublepipes. The EMAP website (www.emaproject.eu) differs in that it covers a whole cornucopia of musical instruments and has no discussion. Milestones in the doublepipe revival are frozen on the EMAP site from time to time, together with milestones from other strands in our parent project.

If you want to get involved in testing and developing doublepipe learning materials, the action takes place here. I look forward to vigorous discussion of the Euterpe school materials between now and May! Pages with information for participants and ‘milestone’ scores, the provisional results of ongoing experiments, will be at www.emaproject.eu/events/euterpe.

Do join us if you can! If not at Velcamare, then in conversations at the foot of any page in this workshop.


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