TEDGlobal 2010

Caroline Phillips: Hurdy-gurdy for beginners

Filmed:

Caroline Phillips cranks out tunes on a seldom-heard folk instrument: the hurdy-gurdy, a.k.a. the wheel fiddle. A searching, Basque melody follows her fun lesson on its unique anatomy and 1,000-year history.

- Musician
Caroline Phillips' rich, soprano voice conjures up the far-and-wide cultures of the world, especially the sound and language of the Basque Country. Full bio

Now, since this is TEDGlobal,
00:15
who can tell me what this is called in French?
00:17
I see you're all up on the history of hurdy-gurdy --
00:21
"vielle à roue."
00:23
And in Spanish, "zanfona."
00:25
And in Italian, "ghironda," okay?
00:27
Hurdy-gurdy, or wheel fiddle.
00:29
So, these are the different kinds and shapes of the hurdy-gurdy.
00:32
The hurdy-gurdy is the only musical instrument
00:35
that uses a crank to turn a wheel
00:38
to rub strings, like the bow of a violin,
00:41
to produce music.
00:44
It has three different kinds of strings.
00:46
The first string is the drone string,
00:49
which plays a continuous sound like the bagpipe.
00:52
The second string is a melody string,
00:57
which is played with a wooden keyboard tuned like a piano.
00:59
And the third string is pretty innovative.
01:08
It's also the only instrument
01:10
that uses this kind of technique.
01:12
It activates what's called the buzzing bridge, or the dog.
01:15
When I turn the crank and I apply pressure,
01:19
it makes a sound like a barking dog.
01:25
So all of this is pretty innovative,
01:29
if you consider
01:31
that the hurdy-gurdy appeared about a thousand years ago
01:33
and it took two people to play it;
01:35
one to turn the crank,
01:37
and another person -- yes -- to play the melody
01:39
by physically pulling up large wooden pegs.
01:41
Luckily, all of this changed a couple of centuries later.
01:45
So, one person could actually play
01:48
and almost -- this is pretty heavy --
01:50
carry the hurdy-gurdy.
01:52
The hurdy-gurdy has been used, historically, through the centuries
01:55
in mostly dance music
01:58
because of the uniqueness of the melody
02:00
combined with the acoustic boombox here.
02:03
And today, the hurdy-gurdy is used in all sorts of music --
02:06
traditional folk music,
02:09
dance, contemporary
02:11
and world music --
02:13
in the U.K., in France, in Spain
02:16
and in Italy.
02:18
And this kind of hurdy-gurdy takes anywhere from three to five years [to order and receive it].
02:20
It's made by specialized luthiers,
02:23
also in Europe.
02:25
And it's very difficult to tune.
02:28
So without further ado, would you like to hear it?
02:32
(Audience: Yes.)
02:34
Caroline Phillips: I didn't hear you. Would you like to hear it? (Audience: Yes!)
02:36
CP: Okay.
02:38
There I go.
02:40
I'd like to sing in Basque,
02:43
which is the language spoken in the Basque Country where I live,
02:45
in the region in France and Spain.
02:48
(Music)
02:51
[Basque]
03:00
(Music)
03:45
Thank you.
04:36
(Applause)
04:38
This is a song that I wrote
04:40
based on traditional Basque rhythms.
04:43
And this is a song that has a kind of a Celtic feel.
04:46
(Music)
04:50
Thank you. Thank you.
05:30
(Applause)
05:32

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About the Speaker:

Caroline Phillips - Musician
Caroline Phillips' rich, soprano voice conjures up the far-and-wide cultures of the world, especially the sound and language of the Basque Country.

Why you should listen

Californian-born, French-resident entrepreneur and musician Caroline Phillips is one half of Basque music duo Bidaia, alongside Mixel Ducau. Her searching, Moroccan- and East Indian-inflected vocals are accompanied by the distinctive, folky sounds of the hurdy-gurdy, an unfamiliar and unusual string instrument operated with a crank-turned wheel.

Throughout her years as a professional musician, Phillips has regularly performed in jazz clubs and toured with her one-woman show in the Caribbean and North Africa.