Caroline Phillips: Hurdy-gurdy for beginners
July 9, 2010
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.Caroline Phillips
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
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Now, since this is TEDGlobal,
who can tell me what this is called in French?
I see you're all up on the history of hurdy-gurdy --
"vielle à roue."
And in Spanish, "zanfona."
And in Italian, "ghironda," okay?
Hurdy-gurdy, or wheel fiddle.
So, these are the different kinds and shapes of the hurdy-gurdy.
The hurdy-gurdy is the only musical instrument
that uses a crank to turn a wheel
to rub strings, like the bow of a violin,
to produce music.
It has three different kinds of strings.
The first string is the drone string,
which plays a continuous sound like the bagpipe.
The second string is a melody string,
which is played with a wooden keyboard tuned like a piano.
And the third string is pretty innovative.
It's also the only instrument
that uses this kind of technique.
It activates what's called the buzzing bridge, or the dog.
When I turn the crank and I apply pressure,
it makes a sound like a barking dog.
So all of this is pretty innovative,
if you consider
that the hurdy-gurdy appeared about a thousand years ago
and it took two people to play it;
one to turn the crank,
and another person -- yes -- to play the melody
by physically pulling up large wooden pegs.
Luckily, all of this changed a couple of centuries later.
So, one person could actually play
and almost -- this is pretty heavy --
carry the hurdy-gurdy.
The hurdy-gurdy has been used, historically, through the centuries
in mostly dance music
because of the uniqueness of the melody
combined with the acoustic boombox here.
And today, the hurdy-gurdy is used in all sorts of music --
traditional folk music,
and world music --
in the U.K., in France, in Spain
and in Italy.
And this kind of hurdy-gurdy takes anywhere from three to five years [to order and receive it].
It's made by specialized luthiers,
also in Europe.
And it's very difficult to tune.
So without further ado, would you like to hear it?
Caroline Phillips: I didn't hear you. Would you like to hear it? (Audience: Yes!)
There I go.
I'd like to sing in Basque,
which is the language spoken in the Basque Country where I live,
in the region in France and Spain.
This is a song that I wrote
based on traditional Basque rhythms.
And this is a song that has a kind of a Celtic feel.
Thank you. Thank you.
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.
The original video is available on TED.com