Top left to right: triple ocarina, padauk; bass ocarina, red cedar. Bottom, left to right: alto, red oak; soprano, bocote; alto, red oak.
“Look at this,” my sister said, showing me a little four-holed ceramic whistle--- a “globular flute” technically speaking, but called an “ocarina.” It was a pendant which her cello teacher had purchased on the street in England. And it sounded a lot like her recorder----which immediately led us to discovering the secret of coaxing an octave’s worth of notes, including most chromatics, out of four little fingerholes. It wasn’t long before I was reproducing in wood what turned out to be an English mathematician’s invention. Not very interesting, if the truth were known. So I wondered about putting two of them together.
Would it be too difficult to play? It wasn’t--- the capacity for the brain to learn patterns is amazing--- nor was the decision to pitch the two voices a fourth apart. I am a low-level piano player, accustomed to leading with the high voice in the right hand and bumbling along with an accompanying lower voice in the left. This meant that I would reverse the traditional relationship of fifths by putting the “SOL” below the “DO”. It worked out beautifully.
I postulated that an ocarina whose low voice was a fourth below the high voice enclosed a volume of air which was somehow proportional. Double in size, it turned out. And for the scaling of the notes, I began to explore just intonation and abstract mathematical values--- while for tuning purposes, I was becoming familiar with phenomena such as “difference” and “combination” tones.
Meanwhile, my customers appreciated the unusual properties of a whistle which could play harmonies. Most notably, Nancy Rumbel---first of the Paul Winter Consort, and then of Tingstad & Rumbel--- became its champion. Philosophically, the instrument represented the mystery of duality: two voices animated by a single breath.
The forms of the instruments were inspired by the weatherworn stones on the beaches of White Head Island: they fit smoothly in the palm of one’s hand. And to make the experience of one-man mass production tolerable, I sought out beautiful hardwoods, domestic and exotic. “Sculpture,” I thought. “Brancusi.” It kept me going... plus the high rent in San Francisco. Nonetheless, ten years of it was enough.