Richard Waters’ Waterphone

Last modified 8-12-2009

Nothing else sounds like a Waterphone.

Richard Waters' Waterphone

Richard Waters' Waterphone

The Waterphone is a stainless steel vessel in a vase-like shape, with bronze rods of varying length rising from the periphery. The bronze rods are sounded by stroking with a bow. You can also sound the instrument by percussion on the rods or on the stainless body. This in itself makes an interesting enough sound source, but what gives the Waterphone its extraordinary tone is an element that you can’t see. Inside the vessel is a small amount of water. As the player bows, the water moves about on the flat diaphragm that is the instrument’s bottom. While the upright rods produce their sustained tones, the movement of the water causes the resonances of the body to bend and move. It’s in the interaction of the steady rod-tones and the ever-shifting resonances that the instrument finds its extraordinary voice.

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Sounds of the Waterphone

Richard Waters first conceived the basic design of the Waterphone in 1968. In the years that followed he refined the design, and the instrument today is a gem of form and workmanship: perfectly functional and perfectly beautiful.

The Waterphone is one of the instruments featured on our CD Experimental Musical Instruments – Early Years, along with 18 more pieces from a wide assortment of irrepressibly creative instrument makers. You can hear an excerpt from the Waterphone piece by clicking on the link above.

An article on the Waterphone appeared in the October 1986 issue (Volume 2 #3) of the late great Experimental Musical Instruments journal.

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