Introduction to Mexican Wind Clay Singers

(The invention of aerophones)

Golden whistle

Roberto Velázquez Cabrera
Virtual Reserach Institute Tlapitzcalzin

Firs version, May 5, 2001. Last actualization, April 27, 2003.

I. History of whistles

The objective of this paper is to provide information about elementary Mexican wind clay singers, globular aerophones or whistles. It is complemented with the description of their hypothetical creation and development to other advanced aerophones as ocarinas, flutes and noise generators, made from the point of view of a student of the ancient technology and art of clay organology. The presentation is very easy and simple, using only text and pictures.

It is convenient to start in the beginning of the invention of wind sound generators and their organological and cultural context to give a general idea of their discovery, diversity and relevance.

The oldest clay singer is the whistle without tone holes. It was called chichtli or chiluthi, in Nahuatl, language from the Central Zone of Ancient Mexico where the organology was very rich. The designation of old Mexico is unknown but it was the actual zone from south of the USA to Nicaragua, wider than the zone called Mesoamerica by archaeologists. Many variants of whistles coexisted. For example, uilacapiztli is a whistle with a bird form that in Spanish is called "tortolita" (little dove), "coquita" or "conguita". This designation was due to its form, because real "tortolitas" do not sing. But there were diverse types of aerophones that work with an airflow in several materials. For very few of them their original designation is known in Nahuatl: tlapitzalli (flute of clay); kokoloktli (flute of cane or wood); topitz (flute of three holes, like the one of the flyers "Voladores de Papantla"); atecocolli or teccztli (great trumpet), tekiztli (trumpet of regular size) and tepuzquiquiztli (trumpet of metal and; ehekachiktli (whistle of diaphragm without holes).

The whistles coexisted with many types of singers like idiophones, membranophones, special, mixed, etc. Some of their ancient designations are known in Nahuatl, like the following ones: ayacachtli (rattle in poppy form), ayotl (tortle), cacalachtli (clay bell), coyolli (round bell), chililitl (small rodelas of sonorous copper), chinchin (rattle of metal), huehuetl (wood drum of simple patch), mecahuéhuetl (drum of cords, vihuel or arp), quicuiztli, (trumpet of snail), tecomapiloa (teponaztli with "jícara" hung), tekiztli (trumpet of regular size), teocuitlahuehuetl (gold drum), teponaztli (xilóphone of two tongue-pieces, with incisions in form of H), tepozquiquiztli (trumpet of metal), tetziláctl (metal coffered ceiling, with bell sound), tetzilláctl (copper bell), tlapanhuéhuetl (earth drum, great, nonportable), tzicahuiztli (scrapers, played by rubbing, based on human bones), tzililitli (copper disc), ulli (covered rubber rod to play the teponazttli and many xicalli ("jicara" of water) or zoquitlatquitl (device of clay). There are many other ancient singers in codexes, murals, ceramic pots, museums and tombs, but their ancient designation and use were lost. There are some ancient instruments that still being used, like drums and flutes of "carrizo" (a mexican cane).

Because the whistles existed in old civilizations, their forms and uses were very varied and in each culture they had their own designations, according to their design and use. To give an idea of the ancient richness in cultures and languajes, and the size of the loss, it is sufficient to mention that in present Mexico 56 indigenous groups, "pueblos" (nearly 12,000,000 "Indians") with their own language in diverse regions subsist: Amuzgo (Oaxaca), Cochimi (North of Baja California), Cora (Nayarit/Durango), Cucapá (North California, Sonora/Baja), Cuicateco (Puebla/Oaxaca), Chatino (Guerrero), Chichimeco Jonaz (Mexico), Chinateco (Oaxaca), Chol (Chiapas), Chontal (Tabasco), Chontal (Oaxaca), Chuj (Chiapas), Cuarijio (Sonora/Chihuahua), Huave (Oaxaca), Huasteco (Veracruz/San Luis Potosi), Huichol (Nayarit/Jalisco), Jacalteco (Chiapas/Guatemala), Ixcateco (Puebla), Kikapú (Coahuila), Kiliwa (North Baja California), Kumiai (North Baja California), Lacandón (Chiapas), Mame (Chiapas), Matlatzinca (Mexico), Mayo (Sonora/Sinaloa), Maya Peninsular (Yucatan Peninsula), Mazahua (Mexico), Mazateco (Oaxaca), Mixteco (Oaxaca y Costa del Pacifico Sur), Mixe (Oaxaca), Motozintleco (Chiapas), Nahua (South Central Highlands), Otomí (Central Highlands), Ocuilteco (Mexico), Paipai (North Baja California), Pame (San Luis Potosi), Pápago (Center and highlands of the Coast of the Gulf), Pima Alto (Sonora/Chihuahua), Pima Bajo (Sonora/Chihuahua), Popoluca (Veracruz), Popoloca (Veracruz), Tarascos (Michoacan), Serí (Sonora), Tarahumara (Chihuahua/Durango), Tepehua (Hidalgo), Tepehuano (Durango), Tlapaneco (Guerrero), Trique (Oaxaca/Puebla), Tzeltal (Chiapas), Tzotzil (Chiapas), Tojolobal (Chiapas), Totonaco (Veracruz), Yaqui (Sonorous), Zapoteco (Oaxaca) and Zoque (Chiapas). Each group had its own sonorous devices, but their present designation in all of them almost has been lost because they no longer live with all those sound artifacts that existed. And it is necessary to remember that several ancient great civilizations disappeared of this world, like Olmeca, Tolteca, Teotihuacano, etc. and other former Mexican cultures happen to belong now to other countries of the south and the north.

Clay whistles are still being made, mainly, in the States of Mexico (Texcoco and Teotihuacan) and Oaxaca (Coyotepec), although no longer with the variety that existed in the antiquity. To give an idea of the diversity of Mexican aerophones I may give some data. The museums and collectors from Mexico and the exterior have thousands of ancient aerophones. The experienced brothers Mario and Gregorio Cortés from Santa Cruz de Arriba, Municipality of Texcoco, have more than 300 molds of copies of ancient clay singers (some of their clay singers are used in this study). And the author made and have more than 1,000 experimental clay aerophones, from the beginning of the studies, only five years ago.

The old whistles are very important because they constitute the sonorous devices that have been in greater number and variety, mainly in clay although of diverse types and temperatures of baking or firing, as well as multiple techniques of finishing and decorating, without painting or with pigments applied before and after firing with diverse agglutinates or means. The past whistles are a clear example that the clay is the best and the most versatile material to make embouchures and many vessel bodies of aerophones: it is possible to be processed in almost any desired shape simple, complex, regular and irregular; it accepts all the techniques of machining of solid materials and painting; because it is so malleable it can be molded and modeled; it is possible to be formed or to be injected in molds in liquid state; it is abundant and it does not contaminate neither damage the environment, nor the health of the people. Once low fired it absorbs humidity and it is not very affected by the human blowing nor by the water; it is possible to be washed without being damaged; it is not altered by high temperatures; it resists the action of soft acids or biological agents and it can last for ever, if it is not struck or pressed hard.

We assume that the whistles were developed first, since they have been in sites of all the old civilizations as those of Asia like China (the spherical Xu appeared 7,000 years ago) and India (where the whistles appeared 6,000 years ago). Whistles existed also in zones of other continents as in the Andean Zone of South America, where great and diverse organology occurred and where many native instruments are stil played. In Bolivia, there is a museum with 3,000 musical instruments. In Peru they found many whistles and flutes of several ancient cultures: Chancoy, Chimu, Gallinazo, Huari, Inca, Moche, Recuay, Salinar, Vicus, etc.

In Old Mexico a great variety of globular aerophones existed, figurines with forms inspired from beings of the nature (mainly anthropomorphous and zoomorphous) and of other worlds (deities and demons) or with acoustic forms of great efficiency or figurative, geometric or not recognized iconography. They say that the first advanced clay whistles, with wind duct, go back to cultures that appeared from 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. The whistles have even been in cultures considered little developed or nomadic, found mainly in tombs. Some of those zones, like the West of Mexico, are of great acoustic quality. Other show their great elegance and aesthetic or expressive quality like those of the Gulf and the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, other are very rich and baroque with more scenery and forms like many of the Mayans.

The whistles had all the mechanisms for the generation of sounds like the old and modern aerophones. They could have one or several globular, tubular, irregular or mixed cavities and are the base of the rest of aerophones that were developed later like ocarinas (by putting several holes) and flutes (just by changing the globular chamber by a tube). They can have all type of mouths like the "quena" type, flute, recorder, trumpets, reed instruments and including diverse special sonorous mechanisms like filters and membranes (Mirlitons) and those that produce noise.

Some people think that the whistles are elementary and simple sonorous instruments. But their simplicity is only apparent, conceptual or ideological. At the present time difficulties exist even for their designation and suitable definition. For example, in the dictionaries a whistle is an instrument that function to whistle. To whistle is to produce whistles. And whistles are high pitch sounds that take place when whistling, acute sounds made by the air. But the globular aerophones of clay can produce varied and complex sounds, even with apparently simple designs. The detailed dynamics of the generation of sounds appear as soon as they have begun to analyze tubular whistles (from recorders and organs), with the use of advanced laboratories, acoustics, flow visualization, computers, mathematics and physics. Many ancient aerophones with complex structures and sounds can not be analyzed in detail with the available technology.

Other people say that the whistles are aerophones that produce a single note or one pitch, but it has seen shown that in reality they can produce a wide and continuous range of pitch or tones. Some elementary whistles (without tone holes and wind ways) can produce sounds under one musical octave by varying the form, the angle and the intensity of the airflow of excitation. Other have special mechanisms to change the pitch of the sounds up to their timbre, while they are operated. And for many, no one knows how to play them or does not know their ancient use.

The main error and limitation in the few studies on whistles is the one to analyze them with the criteria of other cultures, mainly from the point of view of present musical sounds. The absence of written or recorded old music has also prevented that who ever has musical formation recognize or can reproduce their original form to play them and their other original uses. The lack of historical evidence on their old use also has prevented to be analyzed in their original anthropological context. For example, usually ethnomusicologists study only music that is played today to make recordings and videos of their ceremonies, dancing, etc., but (with few exceptions) they do not like to study the source of the music (the instruments) from the point of view of organology or acoustics.

An additional mistake is that the students and lovers of the old art, have paid more attention to the visual appearance of the clay wind singers like their external forms, figures or iconography and not in their sonorous function nor to their internal sonorous mechanisms. Until today they have been more important like figurative pieces to arm the archaeological puzzle or to feed the visual pleasure on the old art. It seems that they have not realized that the old clay singers are of greater fidelity than the best modern recorder to reproduce the sounds of the past and are more effective than their researchers and students to tell us more of their main sonorous function.

The general belief is that the whistles were "toys of children or savages" and for that reason have been despised by many archaeologists, anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, musicians, etc. Many other say that they are not "serious instruments" because simple aerophones can not produce an ample series of tones, even though some of them can have several tone holes as the ocarinas and other can produce microtonalities. The mistakes may be originated in the modern individualistic vision or the ethnocentrism and in the wish to have single instruments with a wide range of notes. Even the modern aerophones have a limited range and do not produce very good sounds in their extremes. Any musical note can represent the sound of a whistle. In other words, when a flute, recorder or organ generate a note is acting as a whistle. It is enough to construct a serie of whistles of diverse sizes to be able to produce a ample serie of wished tones and, if it is desired, even with different timbres. Ancient music was different and many ancient sounders had other uses. I like to use this name instead of musical instrument, because many of them are not musical instruments or they do not produce musical sounds or sound for pleasure.

Other people say that ancient music had pentaphonic scales, because many ocarinas and flutes had four tone holes. It seem that they do not know that there are many with more finger holes to play many musical scales. The number four was very important for many ancient cultures, because there are evidences that it was a sacred number.

The certain thing is that there are thousands of old whistles that were sacked, robbed, bought, legally or illegally "collected" by professional archaeologists, antropologist or "guaqueros" (land robbers) and thousands of them are stored in several museums and collections. But, unfortunately they have not been analyzed formally, with scientific techniques and modern tools, nor with sensitivity, the amplitude of criteria, the observation, the patience and the love of the old masters on sonic artifacts.

The first mathematical equation that can be applied to the globular whistles was discovered at the beginning of last century, by the German physiologist and philosopher Herman Von Helmholtz (1821 - 1894). But that equation has not been applied to the present aerophones, because (with the exception of ocarina) the wind musical instruments of present are tubular. The first formal study that applied the equation of Helmoltz to a set of old whistles (Peruvian whistling vessels) is the one of Garrett and Statnekov. These whistles had been studied or made by other as Brian Ranson and Dan Wright.

Some studies of important sets of Mexican whistles have been made but they are general, superficial, inadequate or from the point of view of archaeology or musicology. Also, literature exists on the Mexican organology, but the best provide only general commentaries, photos or few drawings or very few x-rays of some ancient clay singers. With very few exceptions, those persons that have had access to them, not even provide the dimensions required for their possible approximate reproduction.

The sounds of the whistles can be pleasant or disagreeable and to have positive or negative effects in the human being. Their uses could be for "games" or to play "pleasant music", but old music and games were different from the present ones. It has been seen also that they could have other uses: to thank for and to honor their Gods, for communications and signals between humans, to call or to hunt animals and to imitate their sounds and those of natural phenomena, war, social and civil events, shamanic or magical ceremonies and rites that were very numerous, special effects, to improve the physical and mental health of the people or to damage them, for sports, to announce periodic and social events, guarding and monitoring, etc. The multiple whistles represent the bases for the greater advance in polytonal and polyphonic music, since they constitute instruments of a great variety, pitch range and effects in humans, for example, if they are played in groups.

A great part of the old whistles are small in size and of great loudness, since they produce sounds with frequencies within the rank of greater auditory sensitivity of the human being (1-4 kHz) and of many animals. For that reason their designs have been taken advantage of to the present time, in sports, games, armed forces, signals, pop music like samba and rock, animal hunting, training and handling, etc. Many "modernized" ancient designs are patented and commercialized, but their modern makers do not provide any technical information on them.

The ancient taste of small sounders can be very useful to show additional possible reasons for the limited number of tone holes in many ancient wind singers: a) it is not difficult to generate clear, clean and loud sounds, with few tone holes; b) it is difficult and even impossible to make and to play very small instruments with many finger holes, by the size of human fingers; c) this restriction may originate that bigger aerophones must have the same number of tone holes and even the same relations of their pitch, if they were played together in groups or if they wanted to generate similar musical scales with different tesitures.

The old organology and music not only were for pleasure, enjoy or fun, they were fundamental part of the state and the good government and intimately were bound to science and art. For example, in the Code of Laws of the King Nezahualcóyotl (1403-1473, philosopher-poet of the Texcoco, capital cultural of Old Mexico) were included several Councils: War, Justice, Finances and "MUSIC" (that also included science, art, literature, poetry, history, etc.). That Code was adopted later by its two allies of the Mexico City Valley, the Aztecas and the Tlacopanes. That means that their "music" tapeworm the same level of hierarchy that the war, the justice and the finances of the kingdoms of that time and place and leaned or coexisted their knowledge harmonically yet. their music also was integrated harmonically to their songs, dances and theater. It is enough to read a Nezahualcoyotl´s poetry, like "Songs of spring" to be able to appreciate the rich, harmonic and beautiful vision of his songs and his world to have an idea of the soul of some ancient educated Mexicans.

The master of music and instruments Tlapizcalzin was a priest at the highest level and the music was also related with singing, dancing, theater, etc. They had special schools, teachers or masters in this field: Cuicacalli (school of music and dancing); Cuicacali (house of chants); Tlamacazcateutl (master on music, singing and dancing); Cuicapiqui or Cuicatlali (composer); Cuicapiquini (composer of chants); Cicani (singer or poet); Cuicanime (singers or musicians); etc.

Unfortunately, that music, their culture and their main lovers were decapitated and destroyed by the conquerors and their allies. More than 240,000 inhabitants of Ancient Mexico died initially. And 20,000,000 inhabitants of Ancient America were forced to follow their steps to the other world.

Conquerors and inquisitors destroyed and killed thousands of all type of their monuments (pyramids, temples, sculptures, murals, instruments, etc.), libraries with many codex, teachers and priests, surely many of them were related to the construction and use of the old organology and its music. Unfortunately in the following five centuries, in the matter of Mexican organology, that policy was continued with effectiveness which lead to the almost total loss and forgetfulness of the old sonorous cultures.

Since the Conquest few musical instruments that existed at that time in Europe were introduced in Mexico, which also helped to forget old instruments and music. Schools settled down to teach to construct them and to play them. The first school with courses of arts and jobs of the new America was established in Texcoco, by Fray Pedro de Gante. The natives learned to make the new musical instruments and to play them very well.

First they brought the trumpet, the drum, the "pífano" or "flautín" (pfeifen in German) and the harp. The natives learned to make flutes, "chirimías", "vihuelas" of arc, bugles, bassoons, hand pumps, trimmings, "atabales" (drums), guitars, "raveles", "discantes" or "guitarrillos", monochords and organs. Torquemada said that " was sort of music that had the Indians and used in all the towns and they themselves work everything, no that there is to bring it of Spain. A thing I can affirm truthfully, is that in all the kingdoms of the Christianity (outside the Indians) there is not as much copy (of instruments)... like in this kingdom of the New Spain "

Such was the success of the new instruments that the Church had to prohibit many of them and to restrict their number, because they said that there were too many and their use expanded so much among the towns and made so much noise and uproar. The only instrument allowed to be played in the churches was the organ, the multiple whistles (multiple tubes) more developed that came from Europe. The organ now already is almost not used and it serves as food for the termites and the oxidation.

In the matter of professional aerophones, now in Mexico everything is imported (with few exceptions like guitars, harps and marimbas), from wind musical instruments for symphony orchestras and for other professional and popular bands to recorders of plastic that are used in the elementary schools and professional schools of music. At the moment there is only one school with courses of construction of musical instruments in Mexico, the "Escuela de Laudería" of the INAH, in Queretaro. They say that these strings were not played in Ancient Mexico.

The only persons interested in the sounds of the old type of whistles, ocarinas and flutes are few artisans of the singing clay and some musicians, kids and birds singers from rural areas.

After the conquest, the globular aerophones of America arrived in Europe. In the XVII century in Budrio, Italy, they say that they invented the ocarina (little goose), in the same way that some of them like to say that they discovered America. In fact they modernized the ocarinas. Really they adapted them to present music in a special new old design and sounding mechanism. At the moment, to identify an ocarina some say that it has "potato shape". Since then, the taste for ocarinas has grown very much at international level.

It is very relevant that some experts in acoustics of flutes already have begun to formally study the globular aerophones, as John Coltman, Lee and Ray Dessy. They have already made estimations of their sonorous acoustic quality. Also interest has arisen from some experts in the old cultures (mainly musical archaeology) to study past music, but they are very few who have been interested in the rest of the old sonic artifacts and their sonorous uses.

In Internet, already diverse sites with information exist on modernized globular aerophones, including several versions of the "History of the Ocarina" and even of the Huilacapitzli, but in them very little descriptive information and properties of the old clay singers is included. Even the acoustical and organological analysis and formal evaluation of modern professional ocarinas are not openly available, as it happens with other wind musical instruments since medieval times. In general, the final interest is the sale of the instruments. Although already there are many that love, make and want to know more about ocarinas. That is relevant, since it has not been a single institution nor a magazine that has as a main object to do and publish investigations on ancient aerophones. And It seems that there are very few formal studies and information openly available on ancient aerophones. There are very few pages with descriptive information on ancient aerophones, as those from Daniel Statnekov, Neville Fletcher, Alan Albrigth, James Cottingham, Anna Gruszczyñska Angel Mendoza and Gonzalo Sanchez and Ruth Shady Solis. There are sites with photos or sound of musical instruments from the world, but they do not include ancient aerophones of clay. I asked for help in several specialized organizations, sites and forums to try to find other studies, experts, descriptions, organologic information on ancient clay sounders and I could not get any useful help and relevant data or information on their detailed characteristics, structures, features or evolution.

II. The creation and development of clay wind sounders

It seems that the detailed history of ancient clay wind singers is unknown and it was lost and the existing archaeological sounders and their organological and acoustical information are inaccessible and unpublised. However, we may formulate some hypothesis for their possible creation and development, if we use pictures and drawings of ancient aerophones obtained by some researchers, whistles from museums and artisans, common sense, imagination and my experience in making experimental clay sounders. It is necessary to mention that the following information constitutes a very small sample of the real universe of ancient clay aerophones, but it is the widest known illustration of their development from the point of view of their structure and sounding mechanism. Each type of aerophone had a great diversity in external shapes, forms and sizes. There are endless possibilities in the designing and making of a clay singer, but I think that the basic discoveries on elementary aerophones are included in the following illustrations. I am using "dissected" clay models because it is the best way to show the secrets of their internal sounding mechanisms. Their external decoration and internal complexity was reduced to a minimum to central the attention in their basic sonic structures. The illustration will be complemented with some photos to show some relevant examples.

It is said that the soul of people is its music. But, as our ancient music was lost, to be able to imagine the soul of our ancient people it is necessary, and I think it is the only way, to study first the real soul of their clay singers, their sounding mechanisms. For that purpose, I am using the schematic tree from Susan Rawcliffe, one of the few experts I could find, to make the description but with some changes, additions and details, adapted to my findings. I tried to form a "tree" on the floor, but it is too big to be pictured. I decided to present the illustration in parts, branches or roads.

From the beginning, there were two main big branches for the development: globular and tubular resonators, but mixed and related with other more complex evolution, not necessarily in the following sequence and simplicity:

The first wind clay artifact could be made by accident, teachings of gods, observation from nature or experimentation. One thing is very sure, they spent many millenniums to develop their ancient sounders. The first big root of the main clay wind organological tree might be the blowhole assembly.

Photo 1. The oldest globular singer must be the simplest in design, shape and manufacture, an artifact with a sound hole to blow the air (with the human mouth) in the edge to generate tones. Its design was very simple and it could be molded and modeled with the fingers or a stick. This clay singer could be the oldest aerophone, because clay discovery was very early in our history. Some researchers say that clay was discovered by man 200,000 years ago. The first and simplest whistle could have occurred before the discovery of the fire, because unfired and even wet clay can produce sounds.

Photo 2. Other possibility is that the first clay whistle could be a copy of the a previous whistle, made on natural materials like "guajes", "bules", "jícaras", seeds, nuts, bones, stones, etc. The oldest drilled bone (flute) was found in Slovenia 43,000 - 82,000 years ago. But I think that the first sound hole could have been made before, because perishable materials are drilled more easy.

Photo 3. The next step was to reduce the size of the sound hole.

Photo 4 Other advancement was to flatten the top of the vessel.

Photo 5. A sharp edge was also included in the sound hole to produce a better sound.

Photo 6. An open channel was made, on the top of the embouchure, to facilitate the formation of the compressed laminar air flow with the human mouth.

Photo 7. The creation of the wind way (slot or air duct), initially with a conical stick. From 3,000 to 10,000 years ago this invention occurred in Mexico. The oldest whistle presented in the literature belongs to this advanced stage. There are whistles still being made with this kind of wind way and a rounded sound hole (or mouth) like some of Oaxaca State, mainly in black clay. The simplest has only one tone (or finger) hole or none. At this stage the first efficient uilacapiztli (ocarina) was born.

Photo 8. Several shapes for the wind way of constant cross section, including the oval, rectangular and curved shapes, were developed. It is interesting to mention that similar reedy sound of modern and expensive recorders, due to curved wind ways, can be generated in clay aerophones. Other advancements were the gradual reduction of the cross section at the exit of the air duct and several lengths for the windway. They developed many forms and dimensions of the sound hole. The high intensity, quality and variety of their sounds were born. Some examples of actual simple whistles from Teotihuacan.

Photo 9. They added more tone holes and the perfection of the globular resonator, to create and develop the polytonality or series of musical notes. 7,000 years ago, this stage of development was reached in China.

Photo 10. And in the last two centuries the ocarina was modernized in Europe to play actual music, mainly with holes of different sizes.

Photo 11. The vessel body of modern classic ocarina is very old in Mexico and other ancient cultures from all over the world. It is the body of the pigeon. It was used also by ancient and modern Mexican artisans to make all kind of decorative pots.

Photo 12. But there were other roads for the invention. One of this was to put a big tone hole in the front of the vessel body to produce free intonation.

Photo 13. Or in the back to produce micro tonalities and big changes in sounds, similar to those produced by singer birds (but not equal), using the fingers, the lips and the tongue. These can be multiple whistles that can produce very complex sounds.

Photo 14. The next development was to put more than one chamber using only one wind way to produce more tones and several tones at the same times (accords).

Photo 16. And then the multiple globular aerophones (or multiple ocarinas).

Photo 17. Open channels and hoods in the upper surface of the embouchure to modify the pitch.

Photo 18. Mixture of previous features and resonators can generate many singers and very complex sounds. The sound may be very diverse, if ancient ways of playing are used. In Mexico, this type of aerophones was very large and very distinctive of his organology. Some special whistles have small internal tubes and the tone hole and the sound hole may be the mouth.

But there were other big trees in the ancient organology of clay, but with similar and mixed roots:

III. Introduction to flutes

Photo 19. The tubes had their own development, as an end blow assembly, until the invention of multiple tubes as "sampoña", "siringa", pan pipe or pan flute.

Photo 20. The sound hole was made on a side to create de cross blown assembly and it was developed until the perfection of the transverse or Bohem flute.

Photo 21. A sharp edge (or labium) was included in vertical flutes (quena or shakuhachi) and several tone holes were made. In China this was reached 9,000 years ago.

Photo 22. A rectangular and narrow sound hole with sharp edge was included to create wind whistles and multiple aeolian whistles, used in natural conditions of laminar air flows as in kites and pigeons in Ancient Asia, mainly made in bamboo and on the top of roofs and in windmills in Europe. But, I tested that clay and cane may be also good materials for that purpose. Uli Wahl, from Germany, has a great site of Kite (aeolian) Musical Instruments.

Photo 23. One relevant step, was to put a hole in front of the vessel body and to change the globular cavity by a tube. This creates the tlapitzalli (as the recorder), a new big branch for development. In Mexico the best flutes were created during the Classic period in all great civilizations. There are many types of flutes.

Photo 24. The wind way was made on a side to create the transverse whistle it was developed until the perfection of the transverse flute.

Photo 25. A tubular whistle with a small ball inside creates the slide flute.

Photo 26. They could add other mechanisms to alter the pitch or the timber of the sounds like membranes (Mirlitons) which can produce a reedy sound, and;

Photo 27. Filters to eliminate some frequencies or to add other resonator(s), usually of higher frequency.

Photo 28. By changing the globular cavities of tubes they created the extraordinary multiple flutes.

III. Aerophones that work with water

Photo 29. One group of these aerophones produce sound with water. They are called whistling vessels, formed with one or two cavities and whistles. Statnekov discovered that this kind of whistling vessels can produce synesthesia (a profound, positive and beautiful superior state of conscience, if they are played in groups (because they produce infrasonic beats).

Photo 30. Other type is called "guijolas", is formed by a recipient and a whistling tube.

Photo 31. Other can cry when they produce sounds.

IV. Aerophones of unknown ancient use.

Photo 32. Some aerophones can produce complex nonmusical sounds that seems from other worlds (like the infraworld). Some of them are elaborated by Cortes brothers. Initially, the simplest in design and construction could be made on other solid materials like wood, bone and stone. But from the beginning they can produce special sounds, like colored noise. One of this was called "Mexica whistle of the death" or "mouth whistle", because It must be played inside the mouth. Other noisy artifacts are very difficult to make and almost impossible in one piece in solid materials and may have several chambers (1, 2 or 2 and 3). Some of them were designed to produce sounds of unknown use. These noisy aerophones can be used to show the potential great diversity in the Mexican organology. I made more than 300 experimental models, only of this type and no one is equal. This is an unique and complex organological tree that must be analyzed in a special way.

V. Horns

Photo 33. Other very different assembly is the horn or trumpet, that initially could be made also from natural materials like shell, cane, wood, "bules", "guajes", "jícaras" and palms with out tone holes. Some copies of them were made on clay. And clay is very good to make this type of embouchures. In Mexico this type of trumpets with sound holes were included in Wind Bands. Clay may be useful also to make embouchures and resonators for reed sound artifacts.

VI. Aerophones of other materials

Photo 34. There are many aerophones made of clay and/or other materials, mainly from nature. But they used also old advanced techniques like metallurgy, not only to make tools, but to elaborate sonic artifacts mainly in copper, silver and gold.

Photo 35. There are some designs of Mexican aerophones that can be made with drillings to form the resonating chamber, the sound hole and the wind way. This can be machined in any rigid material like wood, bone, stone, etc.

Photo 36. Some of them are the "mouth whistles", that can be made on semi precious gems (stones).

Each "organological tree" and each relevant type of aerophone can and must be studied deeply to get their sonic secrets and the detailed functioning of their sounding mechanism. The experimental replicas can help in the study of their hypothesis. One example, Mexica flute 130.

Later I will make a serie of analysis to show information of some experimental replicas inspired by relevant cases of old clay singers, since it has not been possible for me to have access to the original ones distributed in many museums and collections. Also the analysis of previous studies of some remarkable ancient Mexican aerophones has begun, to try to obtain some secret on them. Some studies were posted like the following:

Some of those studies were presented in the 1st Special Session on Acoustics of Ancient Musical/Sonorous Instruments/Artifacts

References and sites of Internet

1.Aerófonos Mexicanos (Mexican Aerophones) ( More papers in English are posted (
2.Alan Albright. Aerophones (
3.Ancient Bone Flute.( 4.Brian Ranson. (
5.Dan Wright (
6.Daniel Statnekov (
7.Huilacapiztli (
8.Instruments of the world (htp://
9.Kathleen I. Kimba. The power of clay (
10.Mario y Gregorio Cortés (
11.Music archaeology (
12.Musical Instruments (
13.Musical Items From Around The World (
14.Ocarina Club from yahoo (
15.Ocarina di Budrio (
16.P. A. Skordos. (
17.Shakuhachi. (
18.Susan Rawcliffe (
19.The Musical Instrument Makers Forum (
20.Uli Whal (
21.Shady Solis, Ruth. (
22.Cottingham, James (
23.Gruszczyñska, Anna (
24.Sanchez, Gonzalo (
25.Mendoza, Angel (
25.Fletcher, N. H. (


1.There are several references on Mexican aerophones that were used in this paper, but most of them are out of print or are very difficult to get even in México, like those by Daniel Castañeda, José Luis Franco, Samuel Marti, Guillermo Contreras, Pablo Castellanos, Gabriel Saldivar, Charles Lafayette Boiles, Felipe Flores, Lorenza Flores, Cira Martinez, Marcus Winter y Jorge Dájer.

2.I could not find relevant information on ancient techniques to elaborate clay singers. The best information was provided by Cortes brothers. In their Photo Album from Yahoo ( they show how to make molds and small whistles and ocarinas.

3. I did not use the existing classification systems for musical instruments because they are not applicable to the rich ancient organology. For example, if we use the system from Sachs-Hornbostel-Hood the same numerical code (411221311) will be for thousands of whistles without tone holes, despite their great differences and variety.

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