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Vacuum tubes powered the amplification that guitar rock was built on.
Are Bunsen-burned test tubes about to fire up the next music revolution?
Lerew ended up building his quartz cantabile out of 25 test tubes, each a single pitch spanning a range of two chromatic octaves and strung horizontally in a metal framework above 15 Bunsen burners that can be moved around to play the tubes needed for a certain piece. Each tube has a small hole ground in the closed end that he covers to make it emit a sound, and contains a ceramic "stack," a piece taken from a catalytic converter, that facilitates the extreme temperature gradient required to initiate the sound.
"It's ten feet long, and it takes two or three people to play it properly," says Lerew, who performed on the quartz cantabile with fellow students Jeff Striker and Wilson Kemp for his Div III presentation. "It lends itself to slower, free form styles of music. It's extremely sensitive to atmospheric conditions, so when you sustain a chord it kind of phases in and out as the pitches slightly shift. The subtle changes are really what make it interesting and beautiful."
Lerew plans to explore the marketability of the quartz cantabile when he moves to the San Francisco Bay Area after graduation. He hopes to fine-tune the design and further his physical understanding of the instrument in coming months as well.