Brendon Bussy

How to make a Wind Harp on a Sunday

Posted in Invention, Recording, Sound, Wind by Brendon Bussy on October 28, 2011

It’s spring here in Cape Town, so the wind is back  (winter wind normally means freezing rain as well!). So recently we headed to the Rondebosch common to play with wind harps amongst the flowering fynbos.

This year I’ve been experimenting with using disposable bottles to make simple plucked harps based on Congolese harps. Recently I discovered that they sound great when played by the wind and listened to whilst being held like  an 80’s radio cassette boom box 🙂

Jessica listening to and jamming on a portable boombox harp

These harps sing with a high pitched and ethereal voice. And if you feel inspired you can add rhythms by plucking as well. (I’ll soon be posting DIY instructions on how to make one of these).

Justin at the helm with (from left), Trevor, Jessica and myself.

We also made a long string harp. Read on for pics, diy instructions and a recording….I learnt how to make a long string harp via the very knowledgeable and helpful Didier Ferment. He has very clear instructions on his site, but here are the basic ingredients:

– 30 to 60 meters of +/- 1mm diameter nylon line (sold as fishing line or builder’s line).
– Attach one end to something solid (in my case, usually the tow hitch of my car) and the other to a grip (e.g. short length of broomstick). Attach a harness to the grip (e.g. old dog leash).
– Find or purchase a resonator of some kind e.g. an empty container (bucket, drum, plastic yoghurt container) or in this case, a small frame drum.
– Attach the resonator to the grip end of the string. First pierce a centre hole in the bottom of container or skin of the drum. Thread a short piece of line through and attach something to the line to stop it pulling through e.g. a small piece of wood or a cable tie.  Attach it to the long harp string. If the resonator is light you’ll want to attach some means of holding it steady in the wind – I use two short bamboo lengths.
– Put the harness on, hold the grip and lean into the wind.

Align the long string so that the wind is blowing across it. If the wind is steady enough you should soon hear a sonorous buzzing sound. At that point all chat/jokes/small talk stops and everyone starts listening in awe.

You too can listen in awe to our sunday session (thanks to Trevor for the recording!).

We’ll be having more sessions this year, so if you’d like to join us please contact me.

Stereo boom box

8 Responses

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  1. φphi said, on October 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm


    Little bit weird last photo 😉

    The chirpy sound on the soundclip – an insect? One could listen for an hour..

    • brendon said, on October 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

      That’s a bird. Had to use a high pass filter to get rid of wind noise (the non wind harp wind noise), so other noises sound a little insect chinky.

      Also WYWT 🙂

  2. Uli Wahl said, on October 28, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Hi Brendon,
    here we are preparing for winter – we had a good autumn weather here, sunny – with NO wind…
    hope this will change next week for further playing with the wind on the fields.
    All the best to you and your equipe!!

    Smooth winds to you all

    • brendon said, on October 29, 2011 at 9:37 am

      Thanks Uli! It’s raining today, but hoping to make a harp tomorrow, although I’ve never really tried a harp in the rain – maybe something interesting will happen….

  3. Robert Valkenburgh said, on October 30, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Hi there,
    As opposed to Uli’s place, we had quite a bit of wind here,haha (South-east of Holland)
    Enough to test the new Resonators for my Long String Harp .
    Also made from simple materials> half of a diabolo-shaped plastic stool,no less {:-)
    They work real nice, will post pics later..
    Robert Valkenburgh

    • brendon said, on October 31, 2011 at 8:24 am

      Hi Robert

      Would be very interested in seeing your resonator – always interesting to see new solutions. I’m learning a little bit more each season, taking it slowly amongst my other pursuits (music making etc) and hoping to get people interested here in taking it further.

      BTW yesterday was windless and very rainy – so no harp, but looking forward to next weekend!

  4. buzz said, on January 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I used to do this as a boy when flying kites. Putting the paper tube roll that the string was wrapped around to my ear, it was as if nature was singing just to me.

  5. brendon said, on January 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    @buzz: sounds like a great idea! Will try that out 🙂

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