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Musical Instruments of Torn World - Culture
Written By: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Elizabeth Barrette (Writer), Ellen Million (Writer), Valerie Joanne Higgins (Writer)
A reference of unique musical instruments found on Torn World.

Instruments of the snow-unicorn riders
Sweet Reed Flute

One of the standard instruments of the snow-unicorn riders is the Reed Flute. The flute can be made short, for small children or for playing in crowded quarters in winter. However, more commonly, the flute is made long, the extra length looking dramatic and adding resonance to the sound.

These are the same reeds that, when stressed by a particular disease, can overproduce sugar, leaving the normally hollow center of the reed filled with sugar crystals. Occasionally, a flute is made from a reed that has a thin layer of crystallized sugar inside. Flutes made this way are said to be particularly suitable for playing love songs, but they are often short-lived, due to several factors. They are generally made during the summer travels, when it is harder to keep things away from the snow-unicorns, who love sweet reed, and are quite capable of biting through fully grown reeds to obtain the sugar inside. Also, the sugar content can attract pests. Finally, as the humidity in a person's breath slowly dissolves the sugar, the remaining reed is often weak, leading it to be more easily broken as it gets older. (Created by Deirdre Murphy)

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Unnamed bone instrument

From These Teeth, Like Stars: Oyera held the tall white staff in both hands, then ceremoniously upended it. Marai knew that inside the snowy-bone tube, hundreds of baby teeth were making their way to the bottom, bouncing off tiny bone pegs. Oyera had let her try it once before, so that she could feel the vibrations that other people heard as music like the falling of hail. (Created by Elizabeth Barrette)

Drums and Drumdancing

Northern music is heavy on percussion, and participatory; those folks without instruments will clap, snap, whistle and stomp. Drums come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and types, from very ornate to large and plain.

They also have very large 'dancing drums' for the very athletic to show off their agility and rhythm. (Created by Ellen Million)

Instruments of the Empire

The Talv

The talv is a series of bottles (usually 8, but up to 12), each filled to a particular level with water. Joined tubes blow water over each top, producing a breathy, vibrating hum. It is played similar to pan pipes, but requires more breath into the instrument. Adjacent notes may be played with a mouth over more than one tube.

A very practiced musician can pre-tune his bottles such that the notes are not strictly descending or ascending, and can make chords using two or more tubes at a time. In dry climates, the bottles need re-tuning every few songs.

The instrument originated in southern areas of the Empire from the simple act of blowing over a bottle. Street musicians made the leap to a multi-bottle instrument, adding tubes as the final step in the evolution. Because of its low origins, it is not accepted as a true instrument, and remains a novelty, played by occasional street performers. (Created by Valerie Higgins and Ellen Million)

Harmonichron [oraffakoln ("harmony box") in Torn Tongue]

The harmonichron is a stringed keyboard instrument, somewhat similar to an upright piano. The main body is a curved wooden box, its outer curve facing the audience and inner curve holding two keyboards. The matching bench holds two musicians, as this is a duet instrument. The low board is on the left and the high board is on the right, each with 25 keys spanning 2 octaves. Keys are carved from wood, sometimes of different colors. Each key has its own symbol, which may be carved or painted on the key; these are also used for writing the music. Each octave can be shifted higher or lower with its pedal, which manipulates the slow and fast time crystals to affect the strings. The two boards may or may not play contiguous octaves, depending on how the pedals are set. The total octave range is 4 per keyboard, 8 in all.

The harmonichron is the first commercially successful box instrument using time crystal technology. Earlier box instruments were bulkier, harder to play, and less effective. The harmonichron evolved from one called a tingboard or tinaseld, which used the same key symbols and notes. The first harmonichrons went to professional musicians. Soon they caught on among well-to-do families and became a fashionable form of entertainment. It's possible for a person of average talent to become competent with the harmonichron after a year or few of lessons, much like a piano. (Created by Elizabeth Barrette)

Slunai Feather-Harps

The Slunai inhabited a very resource-poor area during the sundered times. Both the Upheaval itself and the harsh living conditions made it easy for the people to believe that there was an active malevolence that caused their poverty and isolation.

There’s no clear story where or when the belief arose, but by the time an Empire exploring team found them, they believed that angry ghosts had destroyed the ancient world and still walked the world in what they called ghost paths, dividing the world into small pockets of survivors.

Their harps, strung with blinkbird feathers, were played to calm, propitiate, and (it was hoped and is now believed) ultimately lay the angry dead to rest. They believed that the feathers, though silent in this plane, produced beautiful sounds that only ghosts (and perhaps the most gifted of shamans) can hear. The wood portion of the harp is always beautifully carved, most often in a stylized ghost shape.

The Slunai’s descendants still play the harps when they remember their own dead, teach their children, or need to cross former sundering barriers. (Created by Deirdre Murphy)


A jumalth is a musical instrument made from the shell of a very large mollusc called a jumarth. The long “horn” that protrudes from the top of the shell is pierced with four holes and fitted with a reed. This part of the instrument is usually played with the left hand. The open “mouth” of the shell (the part from which the living mollusc's foot protrudes) has strings strung across it fixed to rings attached to the spikes of the shell. The strings are usually strummed by the right hand.

The jumalth is a high status instrument in the Empire, being difficult to play, and very expensive to obtain as intact jumarth shells are a rare find. Usually only prestigious orchestras and wealthy musicians own them, though it has been known for the Entertainment Guild to sponsor exceptionally talented young musicians towards the cost of an instrument. (Created by Valerie Higgins)

Reed Trees and Wind Chimes
In the sundered times, the Mayaloi drilled holes in the living trees of the Rainbow Rainforest, placing reeds into the holes so the Rainforest would sing in the slightest breeze. They also placed wind chimes of many sorts high in the trees, to add delicate percussion to the wind’s song.

Both of these instruments require maintenance; the strings or chains holding the chimes get tangled, and strings rot away, and the trees eventually will grow over a reed, sealing it inside its bark. Thus, when the Empire of that day sent soldiers to capture every purist (Mayaloi or squatter), the forest became quieter for a few decades.

But the practice never died out, and over the course of time, the Empire’s willingness to tolerate purists (so long as they did not cause problems for citizens) increased. The Rainbow Rainforest became home to bands of purists who called themselves tribes, each tribe known by a color: The Crimson Clan, the Teal Tribe, the Indigo Clan, and so on. The tribes noted that trees tended to split if a reed hole was drilled through the heartwood, and shifted the practice, placing reeds to the side of the heartwood, and off-setting them, so the holes spiral around each tree. Each tribe maintains the reed trees and wind chimes in a specific area of the Rainbow Rainforest.

Someone who lives near particular trees can thus gauge the direction of wind and crosswinds, and the strength, just by listening. They also developed the practice of tying the clapper of their wind-chimes loosely to vines draped across human-sized paths. They used those to signal their own passage in a territory, grasping vines and swinging them in patterns to announce their presence—and citizens, unaware of the practice, would brush against them, providing warning of strangers in the area. Like their extensive use of tattoos, the tribes say these practices have both practical uses and make the world more beautiful. (Created by Deirdre Murphy - winner of the musical instruments contest!)

Kuleilyi Prayer Bells and Ball Whistles

The Kuleilyi are a tribe of herders and farmers who have live in a rugged and hard-to-access area of the Breida Mountains since the sundered times. They believe that the upper reaches of the sky are inhabited by malevolent wraiths, who sometimes (though rarely) descend low enough to threaten humans and their belongings. The wraiths are believed to hate the material world, and destroy everything they touch.

To ward off the wraiths, the Kuleilyi hang prayer bells from the tops of their dwellings and on tall poles around all of their villages. In addition, every adult has a tall pole with prayer bells strapped to the top with rope or leather thongs. The staff is carried outdoors, and the bells rung constantly, but especially whenever someone ventures out of a village.

In addition, most of the tribespeople, and definitely anyone who ventures higher into the mountains, is trained in the use of the sacred ball whistles, which are both protection and weapon against the wraiths.

The ball whistles are hollow balls of iron or steel on long leather straps or chains, with reeds fitted inside them. The dancer puts her two central fingers through the leather loop at the other end, passing the remainder of the loop between those two fingers, so the balls can be swung in large circles in any direction. Once the balls are spinning, they emit a loud whistling sound when they are whirled around the dancer’s head and body. According to local superstition, if the sound doesn’t warn the wraith away, contact with a blessed bell or one of the sacred ball whistles will kill a wraith.* (Created by Deirdre Murphy)

This article contains extra material for our contributors only!

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