It started with an empty wine glass

by Kavita

It was a Saturday, 2 years ago. I received a box of 12 wine glasses from Amazon. G&I were to build a Glass Harp with them, as our mini-project for the weekend. We needed the glasses, water and a couple of spoons. G initially wanted to write a tuner software but realized that my trained ears were enough.

I picked a theory for reference; and sat down with water and the glasses. I had a spoon to test the sounds.


Like how most theories go, this one was a practical failure. I struggled to find my pitches; had to try different levels of water; had to test each glass and after half-a-day of sound search, I settled for a ‘wine bottle’and 7 glasses. The pitches were still imperfect!

I held 2 steel spoons and the harp arrangement to play a song for a friend.

If you are a traditional musician or anyone with humble ears, you will find at least 3 pitches off-accuracy. However, I was way too happy to worry about precision, perfection and purity of pitches. There was something unusual about the entire process that made me feel accomplished.

I shared the work on social media and sent it to a few friends who participate in my life journey and/or enjoy related updates. One evening, I sent an email to my then piano teacher, with a request for a class credit and with the link to this video in the end.

Who would have thought that an aimless communication would add more purpose to my life?

I received a response from my teacher with information on a show of unusual music ensembles, deep listening and invented instruments. It made me curious, if not immediately interested.

G&I left one evening for a similar show in Berkeley. We walked from the station to the theater and as we entered, we found ourselves amidst the most random arrangement of audience. People, performers included, were dispersed in stairways and over the edge of the walls on different floors. There were wine glasses, mirrors and some eastern-looking instruments laid out in different parts of the space.

There was Pauline Oliveros in the now-identified center of the stage; she performed with an ensemble of artists. However, I felt like I had a role to play in the show, and so did every element around me – the walls, the objects and even the silence. As I observed, many questions fired up in my little brain:

What were the mirrors for? What was that guitar in the middle for? Why didn’t the performing artist have any instrument with her? What exactly constituted music – sounds or variations in silence? What am I – a listener, observer or a participant? What, what was going on?

The difference between a music concert and curiosity is that the latter plays after the show, as your own song of questions.  I reserved them all and asked my piano teacher to reach out if the organization that was involved in the performance, needed any volunteer help. A month later, I discovered Thingamajigs.

In the time that followed, where I spoke to the artists more and organized Aeolian Day, I found many answers; along with more questions.

I understood that the thickness of the glass material, the size and the manufacturing defects, were various reasons that the Glass Harp was wildly off the standards. So, there it was, the answer. However, what standards were these? The one set by the song? What if I created a song with the off-standard pitches? Will that be music too?

At this point, I remembered the ‘Grey Card’ that I used in a B&W film photography class. To distinguish between Grey, Grey1 & Grey2, I had to put all of them next to each other. And viola! there were different shades of grey or as they call it in the world of colors – Gray-scale.

Maybe that’s how a musical scale is?

Creativity is fascinating! At one end, it seems like beauty within boundaries; and on the other, it sets us free from all limitations. Music isn’t limited to the standard octave and pitch levels. If there’s a song in C Major, there’s probably another in c4/3 minor. But what is C4/3? 

Well, I don’t know but I imagine that if we create a pattern with say : C-D-E-F & another with C4/3-D-E-F; I will find C4/3 and eventually make a song in C4/3 minor. Maybe?

I am grateful to the academicians of music, who provided us a simple reference to create music with. They probably didn’t expect these baselines to be violated; but that’s what makes the journey of ‘looking for music’ so interesting.

In my life, inventions and discoveries have switched orders. I step deeper into Thingamajigs, and I see that I can invent music first and discover notes that I never before made a note of!