Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/August 1875/The Pyrophone
SOUND is in general, according to natural philosophers, a sensation excited in the organ of hearing by the vibratory movement of ponderable matter, while this movement can be transmitted to the ear by means of an intermediate agent. Sound, properly called musical sound or tone, is that which produces a continuous sensation, and of which one can appreciate the musical value. Noise is a sound of too short a duration to be appreciated well, as the noise of a cannon, or else it is a mixture of confused and discordant sounds like the rolling of thunder. For a single sound to become a musical sound, that is to say, a tone corresponding to one of the intonations of the musical scale, it is necessary that the impulse and, consequently, the undulations of the air should be exactly similar in duration and intensity, and that they should return after equal intervals of time. In its change to the musical state, however dull and confused the noise may be, it becomes clear and brilliant. Like the diamond, after having been polished and cut according to the rules of art, it has the brilliancy for the ear which the former has for the eye. This is what takes place in singing-flames. Very imperfect in its beginning, hoarse, roaring, or detonating, it does not come nearer the musical sound, properly so called in the chemical harmonica, as it is termed, still, by means of reiterated trials, the sound of the single flame in the tube, the lumen philosophicum, as it is elsewhere called, can it be musically produced in every case.
It has long been known that a flame traversing a glass tube under a certain pressure produces a musical sound. The eminent savant, Prof. Tyndall, to whom the greater part of the deep questions in physics are no mysteries, has studied singing-flames, but it must be admitted that singing-flames have only penetrated into the dominion of art in consequence of the discovery made by M. Frederick Kastner of the principle which allows of their being tuned and made to produce at will all the notes of the musical scale, to stop the sound instantaneously and mechanically; as in keyed instruments, the sound is regulated and subdued as desired. It is thus that the modest harmonica chimique, lumen philosophicum of natural philosophers has, in the pyrophone, attained to the character of a real musical instrument; this happy result supports the remark that the observation in Nature of the phenomenon of sound may conduct man, if not exactly to the invention of music, at least to endow the art with resources which increase its power. The sound of the pyrophone may truly be said to resemble the sound of a human voice, and the sound of the Æolian harp; at the same time sweet, powerful, full of taste, and brilliant; with much roundness, accuracy, and fullness; like a human and impassioned whisper, as an echo of the inward vibrations of the soul, something mysterious and indefinable; besides, in general, possessing a character of melancholy, which seems characteristic of all natural harmonies. The father of this young philosopher, a member of L'Institut de France, and a learned author, who died in 1867, treating on cosmic harmonies, insists on this peculiarity:
It characterizes, for example, the sound of the echo, the sound called harmonics, and many others which are included in the range of musical tones, defined further on under the name of chemical and sympathetic music. We have the most remarkable examples of these in the sound of the Æolian harp. Science, as well as philosophy, poetry, and musical art, is interested in the further study of these sounds. In Germany, Goethe and Novalis, in France, Jean Paul, and many others, have eagerly appreciated the bond which unites natural harmonies to the most elevated instincts, and to the most ideal aspirations of the human soul.
Prof. Tyndall has recognized the fact that, in order to render a flame musical, it is necessary that its volume be such that it should explode in unison with the undulations of the fundamental note of the tube, or of one of its harmonics. He also asserts that, when the volume of the flame is too great, no sound is produced; he demonstrates it, by increasing the flow of gas. Prof. Tyndall has also called attention to this fact, that, in order that a flame may sing with its maximum of intensity, it is necessary that it should occupy a certain position in the tube. He shows this by varying the length of the tube over the flame, but he does not specify the proportions which must exist between the flame and the tube for obtaining this maximum intensity of sound. M. Kastner's merit is in having shown that, when two or several flames are introduced in a tube, they vibrate in unison, and produce the musical maximum of sound when they are placed one-third the length of the tube, and, if these two flames are brought in contact, all sound ceases directly, a phenomenon M. Kastner demonstrates to be caused by the interference of sounding flames. Here is a question, lately scarcely thought of, of which M. Frederick Kastner has determined the laws, at the same time making a most remarkable application of them in creating an instrument which reminds one of, and may be mistaken for, the sound of the human voice.
A very simple mechanism causes each key to communicate with the supply-pipes of the flames in the glass tubes. On pressing the keys the flames separate, and the sound is produced (Fig. 1). As soon as the fingers are removed from the keys the flames join, and the sound ceases immediately (Fig. 2). These new experiments made by M. Kastner upon singing-flames should cause all makers of musical instruments to turn their attention to inventions connected with sound. If two flames of suitable size be introduced into a glass tube, and if they be so disposed that they reach one-third of the tube's height, measured from the base, the flames will vibrate in unison. This phenomenon continues as long as the flames remain apart, but the sound ceases as
|Fig. 1.—Tube with Singing-Flames showing Mechanism by which the Gas-Jets are made to diverge, and thus give rise to the Sound.||Fig. 2.—Same, with Flames united, when no Sound is produced.|
soon as the two flames are united. If the position of the flames in the tube is varied, still keeping them apart, it is found that the sound diminishes while the flames are raised above the one-third until they reach the middle point, where the sound ceases. Below this point the sound increases down to one-fourth of the tube's length. If at this latter point the flames are brought together, the sound will not cease immediately, but the flames will continue to vibrate as a single flame would. M. Kastner, for his first experiments, used two flames derived from the combustion of hydrogen gas in suitably constructed burners. The interference of the singing-flames is only produced under special conditions. It is certain that the length and the size of the tubes depend upon the number of flames. The burners must be of a particular shape; the height of the flames does not exercise much effect upon the phenomenon. From a practical point of view, the numerous experiments effected by M. Kastner during several years have resulted in the construction of a musical apparatus of an entirely new principle, to which he has given the name of Pyrophone (Fig. 3); it may be called a new organ, working by singing-flames, or rather by vibrations caused by means of the combustion of these flames. This instrument may be constructed from one octave to a most extended compass.
The British Review humorously remarks that the pyrophone will naturally be valuable in winter, and that in America it has already been recommended to families as a means of warming small apartments, and perhaps an economical stove may be added to it for the culinary exigencies of straitened households.
The pyrophone will have in the future a poetical mission to fill in the music of concerts. A great number of composers and musicians have already admired this new organ performing by the singing of flames, or rather by vibrations determined by means of the combustion of these flames. They think it will be of great advantage in cathedrals and churches, as the most extended compass can be given to the instrument.
L'Année Scientifique, by M, Figuier, declares that the pyrophone is assuredly one of the most original instruments that science has given to instrumental music. In the large pyrophone which M. Kastner has constructed, and which they have not yet been able to bring to London, an artist can produce sounds unknown till the present time, imitating the human voice, but with strange and beautiful tones, capable of producing in religious music the most wonderful effects. So says Le Journal Officiel de l'Exposition de Vienne.
Journals and reviews abroad have unanimously mentioned with praise this new instrument, both from a musical as well as from a scientific point of view.
M. Henri de Parville, in Les Causeries Scientifiques, gives a large space to the consideration of "Singing-Flames," and states that "gas music" made its début at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. La Nature and La Revue des Sciences, edited by M. Tissandier, believe that this new instrument is destined to produce the most remarkable and unexpected effects in the orchestras of lyric theatres and in large concerts.
The chandeliers of the theatre, besides serving to light it, may be converted into an immense musical instrument:
"When the pyrophone is played by a skillful hand, a sweet and truly delicious music is beard; the sounds obtained are of an extraordinary purity and delicacy, recalling the human voice."
The inventor has prepared a large and beautiful singing lustre, with a dozen or fifteen jets, which can be placed in the richest or most comfortable drawing-room. This lustre may be used at concerts or balls, for it can play all the airs in dance-music. It will be worked by electricity, so that the performer who plays may be seated in a neighboring room. The effect will be perfectly magical. The future has other surprises for us for our houses. The most unexpected applications of scientific principles are daily the result of the skillful efforts of learned men.
Without reckoning Prof. Tyndall, who is so well known and esteemed on the Continent, many other learned men, English, German, Austrian (like Shaffgotsche), and Frenchmen, have already studied singing-flames, but no one had previously thought of studying the effects produced by two or several flames brought together, till M. Kastner, who, by means of delicate combinations and ingenious mechanism, has produced the pyrophone.
Frederick Kastner, the inventor of the pyrophone, showed from his earliest age a very decided taste for scientific pursuits. His parents, whose fine fortune permitted them to satisfy the taste of their son for study, gave him facilities often denied to genius. They frequently traveled: the first thing which arrested his attention was a railway; this pleased him much; he had a passion for locomotives, just as some children have for horses. He was only three years old when he examined the smallest details with a lively feeling of curiosity. Later on, when he tried to reason and explain his impressions, he overwhelmed with questions those who surrounded him, wishing to learn the mechanism of these great machines, and the mysterious force which sets them to work. But, what more especially charmed him was, when the train stopped at the station, the fiery aspect of the jets of gas emerging suddenly from the darkness. At this sight he shouted with delight; such was his enthusiasm, that he seemed as if he would jump out of the arms of those who held him, in order to rush toward the jets of flames, which exercised upon him a sort of fascination.
Steam and gas, in their modern application to locomotion and lightning, were the first scientific marvels which struck the mind and the sense of the child. He studied music under the skillful direction of his father. From the age of fifteen years, in studying gas particularly, his attention was directed to singing-flames. The mysteries of electricity were also at this time the object of his study. The researches to which he gave himself up carried him on to invent a novel application of electricity as a motive force. He patented this invention. On the 17th of March, 1873, the Baron Larrey, member of the Academy of Sciences of Paris, presented to the Institut de France young Kastner's first memoir on singing-flames, which laid down the following new principle:
Passing on to his experiments, M. Kastner thus gives his account:
In consequence of this communication a commission from the Académie des Sciences de Paris was selected for the examination of this curious invention, consisting of Messrs. Jamin, Regnault, and Bertrand, three distinguished members of that Academy, who showed a lively interest from a scientific point of view in M. Kastner's discovery. After fresh experiments, M. Kastner has succeeded in substituting the ordinary illuminating gas for hydrogen. gas in working this pyrophone, and his friend the Baron Larrey was again the interpreter to 1' Académie des Sciences of this new discovery, which much facilitates the employment of the luminous musical instrument. M. Kastner thus expresses himself in his new report presented to the Institut de France, December 7, 1874:
s length measured from the base. In addition to the phenomenon of interference, I believe I shall be able to describe a novel process by aid of which the sound produced by burning flames in a tube can be made to cease.
"Supposing that one or several flames, placed in a tube a third of its height (measured from its base), determine the vibration of the air contained in this tube; if a hole is pierced at the one-third of the tube, counted from the upper end, the sound ceases. This observation might be applied to the construction of a musical instrument, which will be a species of flute, working by singing-flames. Such an instrument, from a musical point of view, will be very imperfect, because the sound will not be so promptly or sharply stopped as when the phenomenon of interference is employed. If, instead of making the hole at the third, it is made at a sixth, the sound will not cease, but it will produce the sharp of the same note. In all these experiments I have clearly detected the formation of ozone while flames cause the air in the tube to vibrate. The presence of this body can, moreover, be ascertained by chemical reagents scientifically known."—Given before the Académie des Sciences, December 7, 1874.
Prof. Tyndall, at a lecture on January 13th, at the Royal Institution, showed experiments, according to the new principle, with an apparatus of nine flames, which worked during the evening in tubes of different sizes.—Journal of the Society of Arts.