The mighty and mysterious Waterphone

A while back Peter revealed the orgasm-inducing Blaster Beam as the source of some of the weird noises in Star Trek: The Movie. Other sounds came from Richard Waters' Waterphone, which also makes unearthly noises Poltergeist, The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Richard invented it in the late '60s, and he's hand made over 1,000 since then. It's a series of tuned brass rods attached to a base filled with water. The rods are played with a violin bow, and moving the instrument makes the water shift to bend the notes and create 'acoustic, schiziosonic, modulations'. There are three nice waterphone samples here a the Freesound Project - it's a really familiar sound that you might have never been able to quite place.
There are videos of Richard Waters playing his waterphone here, and intrepid Interspecies Music pioneer Jim Nollman uses his to attract killer whales by playing it in the sea. Unfortunately, the cheapest waterphone Richard makes costs $800...

Great link, Tom! Always fantastic to hear the waterphone. I've heard of people building similar instruments (perhaps varied enough not to violate the patent, just in case Richard Waters tracks you down). They may not come out as well as his instruments, but if you enjoy building things, of course, could have appeal!

I'm actually not sure this recognizable sound is always a waterphone in film scores, however. Bowing vibes, for instance, can produce a similar sound. What you lose is the trademark bend from the things sitting in water. So, sometimes you're hearing the real thing -- sometimes just other bowed objects.

Now a digital water instrument could be interesting, too . . . other than the preexisting Mocean, of course . . . though it does help if your name is Waters.
I work in post production sound, one of our editors/designers has one. He has used it in almost all of the films we have done. Really cool thing to see in use.
Lark in the morning has one for $240 but they call it an oceanharp. Really cool instrument nonetheless.
Tom Waits is seen playing one in the movie "Mystery Men" (he's the non lethan weapons specialist)
That's Evelyn Glennie, isn't it? I tried to get hold of a new DVD she brought out last year. I wonder if it's on that? I'll have to try to get hold of it again.
A toy piano has a set of metal rods arranged by pitch. attach these to a brass vase and there you go...
The things sounds amazing, but a little less than controllable or tonal!
Yes, the picture is Evelyn Glennie taken from her new movie Touch the Sound. I wonder why they haven't put some info on the picture.
Not that its of any great importance, but the waterphone is played with a bass bow not a violin bow
i am pretty sure any type of
bow will work...
Any kind of bow will work but the 3/4 length Bass Bow is by far the best. I know as I have used them all. Richard Waters
Our school is looking for instruments to build for our yearly science olympiad tournament, and we are interested in the waterphone. The only stipulation is this: we cannot use any pre-made instrument parts... this includes mallets and bows. The only exception to this rule is the use of strings, although this probably wont matter for this instrument. Any information you could provide, or any building plans, would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
A correction in the original post about the waterphone is that the rods are not brass but bronze.

And please note that some of the cheapest stainless steel on the planet comes from China. It will not last.

Yes, there are cheaper versions of the waterphone but in a face off with the real waterphone, the knock-offs are vastly inferior.

And bowing vibes does not produce a sound like the waterphone as there is no tone bending nor schiziosonic water echoes.
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