Apparently this is a good decade old, but it’s the first I’ve run across it. A company that makes music tuning products, Peterson Strobe Tuners, on a whim, built an organ that produces music by blowing air over beer bottles filled with varying levels of liquid inside, just like we’ve all done after a few too many in our local pub.
The first one was made for Guinness, who commissioned it. That first organ was self contained with brass fittings, lighting and is housed in a walnut enclosure on casters. It includes an air pump controller and self playing device which allows the organ to also play tunes unaided.
But the history of bottle organs is far older than this one, according to the Peterson website:
The story stretches back to 1798, on the island of Helgoland (formerly Danish territory, now German) whose church congregation were tired of paying for an organ tuner to sail out every month to tune the church organ. The pastor, who was tired of hearing the complaints, subsequently commissioned an ex-mercenary soldier/organ builder from Eisleben, (later East Germany) called Johann Samuel Kühlewein, to build an organ which would not go out of tune due to changes in temperature or weather conditions. Kühlewein thought about it for a while and decided to build an organ using bottles instead of standard organ pipes and using sealing wax to fine tune the bottles. This organ spent a long life on the island until it became depopulated in the late 1800s and the organ fell into disrepair.
Exactly 200 years and 4500 miles later in 1998, we at Peterson were preparing for our 50th anniversary celebrations when one of our organ designers, Gary Rickert, had a novel idea, to build an organ that played bottles. Just like Johann Samuel Kühlewein before him (at that stage we had no idea that there had already been an attempt) he set about working on weekends and late into the night, experimenting with different bottle sizes and shapes. Together with woodshop supervisor Joe Farmer & cabinet maker Bill Bernahl they tried several different kinds of designs until they finally found the answer.
Here are some samples of how the organ sounds:
The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby.
A Sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The theme from Star Wars.
And, naturally, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
Believe it or not, three of these samples are from the CD “Hits From the Bottle Organ.”
And here you can see the organ in action on ABC Channel 7 News: