Under wraps for quite some time, now that it is Patent Pending I can finally talk here about one of my latest inventions, the Flutino. It is likely the world’s smallest (playable) musical instrument. It has a range approaching two octaves and loudness over 100 dB. Better yet: it works in every scale, and never needs tuning or even batteries. No fingerings to learn, and you can be playing another instrument (or anything, really) at the same time. You can sound like a pro in very little time.
The working principle of the Flutino is the same of a person whistling with his/her pursed lips. On the right is a close-up of my own mouth in the process of whistling. Observe the small opening and the trumpet-like geometry of the lips around it. This is what makes the sound, through a process that is still a subject of research, plus resonance of that sound inside the mouth. It turns out that the lip position needs to close to a very narrowly-defined shape, which partially explains why there are so many people who never learn to whistle.
But don’t take my word for it. Just watch the YouTube video below carefully. 100 folks are asked to whistle before the camera but only half succeed. You may notice that, while those who don’t succeed form their lips into a whole lot of different shapes, those who do make almost exactly the same shape.
Even though whistling sounds similar, the working principle is quite different from that of a flute, recorder, or organ pipe. In these instruments, sound is produced by an air jet hitting a sharp edge, which causes the jet to flip in and out of a resonating tube. There are no sharp edges anywhere near the air flow in pucker whistling. Even more incredibly, the process works both blowing and sucking air, a feat that none of those instruments can achieve.
So I asked my dentist Ed, who is a good friend, to make a cast of my lips as I formed them as close as I could to the whistling position. The result is shown above. When I blow through the hole, it whistles! Months of painstaking iterations made by 3d printing led eventually to the shape at the head of this article. The rings were added at the insistence of my sister Chari, who is a doctor, to tie a string that might prevent folks from swallowing it accidentally.
I can play my Flutino confidently between a G4 and a D6. I can make it louder than 100 dB, especially in the high range. I don’t need to stop for breath because the instrument plays the same whether the air is going in or out, like an accordion. And of course, my hands are free to do something else at the same time. I’ve been playing Flutino while I wrote this article, much to my family’s despair 😉
The Flutino is soon to be presented to an international competition for innovative musical instruments. Its website has just gone live at https://flutino.org, and we have made this video for the competition:
I will post more news here as they happen. Meanwhile, here are a few sound samples that you may enjoy: