This Instrument is Made of Mongolian Horsehair and 20 Wooden Beams

Artist João Costa created a musical instrument inspired by Genghis Khan, Sigur Rós, and Leonardo da Vinci.

In the time of Genghis Khan, horses helped unify Mongolia’s nomadic tribes, then expand and maintain the Mongolian empire, which stretched from Eastern Europe to Siberia, India, and the Sea of Japan in the east. The horses were of such practical and symbolic power to the emperor, that 40 horses were said to have been sacrificed at Khan’s tomb, since he would need them in the afterlife.

Artist João Costa plays with the significance of the Mongolian horse in his new installation Funeral of Horses. 20 wooden beams, each outfitted with two guitar strings and a wheel with Mongolian horsehair, become a sound sculpture and experimental instrument. It looks like a picket fence but sounds like a dark ambient Hollywood film soundtrack.

“The use of horsehair in bows for playing instruments such as violin and cello has always intrigued me,” Costa tells The Creators Project. "I started doing some research on the history of bows and the first uses of horsehair to play strings. I soon realized that Mongolian horsehair is one of the most used for playing such instruments because of its unique characteristics and I was consequently drawn into the history of the Mongol empire.”

Image courtesy the artist

Costa came across an article by Columbia University professor Morris Rossabi, titled “All the Khan’s Horses,” which describes the importance of the Mongolian horses to the military campaigns of Khan’s era. Rossabi’s closing comment, on the sacrifice of 40 horses at the Great Khan’s tomb, struck a symbolic chord with Costa. It was then that he decided on a project that would create a “cry of horses, their last gallops in life, through the 40-string sound installation.”

Image courtesy the artist

“It was inspired by the recreation of the 'Viola Organista' by Leonardo da Vinci, and the music of Icelandic band Sigur Rós,” Costa says. “And also philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s [book] Difference and Repetition.”

“It was built with a combination of techniques,” Costa adds. “The wooden beams were custom cut using a CNC router, along with laser cut acrylic sheets. The circuit comprises DC gearhead motors and toggle switches, along with an LED strip on the back of each of the twenty modules. The wheel is wrapped with Mongolian horsehair that plays guitar strings amplified by guitar pickups.”

Funeral of Horses from João Costa on Vimeo.

Costa will be performing Funeral of Horses this Wednesday, December 16th, at the Bell House in Brooklyn at 7:00pm. It will then go on view during New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program’s Winter Show on December 20th and 21st at 721 Broadway, 4th Floor in Manhattan.

Click here to see more of João Costa’s work.


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