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Space Out With This Turkish Musician’s New Instrument

The yaybahar, which harnesses traditional materials and design to create modern sounds, challenges listeners to expand their horizons beyond guitar, bass, and drums.

Photo courtesy of yaybahar.com

If you thought lugging your acoustic guitar around town was a pain, try carrying a yaybahar. The brand-new instrument is the creation of Turkish musician Görkem Şen (pronounced like Shen), who plays it in this video by Istanbul-based producer Olgu Demir. The completely acoustic instrument generates droning, dreamy, otherworldly sounds, like some cosmic combination of a sitar, a didgeridoo, and a metal drum.


The yaybahar is propped up on a slender wooden post and metal strings are stretched across its length. A pair of intersecting wooden rods, so long they almost span the width of the room featured in the video, support drum heads, which are connected to the rest of the instrument with coil springs.

“The vibrations from the strings are transmitted via the coiled springs to the frame drums,” Demir writes in the video’s description. “These vibrations are turned into sound by the membranes which echo back and forth on the coiled springs. This results in [a] unique listening experience with an hypnotic surround sound.”

The instrument, clearly built to create a wide range of unique sounds, can be played multiple ways: Şen runs a wooden mallet along the coils, using it to gently strike the drumheads. He later draws what looks like a bow across the metal strings for a more melodic effect. The yaybahar produces deep, layered reverberations, carrying a piercing, metallic quality evocative of a digital synthesizer’s electronic range of tones—except it requires no digital power whatsoever. It would make a great soundtrack for a space-age soap opera or maybe a Terrence Malick flick that happens to take place on Mars.

Music blogs and sound enthusiasts are already excited about the new musical apparatus, but it’s rare that newly invented instruments ever rise above the status of novel oddities or flash-in-the-pan musical fads. It’s not for lack of trying: Instrument innovators converge on Georgia Tech every year for the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition to showcase their new creations and compete for a $5,000 grand prize. The fruits of this competition, however, never quite seem to become household names, partly because the modern music industry is far too institutionalized. But the yaybahar, which harnesses traditional materials and design to create modern sounds, may capture the interest of young musicians willing to expand their horizons beyond the tired ol’ guitar, bass, and drums.

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