Pagophone (like Xylophone But Ice Instead of Wood)




Introduction: Pagophone (like Xylophone But Ice Instead of Wood)

About: I grew up at a time when technologies were transparent and easy to understand, but now society is evolving toward insanity and incomprehensibility. So I wanted to make technology human. At the age of 12, I c…

If you ever visit a cold place like Canada, consider making a musical instrument from ice...

Pagophone (Πάγοφωνο)

The pagophone makes sound from ice (i.e. from H2O in its solid-state), when struck, rubbed, or manipulated, usually with mallets.

"Pago" ("πάγο") is Greek for ice, and "phone" ("φωνο") is Greek for "voice" or "sound", so "pagophone" means "voice of ice" or "ice sound", in much the same way that "xylophone" means "voice of wood" or "wood sound" ("xylo" = "ξύλο" is Greek for "wood").

It is part of H2Orchestra which I intended to be played with other H2O-based instruments that I invented, such as the hydraulophone (υδραυλόφωνο = "voice of water").

There are two ways to make a pagophone: additive and subtractive.

In the additive process, you pour water into molds to make each of the blocks.
In the subtractive process, you cut the blocks from a larger piece of ice.

Let's begin with the additive process.

Step 1: (Additive): Make Some Molds

Begin by making molds to hold water which will be left out in the cold to freeze. You can either design the molds in Fusion360 and 3D print them in a material that's nice and slick so ice slips out nicely, or if you want a super quick hack, just make cardboard molds and line them with Saran wrap or other similar plastic sheet. Then fill them with water and leave them outside to cool down

Step 2: Fill the Molds With Water and Leave Them Out in the Cold

Usually pagophone is played in cold weather so you can leave the molds out in the cold, or you can put them in a large freezer overnight or long enough to cool down enough to freeze solid.

Step 3: Remove the Blocks of Ice From the Molds and Suspend Them at Their Nodal Points

Here I made 6 notes in ice. Begin with a small number of notes until you perfect the technique of making nice sounding ice.

Step 4: Suspend the Ice Blocks at Their Nodal Points

Here I placed them on rubber surgical tubing to suspend them at their nodal points.

If the ice is perfectly uniform the nodal points would be approximately 22.4% from the end points.

You can find the nodal points experimentally by moving the suspension points around for best sound.

Surgical tubing is flexible enough to move around until the sound rings most true.

Step 5: Play by Striking the Ice Slabs With Mallets

Experiment with different mallets for best sound without breaking the ice. As you make ice, you will begin to learn how ice can turn out weaker or stronger, depending on air bubbles and other impurities, as well as what kinds of mallets tend to sound good without breaking the ice.

Step 6: (Subtractive): for Better Sound, Try Cutting the Blocks From the Best Piece of Ice You Can Find

The additive pagophone sounds OK, but a much better approach is to use a subtractive process. For this, I went on a search for the best-sounding ice. Once you find the very best-sounding ice you can find (which you can test by trimming samples), you need to cut the slabs out of ice. To do this, use a piece of nichrome wire and a power supply to slowly and gently melt into the ice with the wire, and cut it. It takes a while, but it gives a glorious result with great sound. Much better than pouring it and taking your chances with getting great sound. Truly glorious sounding ice is something to find, not so often occurring in a cardboard box.

Step 7: Share Your Work and Spread the Word About Responsible Water Use

By making instruments out of ice, you're using a very recyclable material (and the dust from fragments of ice also recycles!).

H2Orchestra aims to promote clean water and responsible environmental stewardship.

To learn more about H2Orchestra, visit


Step 8: Going Further: Internet of Ice

One of the things I like to do is make interactive "Internet of Ice" instruments, e.g. begin by equipping the ice with sensors, processing the sounds, and re-routing the processed sounds through transducers that set the ice into vibration as part of a feedback loop we call "Humanistic Intelligence" [Minsky, Kurzweil, and Mann, 2013].

See also "scratch input".

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    4 years ago

    That's a cool project!

    All joking aside, it's an interesting idea. I definitely had one of those "I never thought about that" moments.

    Here was my train of thoughts when I saw this:
    1) Huh, that's cool. *laugh at my stupid pun*
    2) "There are bubbles. Does that affect the tone? I'd make them totally clear, like an ice sculpture!"
    3) "I wonder how easy it is to tune those blocks and how the tone changes as they chip, melt, and/or sublimate."
    3) "Add an automated xylophone player robot and this would make an awesome decoration and provide background music at the same time."