Triple clarinet

The Sardinian launeddas, also known as a triplepipe, sounds like someone playing three clarinets at the same time.

A man playing a launeddas
Gianni Careddu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are three basic types of reed instrument: single reed, double reed, and free reed. They all involve a strip of material that vibrates when air passes around it (incidentally, that’s pretty similar to how our voice boxes produce sound). Instruments like clarinets and saxophones have just one vibrating reed. Oboes and bassoons have two reeds that vibrate against each other. Accordions and harmonicas have a “free reed” encased inside.

Reed instruments have been around for a long time… a very long time. Ancient Egyptians played single reed instruments, ancient Greeks played a double-reed instrument known as an aulos. And sometimes an aulos player played two of them at once, as seen in this fresco from Pompeii:

Aulos in Pompeii fresco
WolfgangRieger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The aulos player was effectively accompanying themselves. Similar doubled clarinets were played in the Middle Ages, and versions still exist in many places around the world (such as the Egyptian arghul and the Kurdish dozaleh). When these reed instruments are doubled up, often one pipe is used for the melody and the other for a single harmonizing note. In bagpipes, the melody-producing pipe is called the chanter, and the other one is called the drone.

At some point, someone in Sardinia asked a very important question: why stop at two pipes? Let’s see how many we can cram in our mouths at once. The launeddas has not one, not two, but three reed pipes. One is a drone and the other two produce a polyphonic melody. Through the magic of circular breathing the musician can produce a single continuous note on the drone and produce a strangely beguiling form of music:

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