This is my first post on what will be an insight into my latest project; the p-Lur.
Since demand for Lurs is probably not that great, this is more of an experiment for personal satisfaction than any kind of commercial venture. However, I am currently writing a Viking-inspired piece for my group æðelfrìth which I hope to include them in. Lurs are quite rare, and nobody really produces them commercially. I’ve made contact with a few people I could hire a replica pair from but it is proving difficult.
What on earth is a Lur?!
I guarantee you’ve seen them somewhere. Especially if you buy a particular brand of Danish butter that comes in a silver and blue tub, where the crest above the logo is composed of a pair of Lurs. They have a particular association with Denmark because that is where most of them have been dug up from. They apparently date back to the Bronze age (around 800-500BC) and are one of the earliest forms of what we would now call a brass instrument. Typically, they come in pairs which are identical but symmetrically reflections of each other. Depictions of these are typically being used for war, at the front of a Viking long boat perhaps to scare the enemy or in celebration of victory. We don’t really know how they were played, since although metal working technology was quite advanced at that time, digital recording techniques were not.
Here are a pair of lurs:
For more information on Lurs, visit some of these interesting pages:
Here they are being played:
…and here’s the terrifying sound of their bottom harmonic being sounded as an imagined war call:
Why a p-Lur?
To help me write the piece I’m conjuring up, I need a Lur to experiment with. Since they are not very easy to get hold of, I figured a simple piece of straight pipe would do for now. However, Lurs are conical bore instruments so in fact it would have to be a fairly unsimple piece of pipe of increasing diameter. That would involve some serious metal work, which I don’t have the facility for in a London flat. Plastic pipe though will have similar characteristics, and is much easier to work with (a hair dryer will soften it enough to bend).
So I went out to a local model shop and picked up 6 different diameters of polytube, which conveniently fit tightly within each other and reach a total length of around 6 meters. A few quick experiments found that it was beginning to achieve the desired effect. There isn’t a smooth gradation of diameter but nevertheless it seems to work. The next stage will be to tune the pipe, and find the correct pitch with the corresponding harmonics – time to get the saw out!
At the initial planning stage then I have much to think about here, but hopefully soon I can get a piece of pipe to make the correct sound. The next stage from there will be to bend the tube into a Lur shape and make something that also looks about right.
This might be a 3000 or so year old instrument, but putting this project together is giving me an appreciation of how advanced that civilisation was. I made the mistake of thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult to reconstruct something so simple. It turns out that modern brass instruments haven’t developed in principle so much since then, and I have a great deal of respect for the people who construct those pieces of precision engineering. It seems Vikings weren’t the stupid ogres their image in modern culture would like to have us think!