I both found the answer I’ve sought and had my hopes and dreams crushed by said answer in one shot.
I’ve been listening to a song by Mercan Dede for sometime now, “Book of Wings.” In it is a featured instrument – apparently Asian in nature (in my mind) – of which I knew nothing. It’s a hollow, simultaneously wooden and brassy, sound. There’s a distinctively melancholy and mysterious feeling to it. If sound can be old, this resonates with something ancient and nearly forgotten.
I am also a big fan of the Avatar cartoon series and remembered that Uncle Iroh once played an instrument that sounded like what I was looking for. After some quick searching, I found the YouTube video I was looking for.
As I searched for references to the “Tsungi Horn,” I’m met with the Avatar forums in which one contributor quotes a track team member from the show.
the tsungi horn had to be a cross between a woodwind and a brass instrument. we played that theme on a duduk (armenian reed instrument) and then performed a computer process called convolution where we combined the timbre of a trombone with our duduk performance. convolution can sound very natural if done correctly. one of the most interesting challenges of avatar is to create new sounds that sound old…
Aaargh! I was so excited to finally have an answer to this riddle, only to be met with a myth. On the upside of things, I read into the duduk and found that the Tsungi Horn is largely qualitative of the duduk. It’s missing the brassy resonance on the high end, however.
While possible that I could pick up one of these and learn to play it a bit, I think it would benefit greatly from circular breathing. This is something I will need more practice on as I’m awful at it! It seems a rarity that my nasal passages are clear enough for me to do this efficiently.
So, there is no such thing as the tsungi horn? No instrument that makes the exact sound produced in The Avatar? The duduk is the closest approximation?