The Tubulum – Looking For A Home

In the spring of 2012, we set out to build a PVC pipe musical instrument inspired by those used in Blue Man Group. This type of instrument, often refereed to as a “tubulum,” consists of a set of PVC pipes cut to specified lengths such that when struck with a broad paddle produce a precise set of notes. The project lasted nearly two years, with the final completion of the instrument taking place in the spring of 2014. (Here’s a video of The tubulum being introduced to the Concord Academy community.) It has been used by the Concord Academy community ever since then at a variety of events such as sports games. Now, we are looking for a new home for the tubulum, as it is a very large instrument and there is no longer space in the school to store it. Below, details are provided on the design and construction of the instrument, so as to provide a better sense of the work that went into it.

A 32-note chromatic range (~2.5 octaves) was selected for the tubulum (ranging from A1 to E4) so as to maximize the number of songs that could be played on the instrument. Given the frequencies of these notes, as well as some experimental constants that were found through a series of controlled experiments, it was possible to compute the hypothetical length of piping required for each note. These values were then used to generate a CAD model of the tubulum design on the computer where these pipe lengths were twisted together into an aesthetically pleasing and compact setup. To account for the added length of each elbow joint used, the “effective acoustical length” of the elbow joints being considered were determined, as well. So as to aid the learning process for a new player, the notes were arranged like those of a piano keyboard. Finally, a wooden frame was designed around the pipes to hold them in place.

Overall, the design called for 108 feet of 2″ diameter PVC pipe. Over the course of a few months, each piece was measured and cut during DEMONs weekly two-hour build sessions. Finally, the frame was build, and the pipes were installed in place using a special PVC glue. Special attention had to be paid to install the pipes in an order that did not prevent the placement of later pipes yet to be installed. Moreover, the final, forward-facing section of each pipe was left unglued, allowing it to be removed and adjusted to improve the tuning of each note. In the end, most pieces only needed adjustments of up to 1/4″ to correct for slight errors in the modeling process.

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In the end, the entire project proved to be worthwhile, as the final result performed far better than expected. If you are interested in taking home this instrument of creativity and diligence, please contact us at requests@cademons.org.

Description excerpted from the words of Connor McCann ’14, former DEMONs co-head (i.e. an ArchDEMON) and current undergraduate of mechanical engineering at Yale University.

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