Most small and empty univalve seashells encase spiral columns of air space that can be resonated to produce sound. The shell, Terebra Turritella, commonly known as the Screw Shell or Unicorn Shell, encases a conical helix air space. Experts report that Its shape has remained the same since the Jurassic Period.
The first eight whorls, counting from the shell opening (aperture) to the pointy end (apex), are hollow. After that the whorls are solid to the shell apex. A whorl is one revolution of the spiral. If one draws a lengthwise center line on the shell, one spiral revolution begins on the line and ends on the adjacent whorl line, either above or below the starting point.
The air space inside one spiral revolution of the Terebra Turritella shell increases or decreases in volume logarithmically. Diatonic musical notes also increase or decrease in pitch logarithmically. In the case of the Terebra Turritella shell the spiral logarithmic air space contains the logarithmic diatonic musical scale potential. Another way of saying that is the diatonic musical scale is dormant within the first eight whorls of theTerebra Turritella shell.
The Terebra Turritella shell releases the diatonic musical scale of notes when five pitch holes are drilled into whorls 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8, following the lengthwise axis line of the shell. The logarithmic shape of the shell’s air space corresponds to and contains the diatonic scale of notes. In fact, an octave and a half of diatonic and chromatic notes are available.
No mathematical measurements or calculations are required or necessary to create this musical instrument. All other musical instruments in the world, capable of releasing the pentatonic, diatonic and chromatic scales of notes, require the use of mathematical calculations or measurements in their construction.
The Turritella Shell Flute is a primal and natural musical instrument. I consider it to be the Mother of Music and Musical Instruments. It’s spiral shape, along with the five pitch holes, releases an octave and a half of pentatonic, diatonic and chromatic notes. The shell contains all the mathematical calculations required to make this happen. Why a snail created this shell shape is a matter of conjecture.
Conch by E B White:
Hold a baby to your ear
As you would a shell:
Sounds of centuries you will hear
New Centuries foretell.
Who can break a baby’s code?
And which is the older-
The listener or his small load?
The held or the holder?
Last week I made a lot of seashell spiral flutes. All but a few played diatonic musical scales. Those few were somehow misshapen – they were elongated more than normal Terebra Turritella shells. I assume something in the environment caused this.
To the eye, these elongated shells are still pleasing to look at. But to the ear; they are not pleasing at all. When the five pitch holes are drilled through the shell they produce an ‘out of tune’ scale of notes.
A normal Terebra Turritella shell will produce pentatonic, diatonic and chromatic scales of notes when five pitch holes are drilled through whorls number 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8. The two half steps of the diatonic scale are in whorls 2 and 6. In fact, each of the five pitch holes produce sharps, flats and micro tones, giving the player the ability to play the chromatic scale of notes. Slight variations in the force of the breath make this possible.
The shape of the tube has everything to do with the range and sensitivity of the instrument. As it is the first conical helix shaped flute ever made nothing is known about it, scientifically, except what Rollins College Physics Dept has discovered, and they haven’t published their findings yet. (They’ve been studying the instrument for over five years.). More research needs to be done to explain why this instrument works.
A couple of years ago I recorded ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in a professional sound studio on a seashell flute in the key of B. The sound engineer added a reverb effect to the recording. He said it made it sound better. I’ve practiced more since then and can probably do better now.
The next time I record seashell flute music I’d like to be accompanied by other instruments. I’ve played with Native American Flute musicians. The two different types of flutes sound good together. I’ve also played with a steel drum musician at a farmer’s market I vend at. Again, the instruments sound good together.