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Two young children sing invented nursery rhymes: ‘Beetle in the corner’, and ‘A Magic Horse’, ‘My Grandmother said’.

There are four female singers, whose vocalizations include various kinds of singing, ululation and phonemes, as well as clapping and stamping. Two of the women have ancient Egyptian rattles called ‘sistra’. 

Four male singers also bring a wide palette of colours, most notably the Eunuch Flutes. These 15th and 16thCentury instruments (also known as ‘onion’ or ‘Membrane’ flutes) make a buzzing sound, like the modern kazoo.

Photo: Suhail Merchant

Photo: Graham Hardy


Seven percussionists, distributed around the outside of the audience, play over 80 instruments. Much of the timbral richness of the work comes from the percussion.

Some instruments are made especially – 5 identical whips, 2 large thunder sheets, and 2 ‘lamella dyads’ (vibrating metal tongues in wooden boxes – the sound is somewhat like when children hold rulers over the edge of a school desk and flick the overhanging part).

Other come from countries around the world, such as a kempli (Bali), 2 bodhrans (Ireland), a dholak (India), a shekere (W. Africa), a quijada (donkey’s jaw rattle; South and Central America) and the ghunguroo (Bengal). 

Some objects are taken from their real-life contexts and transformed: bags of marbles, a balloon, silver jingles (Indian jewelry), art paper, panes of glass, Slate gongs, a fishing rod, paving stones.


Denyer’s ‘orchestra of the dispossessed’ has many unconventional instruments.


Even the conventional instruments are those that sit at the edges of orchestra.


Hover over the boxes for details.

Photos (Clockwise L-R): Suhail Merchant, Graham Hardy, Graham Hardy, Suhail Merchant, Graham Hardy

Pipes and Whistles

A group of 4 ‘pipes’ players blow into sets of refashioned organ pipes which were destined to be thrown out, also tapping on them with thimbles. The group also plays a consort of crumhorns, and bows wine glasses, in a magical moment towards the end of the work.

2 ‘whistle’ players play tin whistles as well as sheep dog whistle and a range of old hunting calls (fox, sheep, rabbit and duck); conch and shell trumpet; and muted ocarinas.

Photo: Suhail Merchant

Photo: Graham Hardy

Plucked string trio

Three instruments originating from different parts of the world form a trio: mandolin, sitar and hammered dulcimer – a special, golden sound!


These instruments plays a special role within the ensemble as a whole, ushering in sections where the other groups play independent of one another.

Photo: Graham Hardy

Conventional Instruments

The piece begins with a solo violin. Denyer has likened the role of the soloist to that of the famous ‘cellist of Sarajevo.

The more conventional instruments of the ensemble include a harmonium and a contrabassoon, as well as three double basses. The basses play very high harmonics, and place paper between the strings, to create a buzzing effect.

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