The hulusi (Traditional Chinese 葫蘆絲, Simplified Chinese 葫芦丝, which means "gourd silk", referring to the instrument's silky tone) or huluxiao (Traditional Chinese 葫蘆簫, Simplified Chinese 葫芦簫, translating roughly as "gourd vertical flute") is an end-blown free reed pipe with gourd windchest. Single pipe specimens are rare, most hulusi having a melody pipe and at least one drone pipe. The above example has a melody pipe and a drone pipe of the same length. More common are those with a melody pipe and two shorter drone pipes, such as the following example (although this one has only a single drone pipe that actually sounds, the other being a dummy):
The hulusi is most commonly associated with the Dai minority (who call it bilangdao, 筚朗叨), but it is also found amongst other minority groups of Southern China such as the Achang (who call it paileweng, 拍勒翁), De'ang (who call it wogebao, 渥格宝 ), Wa (who call it baihongliao, 拜洪廖) and others. Each pipe has a triangular free reed made of brass and the fingering of the melody pipe is that same as that of the bawu. The two-pipe instrument shown at the top of the page is in the key of G and plays the scale D E F# G A B D E with the drone pipe playing a low E.
The three pipe instrument shown above is pitched in C and plays the scale G A B C D E G A, with the drone pipe playing a high E:
In both instruments, the drone can be "switched off" by plugging the end of the pipe and like the bawu, additional melodic pitches can be played by underblowing, cross-fingering and half-holing. As with many traditional instruments of the Chinese ethnic minorities, "improved" versions have been produced, with increased melodic range and brass, plastic or ceramic replacements for the gourd. This hulusi made by the Tian Yun Musical Instrument Co. company of Jilin Province, China, is constructed entirely from synthetic materials:
Designed by Li Song, who holds numerous patents for bawu and hulusi designs, it features a considerably larger reed than usual, giving the instrument considerable volume. The drone pipe is controlled by a fingerhole and the melody pipe has some doubled fingerholes to provide additional notes without the need for cross-fingering or half-holing. Another innovation is found in the drone pipe:
Instead of the typical triangular idioglottal reed, a harmonica-style reed is used, set with a zero gap.
So-called double hulusi have also been developed, with two melody pipes that can be either be played independently for greater melodic range, or simultaneously for polyphonic playing. This instrument features two melody pipes, one tuned in low D, the other in high D:
Many double hulusi feature a pair of mouthpieces situation closely together. This one has a single mouthpiece, with the pipes being selected by sliding them in or out by a small distance. Other double hulusi have the two melody pipes tuned either a fourth or a fifth apart, with Bb/F and C/G being amongst the most common key combinations.
This is another variation of the double hulusi:
This instrument is in Bb with a typical melody pipe and a drone that plays a high D. The second melody pipe duplicates the lowest four notes of the main melody pipe, allowing limited polyphony. By careful adjustment of the second melody pipe's reed, it only sounds when a thumbhole at the back of the instrument is closed.
If you are looking for information on how to play the hulusi, or where to buy a hulusi, please refer to my Bawu and Hulusi Resources Page.
A Brief History of Mouth Blown Free Reed Instruments
What Is A Free Reed?
Origins Of The Free Reed
Eastern Free Reed Instruments
A Selective Discography Of Asian Free Reed Instruments
Western Free Reed Instruments
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