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May 6

Listen to the Low Earthly Hum of a Candle Pipe Organ

As the wax melts, the pitch changes.

Right now, there’s a curious low industrial hum emanating from what used to be a fish market built in 1769. At De Vishal gallery in Haarlem, Netherlands, a large nine-pipe organ operated by burning candles purrs a continuous concert.

In the video, Dutch artist Ronald van der Meijs shows his elaborate musical mechanism. Inspired by the Muller Organ housed at Grote Kerk church next to the gallery, the series of pipes looks like a massive artillery weapon connected to wooden beam air ducts. The intricate system requires careful maintenance—van der Meijs changes out the candles multiple times a day as they burn.

For the pipe organ, “the candles are the musicians,” van der Meijs explains. The candles vary in size. As the wax melts, the pitch of each pipe shifts slowly and irregularly. The shortening of the candles causes a vertical movement in each mechanism, pulling a wheel connected to a brass valve at the front end of each pipe. Opening the valves allows for different toned pitches. 

As you approach the instrument, the humming sound becomes more intense. Even though the low tones change pitch as the candles melt, it’s so slow and subtle that you probably won’t catch it. To hear the whole concert, you may have to sit and listen to the soothing earthly tones for hours. 

You can bask in the meditative sound of van der Meijs’ pipe organ in person at De Vishal until January 22.

Every day we track down a Video Wonder: an audiovisual offering that delights, inspires, and entertains. Have you encountered a video we should feature? Email [email protected].