(Filippo Bonanni, 1723)

To this first class of sounding instruments animated by the breath, one can add a Tube not used by anyone but conceived by Father Kircher, who in the book of Fonurgia on page 110 explained the shape of a tube, as we give here as number 35, that uses a spiral to increase remarkably the voice of he who uses it…Proof that the voice is increased much more by such a tube than by a straight tube is that nature has made in timider animals the sense of hearing in this form, as one sees particularly in hares, dogs and the like…However, [Kircher] wisely adds that such manufacture peritum artificem requireret [requires skill in the art], it not being easy to make a tube that has a perfect spiral shape.

From Kircher’s Phonurgia nova (1673)

This description of the Tubo cochleato comes from Filippo Bonanni’s organological treatise, Gabinetto armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori indicati e spiegati [Musical cabinet full of sounding instruments, shown and explained]. First published in 1722, the treatise discusses ancient and modern musical instruments from around the world, categorizing them into the three major families of wind, string and percussion. The Tubo cochleato appears among the wind instruments. Designed to amplify the voice, it was, as Bonanni notes, “not used by anyone but conceived” by the great polymath Athanasius Kircher. Its shape is modeled on that of the cochlea – an ear structure described by the Italian anatomist Gabriele Falloppio in 1561, who believed it to be filled with air and to make sounds louder. While straight, conical tubes were used by seamen among others to speak at a distance, the practical challenge of fashioning a perfectly proportioned spiral of metal or wood provided a convenient barrier to testing Kircher’s design.
A student of Kircher, Bonanni became curator of Kircher’s Museum in 1698. In the tradition of the curiosity cabinet, this theater of nature and art included automatic musical instruments and acoustic illusions among its many marvels. In the introduction to the Musical Cabinet, Bonanni presented his treatise as an extension of the museum’s collection of sounding instruments. With the Tubo cochleato, he not only added to its collection but blended it with the imaginary, the life-like illustration of Kircher’s theoretical instrument in use making it appear real.
Text and first image: Filippo Bonanni, Gabinetto armonico (Rome, 1723)
Second image: Athanasius Kircher, Phonurgia nova (Rome, 1673)