By Sari Xu
This picture above confused me for a while when I first searched the term “Xun” online.Is this a duck egg? A teapot? Or maybe a broken flower vase with two holes? But later on, after watching the video below, I discovered that this was the ancient Chinese instrument known as the Xun and it certainly can produce amazing melodies. Here is a picture of the front of this “egg” – it has 6 more holes!
Having been in use for around seven thousand years, the Xun is currently the only surviving example of Chinese traditional clay instruments (sometimes referred to as “earth instruments”). To be more specific, it is an egg-shaped globular, vessel flute with at least three finger holes (at most eight) on the front and two thumb holes on the back. While it looks very similar to the western ocarinas, it has an oval blowing hole at the top instead of a fipple mouthpiece.
Nowadays, what most musicians prefer and the most commonly used type of Xun, is the pot Xun, which is made from premium pottery materials such as red pot, black pot, etc. Different materials used to make Xun have to be baked at different temperatures, for example, black pottery provides strong water absorbency when baked at low temperatures; red pottery is usually baked at medium temperatures, producing a stable sound quality and water resistance; baking the pottery at the highest possible temperatures will produce the best rigidity and water resistance, but these Xun are not able to absorb as much water as the Xun baked at low temperatures.
As well as the material used, the different shapes of the Xun also affect the performance and functions of a pot Xun:
- Brush pot Xun – for Xun that are “taller”, they are referred to as “brush pot Xun” because the shape is similar to a brush pot or pen container. This kind of Xun is great for beginners, with a comparatively low price and easy to pick up.
- Ox head Xun – this type of Xun looks exactly like an ox head, and has a lower and deeper sound quality that is calming and relaxing.
- Gourd Xun – unlike the Hulusi, they are still made of pot, but are shaped like a gourd. Thanks to its shape, it provides a better performance at a higher pitch, but struggles at some lower pitches.
- Fish Xun – shaped like a fish, the fish Xun has a premium sound quality and sensitivity. Thus, they are usually considered a high-end product.
- Pear Xun – with only one inner cavity, a pear Xun looks shorter than a brush pot. This makes it harder for beginners to pick up because it does not have an insulation board inside of it like the other types of Xun, which reduces possible resonance. However, it also has a unique timbre that attracts lots of musicians.
Other than the most popular pot Xun, there are several other types of Xun:
Half-porcelain/ porcelain Xun:
They are not totally baked like porcelain, and usually have enamel (also called “glaze”) on the surface. With very similar characteristics to the pot Xun which are baked at medium temperatures, these Xun are also waterproof and have a stable sound quality, unaffected by water, changes in humidity or temperature. Porcelain Xun, on the contrary, function very similarly to the pot Xun baked at high temperatures and are completely unable to absorb water, while also having enamel on the surface.
Wooden/ Bamboo Xun:
These two kinds of Xun share the advantage that they do not weigh much, and are hard to break. But they don’t absorb any water and have a totally different timbre compared to the pot or porcelain Xun.
Of the many different types of Xun on the market which we have discussed in today’s post, the pot Xun are the ones which are the easiest to buy as well as being the easiest to pick up for beginners. The different shapes always provide a different timbre and trying out the different types of pot Xun and getting to know their unique features are a huge part of what makes learning this clay instrument so fun!
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