Every culture has its own set of musical instruments and the Aztec were no different. Aztec whistles, unlike most modern ones, aren't simple, unadorned instruments. The bodies of Aztec whistles are sculpted into a wide variety of shapes, including animal figures and human skulls. The most difficult part of constructing any whistle is making sure that it's able to make sounds other than that of blowing air. Aztec clay whistles are filled with hollowed-out areas that resonate the air and help create its music.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Bakeable terra-cotta clay
- Clay sculpting tools
- Clay wire cutters
- Baking tray
- Spray bottle
Research examples of Aztec art and images. The Aztec had a distinctive way of representing the world around them, and this style was carried into the construction of whistles. Animal or human figures are the easiest to convert into sculpture, and are the most widely represented figures depicted on ancient whistles.
Roll some clay between your hands to create the shape you want. Depending on what figure the whistle will take on, roll the clay into either a circular or more elongated shape. Shape and cave the basic profile of the whistle with sculpting tools. Create indents and protrusions to represent the nose, eyes and any other distinctive features.
Make indentations into the top and bottom of the figure. These will form the beginning of the input and exit holes that air travels through.
Cut the figure in half lengthwise using clay wire cutters, bisecting the holes. Carving out the interior of the whistle is easier done with the instrument cut in half. Work first with one half, then create a mirror image on the opposite half.
Use a carving tool to cut a narrow tube starting at the input hole. This tube should extend roughly halfway down the length of the body of the whistle. At the bottom of the tube carve out a deep circular chamber (make sure not to cut it too close to the edges of the whistle body.) Next to the circular chamber carve a second tube (wider than the first) that will act as the exit tube. The interior opening of this tube is connected to the input tube and circular chamber by a small carved channel.
Score the edges of the two halves and apply a light coating of slip. Slip is simply water with some clay mixed into it to create a slightly muddy texture. Fit the two halves back together, smoothing out the edges.
Add any final details to the carved surface of your whistle.
Preheat the oven to the temperature indicated on the clay packaging. Place the whistle on a baking tray and bake for the recommended time.
Allow the baked whistle to cool, then paint it.
Tips and warnings
- Spray a light coating of water onto the clay whenever it becomes difficult to work with.
- Experiment with the shape of the inner chambers to create different sounds.
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