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Classical 101

The Crystal Baschet and Other Musical Oddities

Glass rods amplified by plastic balloons...an aluminum piano...a piano wheelbarrow...an inflatable banjo. These are just a few of the many pieces of art which defied the American definition of art as put forth by Agent Sam Lacher, who was at one time the Arts Section Director for the U.S. Customs Department. According to Bernard and Francois Baschet, inventors of the above "art instruments" as well as the Cristal Baschet, (which we'll get to in a moment), Agent Lacher said, "Here in the U.S., art is defined by its uselessness. If your sculptures make music, they are no longer art...they're instruments." That meant a 16% customs charge on their retail value to bring them into the U.S. for a show at the Museum of Modern Art. While the Baschet brothers won the ensuing court battle, we still struggle to define exactly what some of these inventions are. Pieces of art? They are visually fascinating and, in some cases, downright beautiful. Musical instruments? In the correct hands, yes. Dean Shostak is what I will call the "Glassician in Residence" in Colonial Williamsburg. He plays the Glass Armonica, which was invented by Benjamin Franklin, along with a number of other instruments fashioned from glass. However, his curiosity has led him in myriad directions, including to the Cristal Baschet, which is an invention of the second half of the 20th century. It is at times angelic, sometimes monstrous, and seemingly undefinable. You can decide for yourself when you listen to Dean Shostak play the Baschet below. http://www.wosu.org/audio/classical/2009/dean-baschet.mp3