World's Largest Instrument Makes Incredible Organ Music From Limestone Rock (Video)

Stalacpipe Organ Luray Caverns
CC BY 2.0. Jon Callas

Jon Callas/CC BY 2.0

When we think organs (the musical kind), we think of grand churches and deep, bellowing sounds coming from pipes. But there's a special organ in Virginia that isn't located in a church, but in a cavern, and pounds stalactites -- or ceiling-hung limestone rock formations -- with electronically-controlled rubber mallets to produce its music.

The Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia’s Luray Caverns was created by American mathematician and scientist Leland W. Sprinkle, who first got the idea to build a stalactite-based musical instrument after visiting the caverns with his son in 1954. Though it was already well-known by that time that the rock formations were capable of making haunting tones, it was Sprinkle who committed over three decades of difficult research and experimentation to create what is the world's largest instrument.

In 2011, the first ever original composition done for the Great Stalacpipe Organ was recorded by Finnish/Swedish collective Pepe Deluxé, as seen in action here -- a culmination of six years of preparation.

In the Cave - PEPE DELUXÉ plays The Great Stalacpipe Organ from Pepe Deluxé on Vimeo.

According to Oddity Central, following Sprinkle's initial 'eureka' moment, he then undertook three years of research in examining each of the cavern's stalactites, attempting to find ones that could make specific tones. Out of the cave's thousands of limestone formations, only two fit the bill, so Sprinkle ended up paring down 35 other stalactites to create a harmonic scale.

Using a five-mile-long system of wires, Sprinkle hooked up a solenoid-actuated rubber mallet to each stalactite, which could be controlled via a custom-made, four-keyboard central console. With a musical instrument that now spread over 3.5 acres (14,000 square metres), it still took Sprinkle another 33 years to fully develop this unique organ into today's sprawling version, which plays a variety of tunes blasted over a cavern-wide loudspeaker system, so that music can be heard resonating anywhere within the cave's 64 acres (or 260,000 square metres).

Stalacpipe Organ Luray Caverns

Markkidd/Public Domain

The immense size and incredible acoustic quality of the Great Stalacpipe Organ shows that there's music to be found in nature -- if we care to listen.