UK-RUSSIA : MUSICIAN IN RESIDENCE : BLOG 6
BALTIC AMBER – IT’S ELECTRIC!
On my first morning in Kaliningrad, I wandered out to find the flea market which often takes place near the Wrangle Tower. It was a bit of a mixed bag, and probably not its peak time of year. I found a mixture of sellers, some of whom obviously collect items to sell, and have some interesting articles on fold out tables in the best spots by the pavement… alongside other folk who are clearly trying to sell anything they kind find, and in less prominent spots in muddy patches, their items arranged on outstretched bin-bags, bits of cloth and cardboard. I feel a little melancholic at this evidence of people clearly struggling to make ends meet in difficult times.
Alexei meets me and he helps me purchase few items… (I’m not so confident with my tiny amount of Russian vocabulary yet!). I bought a super8 camera – which also has some exposed footage that I’m looking forward to watching. Later on, I discovered the camera is definitely in good condition and I can’t wait to use it!
Following our flea market exploration, we visit the Amber Museum. Kaliningrad is home to more than 90% of the world’s deposit of amber, which plays an important part in the region’s economy. Amber forms from tree resin over a long period of time. Baltic amber is between 34 to 48 million years old, and often preserves other lifeforms such as insects which can be fascinating to examine.
However, the most interesting fact I discovered was that Amber is the origin of the word Electricity. The ancient Greeks discovered Amber could create a static charge and the Greek word for Amber is ‘Elektron’, and so, ‘Amber’ is the root of the word electricity. The first discovery of an electric charge was static. Amber is also known as the ‘sun stone’ and it is thought that the origin of the word ‘electron’ is from a Phoenician word elēkrŏn, meaning ‘shining light’.
With all my research into early electronic instruments, I was excited to learn this Amber fact and instantly began to research if there had been any early musical instruments that used static electricity. I discovered the Clavecin Electrique (below), constructed by the Jesuit priest Jean-Baptiste Delaborde in Paris, France, 1759. It uses static electricity and the principles of Franklins Bells and the Leyden Jar….
I wonder if it is possible to statically charge Amber to ring bells? I can feel some experiments coming on.
At the Amber Museum, I saw pictures of ‘The Amber Room’. Alexei told me a fascinating story about this. An elaborate room was constructed out of Baltic amber in 18th century Prussia and was installed in Berlin City Palace. In world War II, it was looted and hidden in Konigsberg (then Germany, now, Kaliningrad) to be reconstructed later. It has never been found. A replica of the Amber room was created after decades of work in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. This means the original Amber room is perhaps still somewhere in Kaliningrad…?