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T13: Music Factory

1. Folk music in Mongolia is unlike anything I’ve heard anywhere else. They use duo tone singing like a rougher, less esthetic version of the Tibetan’s as well as horns, and a variety of stringed instruments like the Chinese.

Probably the one that most typifies the country is the horse headed fiddle. They come in a variety of sizes with commiserate differences in register. What typifies all of them is the square box, long necks, and of course the horse head scroll.

When the Manchu held sway over the country, the emperor tried to make it illegal to put a horse’s head on the end of a fiddle, and insisted there must be a dragon instead. Mongolians, being a lot like Montanans, got around this by putting BOTH the dragon’s head and any number of horse’s heads on the scroll.

Not surprisingly, the horse headed fiddle is the primary instrument made at the factory we toured in Ulaanbaatar.

2. The outside of the building. It has similarities to a Western style house on the inside as well as on the outside. It’s set up in one of the ger districts.

3. The first step is to dry boards and strips of birch. They do this in a shed around the back. We started the tour there.

4. We kind of jumped over part of the process next, by going to a room on the ground floor where the neck and head of the fiddles are shaped polished. They do this by hand with a rasp and cloth.

5. The boxes are put together upstairs. Here they are held together with the black bands (I didn’t check if the bands were metal or rubber) while the glue dries.

6. They do have power equipment. Notice the sander in the background working on a box.

7. These bags full of sawdust are each the size of a fat man bent over and weigh about the same. They are given to the employees as a source of heat in the winter.

8. Employees make their own hours within the time the building is open, which runs from 9am to 6pm. They are paid by the piece.

9. The backs of the box portion of the fiddle is generally made with some decorative elements, usually three pieces of wood glued together. The front is typically leather.

10.To the left is the son of the owner of the factory. He acts as a supervisor and also gave us the tour. To the right are frames for hammer dulcimers. There are three other factories in town, but they only make horse headed fiddles. This factory puts out 30 different instruments.

11. One of them is based on a traditional wind instrument that used to be made of cow horn. It is now made of a large number of small wood sections carefully glued together.

12. Most of what they make are considered appropriate for amateur musicians. Now and then they will have a professional musician come in to place an order. Then the instruments are made exactly to specifications, sometimes with the musician in question hovering.

13. The current owner of this factory is also it’s founder. He started off making horse headed fiddles in his ger as a young man. He was 13 when he made his first. The factory itself as been in business for 21 years now. He still tests most of the instruments before they are shipped. His son does not know how to play any of them.

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