The khaen is a free-reed bamboo mouth-organ from Laos and Northeast Thailand, that can also occasionally be found in parts of Northern Vietnam, and Southern China. Each pipe contains a small brass or silver reed traditionally made by hammering a small coin on an elephant thighbone until it is paper thin and then cut to size. The pipes of the khaen are arranged in two rows and extend through both sides of the wind chamber.
Traditionally the khaen is used to accompany a form of social singing with improvisational elements called Lam. It is played in one of five different modes determined by blocking fingerholes on two pipes to form drones. The complex note arrangements of the khaen allow for a good player to play a melody, countermelody, chords and rhythm simultaneously, and as such the khaen is perhaps the most versatile instrument of the Asian free-reed family.
The most common khaen is the 16 pipe version, called the khaen paat which is anywhere from 2 - 3 1/2 feet in length. The 18 pipe version, the khaen gao, that reached 6 feet and more in length is no longer played due to the simple fact that it was too long to carry on a motorcycle (or so says every khaen player in Thailand that I asked). The small 6 pipe khaen hok is considered a toy, yet it can easilyproduce a surprising amount of music.
Country: Thailand, Laos
Type: free reed mouth organ
Collection: Randy Raine-Reusch
Groups: Han Mei - Randy Raine-Reusch, Gudira
Sombat Sinla - in Mahsarakham
|© R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002|