THE OOMPHALAPOMPATRONIUM. That’s the name Len Solomon gave to the instrument that he started building over 15 years ago. It still vexes him to this day.
“It took over part of my work bench and it’s still there,” Solomon says, “and I have long-range plans to refine it and make it portable and that may never happen.”
Solomon has been building instruments like the oomphalapompatronium for more than 30 years. He’s performed with them across the country and around the world. He’s visited schools to explain how they work. He records quirky performances and demos for his YouTube channel (named for the first instrument he ever built, the Bellowphone). And they’re part of exhibits in science museums in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Solomon’s instruments are based on a surprisingly solemn source: the pipe organ. A complex instrument with a storied past, the pipe organ makes for a versatile base for Solomon’s many designs. “I’ve just always really liked them,” he says. “I think they’re wonderful instruments and I like the sound of them.”
Each instrument is made with unconventional materials. He uses found objects like old vacuum cleaner tubes and plastic bottles, hardware supplies like PVC pipes and copper tees, and specialty items he makes himself like rubber squeeze balls and fipples.
While his playful approach to instrument-making might be described as Wonka-esque (or Seussian), it’s hard to question his originality. He says the oomphalapompatronium “doesn’t remind me of Oompa Loompas because I didn’t even know that word when I made up the name.” The mark of a true inventor.
There is another nice story about Len Solomon and his project at Wired magazine.