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Crotales (pronounced "kro-tah'-les", IPA: [kroˈtɑles]), sometimes called antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. Each is about 4 inches in diameter with a flat top surface and a nipple on the base. They are commonly played by being struck with hard mallets. However, they may also be played by striking two disks together in the same manner as finger cymbals, or by bowing. Their sound is rather like a small tuned bell, only with a much brighter sound, and a much longer resonance. Like tuned finger cymbals, crotales are thicker and larger; they also have slight grooves in them which give their sound more “sparkle.”
Modern crotales are arranged chromatically and have a range of up to two octaves. They are typically available in sets (commonly one octave), but may also be purchased individually. Crotales are treated as transposing instruments; music for crotales is written two octaves lower than the sounding pitch, to minimize ledger lines.
One of the earliest uses of crotales in the orchestral repertoire is Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Another orchestral piece, From Me Flows What You Call Time by Toru Takemitsu, features crotales (as well as a host of other bells) in a prominent role. In Joseph Schwantner's ...and the mountains rising nowhere the composer calls for the instrument to be bowed with a double bass bow, producing an eerie, sustained glass harmonica-like effect. In Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the score calls for two crotales in A-flat and B-flat, and his Les Noces ends on a plaintive series of chords struck by a combination of chimes and crotales. Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mantra features pianists using crotales along with ring modulators and shortwave radio.
Crotales are also found in prehistory. The National Museum of Ireland has several examples on display dating from the late Bronze Age (1200-800BC) which were found in a hoard alongside various brass wind instruments.
Jocie Adams of The Low Anthem plays the instrument in the bowed manner in their live shows.
Songwriter Rufus Wainwright uses the crotales to percussive effect in his song "Beauty Mark," from his self-titled debut album in 1998.