his month our pyrotechnic focus is on the sunny Island of Malta. Laying In the heart of the Mediterranean Sea and boasting a rich cultural heritage, down the years the Island has built itself a large reputation in the world of pyrotechnics.
Fireworks are manufactured all year round, mostly by volunteers, in over 30 factories scattered around this small Island. The main firework displays typically take place as part of the Catholic village festivities during the hot and calm summer months between June and September. One of the most prominent displays on the Island, is the one organised by the Mount Carmel Fireworks Factory of Zurrieq, on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Zurrieq. (For Further details visit www.talkarmnuzurrieq.org)
Our friend Angelo Caruana has sent us these beautiful photographs from Last year’s 35 minute digitally controlled pyrotechnic display, containing close to 300 multi break 7”, 8” and 10” shells, shells which are normally fired one at a time during the three main days of the festivities.
Some shells weigh close to 40Kg and quite often the Maltese Multi break shells ‘Murtal’ in Maltese, which is a masterpiece of pyrotechnics weigh even more. In its most conventional form it consists of three cylindrical 8” shells stacked on top of one another just like the stages in a multistage rocket, the only difference being that each stage is isolated from the next by means of a black powder time delay fuse ‘temp’ in Maltese. Added to the three stages is a bottom salute shell ‘bomba or kontra kolp’ in Maltes typically 4 inch in diameter and expanded using filler material to make the outer diameter of the stage shells. The final addition is a lift charge that is isolated from the shell by appropriate cushioning to avoid damaging the delicate shell in the lift process.
When the individual eight inch shells are first constructed individual pyro-technicians use all their creativity in meticulously and painstakingly placing the individually coloured stars ‘stilla’ in Maltese or minute flash powder reports ‘beraq’ in Maltese, round the circumference of the cylindrical shell casing. In some cases up to three circumferential layers of stars with well researched burning rates and sizes are needed in order to give rise to a unique world class shell that is only to be found found only in Malta; the Traditional Maltese ‘Kulur tac-Crieki’. A sort of multi petal cylindrical shell. The centre of the cylindrical shells is then filled with a burst charge, fitted with a time delay fuse, it is then paper pasted and spiked using string material. Burst charges are one of the best kept secrets of each pyrotechnician with some opting for normal off the mill granulated black powder of varying mesh size and grains, whilst others use coated seeds and rice hulls. And there are others who opt for some more power using metal fuelled and modified black powder burst charges. Sometimes small stars are added to the black powder in the burst charge, giving rise to the effect like that of ‘pistils’ in more mainstream spherical shells, ‘centru’ in Maltese.
Once completed the Shells are assembled together in a process known as ‘immuntar’. This is a critical process, in that the assembly must be able to withstand the high G’s it is exposed to during the lift. The assembly is achieved by tying the shells together and packing them tightly in between using a paper impregnated with adhesive and or/resin type adhesives. Shell number three is assembled with shell number two initially and then the two together are assembled to shell number one. The bottom salute shell is then fitted. Cushioning is added normally using a mixture of cut to size wood ‘Kwawar’ in Maltese and polystyrene blocks which are cut to size and form. The ignition fuse ‘Hruq’ in Maltese is then fitted with one branch going into the time fuse of shell number one; the one on the top of the assembly and which will dictate the time to the first aerial burst ‘Temp tat tlugh’ in Maltese. A second branch goes down the side of the full shell assembly, from the time fuse of shell number one into the lift charge. This second type of fuse is a purposely designed type of super-fast fuse ‘Nicca tal Inzul’, to minimize as much as possible the time it takes for the lift charge to kick into action once the first time fuse has ignited.
In the photos provided to us by Angelo you can see multiple examples of both multi break coloured shells ‘Murtali tal Kulur’ and multi break flash powder shells ‘Murtali tal Beraq’ in action, captured by his mastery behind the lens.
Despite the huge popularity of traditional Maltese multi break shells on the Island the phenomenon of digitally controlled displays has not been lost on the Maltese, nor the Mount Carmel Fireworks teams. The Mount Carmel Fireworks group rely on the fact that they can deliver very high level pyrotechnic effects without the impediments of mainstream mass scale manufacturing, which has given these particular displays a different twist. The main emphasis of these shows is the quality of the shells and how these shells are choreographed within the body of the show rather than focusing on massive barrages. Amongst the repertoire of the factory’s products one finds all sorts of 5” and 6” cylindrical shells with beautiful metal fuelled stars, tourbillions, hummers, go-getters and flash reports along with beautiful spherical shells with colour changing stars from 5” to a staggering 19” and all sorts and colours of mines and comets. Definitely worth a mention are the 6” pattern shells, which are constructed in all forms and shapes from smiley faces, to hearts and stars not to mention cat faces of which we can see samples in the accompanying photos.
The Mount Carmel Fireworks team of Zurrieq has gone a step further in developing and building a wirelessly controlled digital firing system which goes by the name of PyroMaster. The system comprises totally independent 128 Channel wireless firing modules under the control of a master module and is capable of firing up to 3328 firing channels with millisecond accuracy. The system is used to fire all digitally controlled display by the team and has been in use since 2005. More recently the system was also used during the ‘13th International Symposium for Fireworks’ held in Malta in 2012.
As an old adage goes ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ and in this particular case our friend Angelo from Malta is painting quite a few words with his wonderful photographic work. For those who would be interested in seeing these Mount Carmel Fireworks team displays live, the next displays are scheduled for the 25th , 26th and 27th of July in Zurrieq. If you are a fireworks enthusiast it will be money well spent. See you in July!
The amazing island of Malta
Written by Adrian Zahra Photography Angelo Caruana