Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Instrumania with Jay Hamilton

At first the rounded metallic contour looked like a Tibetan bell. Then Jay pulled it out of the box, to show the rest of it – it was an adapter to fit different sizes of plumbing pipe together, and looked nothing like a Tibetan bell. “It is, though, a random thing made of metal,” he said, and struck it (klong!) with a mallet. The box, I could see, was full of random things made of metal – all potentially percussion instruments.

Jay was showing me his collection of mostly hand-made instruments, with the possibility of using one or more in the StormSound Cycle concert. Besides the random things made of metal, the majority were home-made zither-like instruments – the ones that I thought would work best in the concert and the ones I had originally intended to see.

First, there’s the Ycrix (ee-kree), a pseudo-French name for an 18-stringed box derived from the ancient Chinese cheng (not the more modern and more harplike jeng). It is good with the ringing harmonics and bending, almost bluesy bwayowng! sounds of its predecessor.

The Qulp, originally designed for the Quixotic String Ensemble; maybe related to the Ycrix – though its sound is more metalic.

The Cannon: Music students insisted on calling this one a bazooka, but it’s not! It’s not! It’s an instrument of music, not of war, so it’s called a cannon. Musically it sounds rather like a banjo or even a dulcimer. There are longer versions of this, such as the klool, which is bowed (and has the strings of a viola da gamba).

The dragon: tuned in just intonation, this can be guitarlike, or bowed, or played as a struck chordophone. Resembling instruments from the “stans”, it could be a central Asian addition to the Harry Partch instrumentarium.

“Zither” is, of course, now a class of instruments, not any particular instrument. But, these last two aren’t “zithers” at all. This unnamed length of conduit with a saxophone mouthpiece sounds rather like a contrabass clarinet; I had expected it to sound like a sopranino didgeridoo (wow, was I wrong!).

…And a resonant bass xylophone.

There were a lot of others, including a couple of other zithers, several types of percussion made from plumbing (and tuned to just intonation), and a small harp that does amazingly funky (twowng!) pitch-dives. All in all an interesting set of instruments, some of which I will definitely use in the “StormSound” – probably most would work best for the sounds of the “nocturnimals” (along with the recorders and/or bass clarinet) in the piece “Night Signals; Journey to the Sea”.

(This posting is on 1/11/2011; 133 days until the first performance of the complete "StormSound" Cycle.)

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