Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New music review: Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute

Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute (2010-2014)
Peter Adams
©2015 Promethean Editions Limited

Native New Zealand composer Peter Adams studied with Peter Maxwell Davies, and he also cites the serial work of Anton Webern as an influence. Breath of Souls is clearly very carefully crafted with regards to structure, and it favors both symmetrical shapes and the loose employment of 12-tone rows, but the effect is nonetheless truly captivating.

The composer’s notes which precede this edition comprise a brief master class in the tonal form of the piece, which is interesting in itself--the intricate detail of this work is admirable.  But what is even more fascinating is how something that can be described in such mechanical terms can become something else entirely, as if each “breath” was improvised, growing organically from first note to last. The piece began as a set of three movements for treble recorder and was only completed last year with the addition of the second and fourth movements. The entire piece is inspired by the poem Mercy by Greek-Armenian poet Olga Broumas, which describes breaths of “sea smoke” rising from the waters of a harbor and compares this natural phenomenon to a more spiritual “breaths of souls”.

The first and fifth movements, both called “Pounamu”, serve as prologue and epilogue in this setting, and they are both constructed of identical pitch content. The first serves as a contemplative idea which develops slowly and incompletely, while the second (the last movement), has been drastically altered in rhythm to reflect the rhythmical development of the middle movements, ending in a more restless, but still incomplete thought. Movements two and four, “Waiata Aroha” and “Waiata Tangi”, are the newly added movements, and they are meant to explore themes of love and loss, respectively. “Aroha” (love) leaps and soars gracefully with a nimbleness expressed through rhythms that develop in density throughout.  A general sense of upward motion at the end of many phrases lends an optimism which is later crushed in the slow and meandering “Tangi” (loss).  “Moeraki (Jewel of the Sea)”, depicts transcendence in the form of the poet’s rising “sea smoke”.  It is organized in a simple A-B-A arch.  The A theme is a light 3+3+2 dance, interrupted in the middle of the movement by a B theme which suddenly slows, employing pitch bends and wiggling sixteenth notes meant to be played unevenly, with a sense of rising up into the atmosphere.

Breath of Souls: Five Waiata for Solo Flute in its current, fully developed incarnation is a set of meditations which build upon and inform each other; each one is pure magic. And while the composer suggests that these brief ideas may be performed individually, I would urge the performer to commit to this eight-and-a-half minute suite in its entirety, for a result that is pure sonic poetry and a refreshing new addition to our contemporary solo literature.

Nicole Riner ©2016

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Field Guide to Extended Techniques for Beginners

As we near the deadline for Flute New Music Consortium's Flute Artist Competition, I am thinking about all of you out there who are currently making friends with some new techniques for flute, as well as those of us who advocate strongly for new music and work to incorporate extended techniques into all of our teaching. I hope you'll all be won over in the end! 

Flutter Tongue: Rolling the ‘r’ to produce a fluttering, “frrrr” sound through notes.
A few occurrences in the literature*: Ulrich Gasser, Papierblüten (Paper Blossoms); André Jolivet, Cinq Incantations
Notes on practice: Even people who can roll their r’s (if you can’t, blame genetics!) sometimes prefer to switch to the uvula in the low register.  Use your uvula the same way you would gargle and bring that motion as far forward on the uvula as possible.  It can sustain a smoother sound by not interrupting the air as much as the tongue.  And of course, open up, blow down, and use plenty of air! Flutter tongue, by the way, is a great exercise for practicing moving fast air; just add it to slurred scales or long tones, then play without and notice a more resonant, open sound!

Harmonics: Producing multiple notes from one fingering, namely the tones from the harmonic series based off that note you are fingering. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Anne LaBerge, revamper; Elizabeth Brown, Trillium
Notes on practice: Practicing harmonics regularly also leads to more accurate control of sound production by improving accuracy on the head joint.  The exercises on the first page of Trevor Wye’s Tone book from his Practice Book for the Flute series provides a great guide to practicing harmonics for the sake of improving tone, and can be transposed to start on notes from B to F in the lowest register.

Jet Whistle: Covering the entire embouchure hole with your mouth and blowing very hard to produce a whistling sound. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Villa-Lobos Assobio a Jato (The Jet Whistle) for flute and cello: first occurrence; Ian Clarke, Zoom Tube; Robert Dick, Afterlight
Notes on practice: If you aim forward slightly and try to blow your air against the far side of the tube inside the head joint, you will get a sharper sound and create some resistance, thereby allowing you to go longer on the breath.

Key Clicks: Slapping one or more keys with or without blowing into the flute, creating a light percussive sound. Composers will sometimes ask for the note to be played while performing a key click; without this specification, the key click should not be accompanied by a tone.
A few occurrences in the literature: Phyllis Avidan Louke,  Extended Techniques - Double the Fun and Extended Techniques - Solos for Fun! ; Edgard Varèse, Density 21.5: first occurrence; Lowell Liebermann, Eight Pieces
Notes on practice: For more projection, experiment with leaving your mouth open slightly to act as a resonating chamber.  You can also produce the pitch a seventh below what is written by covering the embouchure hole completely with your mouth, which will be notated in a variety of ways by the composer.

Multiphonics: Playing two or more pitches at once; these tones will not sound as clean and pure as normal flute playing, but will tend to create a hollow, train whistle kind of effect. Most multiphonics require special fingerings which will be glossed either in the performer’s notes or within the context of the piece.
A few occurrences in the literature: Trevor Wye,  A Very Easy 20th Century Album; Michael Colqhoun, Charanga; Luciano Berio, Sequenza
Notes on practice: To practice finding them in a piece, isolate each individual pitch with the fingering given by the composer. Then find the place on the head joint where both will speak, aiming in between the two spots on the head joint for the individual pitches.  It may be necessary to favor one pitch over the other(s) if it is weaker in resonance or harder to maintain. Experiment with changing your air speed or vowel shape in the mouth to make it easier to get both to speak.

Pitch Bends: Smooth glissandos performed by either rolling the head joint in and out or sliding fingers off the keys of an open-hole flute (or both).
A few occurrences in the literature: Ian Clarke, Orange Dawn , Kazuo Fukushima, Mei; Robert Dick, Fish are Jumping
Notes on practice:  Experiment and let your ear be your guide--more stable notes (middle register D) will require some finger sliding, while very bendable notes like middle register C or C# can be done entirely by rolling in and out without completely losing the sound.  Besides rolling the flute, collapsing the embouchure and/ or slowing the air can help make a pitch go flatter, and pulling the corners of the embouchure (usually a mortal sin!) may help raise pitch.

Pizzicato: Short bursts of air across the embouchure hole combined with heavy (“spit”) articulation to create an airy, ghost-like staccato, played on any note fingering.  Do not blow directly into the flute like you would for a normal pitch; these should sound closer to key clicks than actual notes.
A few occurrences in the literature: Shulamit Ran, East Wind; Jason Barabba, A Sign in Space
Notes on practice: Blow further across the flute than you normally would to avoid playing  clean tone. Pizzicato notes can also be used in place of unpitched key clicks if you are playing in a very large and/or noisy room where you fear the key clicks will not be heard by the audience.

Sing + Play: Humming a pitch while playing a note on the flute. 
A few occurrences in the literature: Wil Offermans, Honami; Robert Dick, Lookout
Notes on practice: Sing and play is a great way to ensure that air flow is relaxed and open and that air speed is fast--practice doing it in unison, octaves, and polyphony in scales. It’s also a nice review of our aural  training! If you have difficulty starting both sounds right away, practice singing and then adding the note, and keep working to make the two gradually coincide.

Tongue Ram / Tongue Stop: Performed by hitting the embouchure hole with the tip of your tongue, like saying “hut” or “hoot” (a kind of reverse articulation).  The lips should totally encircle the embouchure hole.
A few occurrences in the literature: Victor Fontin, No Problem (Pub.: Doblinger), Jos Zwannenberg, Solo for Prepared Flute
Notes on practice: Be extremely forceful with the air and tighten the mouth for a good seal over the tone hole in order to efficiently produce audible sound on these.

Whistle Tones: Using slow but extremely focused air across the embouchure hole, you can produce notes that sound like you are whistling; multiple notes from the harmonic series can also be “whistled” off of low notes.  The lips should be further forward than normal playing when executing whistle tones.
A few occurrences in the literature: Wil Offermans, For the Younger Flutist - etudes, Toru Takemitsu, Itinerant
Notes on practice: Whistle tones are commonly used as an exercise to improve accuracy on the headjoint, much like harmonics. A simple exercise could involve finding the whistle tone of a note, then playing the regular note, and going back and forth to compare clarity of sound and pitch.  They are easier to produce in the high register, so start there (on or near high A) and gradually work your way down.  Strive to improve projection and steadiness of sound.

* Literature examples listed from easiest to most difficult

Artaud, Pierre-Yves. The Mutliphonic Flute and Present-Day Flutes (Pub.: Billaudot)
Dehnhard, Tilmann.  The New Flute - Workbook & DVD (Pub.: Universal)
Dick, Robert.  The Other Flute and Tone Development Through Extended Techniques (Pub.: Robert Dick)
Holland, Linda.  Easing Into Extended Techniques (5 volumes) (Pub.: Con Brio)
Koizumi, Hiroshi.  Technique for Contemporary Flute Music (Pub.: Schott)
Offermans, Wil.  For the Younger Flutist - etudes (Pub.: Zimmerman)

General definitions/demonstrations:

Detailed Repertoire lists:

Nicole Riner ©2017