Sunday, October 25, 2020

How to prep your flute + electronics piece (s)

 Flute and electronics pieces are a great way to add variety to your recital programs without having to hire a pianist, and an even greater way to break up the monotony of a solo recital performed from your living room in these socially distanced times.  Most importantly, there are a treasure trove of incredible pieces for flute and electronic sounds written for various levels of flute playing.  I'm sticking to fixed media electronics for this blogpost, which means the performer plays along with a backing track that requires no technology beyond playback equipment (which you probably already own). They're the easiest way to get your feet wet and don't require a large investment of equipment or added time learning how to manipulate a computer program. But I'll cover Max/MSP pieces in a future posting here. 


1.       Find a recording of the piece if you can. Like any other literature you are learning, you should refer to this recording again and again, not just once. Listen with your eyes closed. Follow along with your music and a pencil, marking important cues as you get to know the electronic part. Follow along another time and mark stylistic elements. You get the idea. 

2.       Practice your part, always with a metronome. Electronic music is notoriously unforgiving of your rhythmical indiscretions, particularly when it’s fixed media. Even if your sense of rhythm / pulse has proven to be quite solid in traditional chamber music, you’ll probably be surprised by little moments when you get slightly off with the electronic part because you’ve been rushing or dragging, ever so slightly.  Train to be a machine.

3.       Once you’ve gotten to know your part a bit, revisit the electronic part in preparation for putting it together. Mark timings at musically significant moments so that you can start there again and again in rehearsal. Write in any cues you want to be sure to listen for/hook into during your rests.

4.       Practice with your backing track with headphones on. This is the best way to hear every element of the music while you’re learning how to listen and play at the same time.

5.       Create an acoustically believable environment and start practicing “live”. The challenges in live performance come in figuring out balance between your part and the backing track AND making sure you can hear all of your important cues to stay with the recording. I have a stereo and two pretty large speakers spaced well apart in my dining room. This is my pretend stage at home (and in pandemic times, it has literally become my performing space for virtual recitals).

6.       Repeat steps 4 and 5 many, many times!

7.       Record yourself (and play for people if you can) multiple times, experimenting with the volume until you find the best balance.


1.       Make sure your .mp3 backing track is available in a number of formats: your phone, your laptop, and a thumb drive for old-timey or non-traditional venues who’ll have you performing in a lecture space.

2.       Gather any chords you need: AUX cable (don’t assume they have one) and all charging chords for all devices.

3.       If you have your own amp, write down your level setting at the top of your music. If you’re doing multiple electronics pieces, the settings will surely be different for each one. 

4.       If you’ll be using the house system, have a 2-3 minute sound check spot figured out that will ensure you get the volume right for the concert; pick a place where the backing track tends to overwhelm you, or maybe an important cue that you absolutely need to be able to hear well. Know what it should sound like based on your home recordings (#7 above) so you can translate that knowledge of levels to this foreign space.

5.       It should go without saying, but before you pack, be very specific about exactly what equipment you need for your piece(s) and have a clear, honest conversation with the host about what they can provide you. Assume nothing.


If you think you’re going to be doing a fair amount of this and don’t want to be limited by hosting venues’ equipment, consider a portable system for yourself.

AUX cable: you probably already have one of these; get a second one to keep in your flute bag so you’re never without!

Amps you can stick in the trunk of your car: Roland AR 60, Cube Street, Fishman Mini Charge, Laney 4x4

Amps you can stick in your suitcase: Lunchbox Junior, KAM portable PA 8”, Vox Adio

Wireless microphone (for when the composer specifies flute should be amplified): Samson XPD2 wireless microphone (headset), Audix ADX10-FLP (clip-on), K&K Silver Bullet (clip-on), Countryman Isomax (headset)


Linda Antas, Meru

Elizabeth Brown, Arcana

Nathalie Joachim, Wander

E. J. Louwerse, 50 Fish 

Nico Muhly, Radiant Music

Thea Musgrave, Orfeo I

Brian Nabors, Energie

Marco Nardelli, Canto notturno

Judith Shatin, Penelope's Song

Bekah Simms, Skinscape (can be played on wither C or bass flute)

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