More on Circular Breathing

On April 8th this year, I will be in Krakow giving a workshop on circular breathing and performing Robert Dick’s legendary Flames must not encircle sides. About seven years ago I made the tutorial video below, but have been considering a re-make of late. More for clarity, rather than content. And I have learned a few things along the way since then.

Just quickly, here are a few.

Some players feel more comfortable starting on the head-joint. I didn’t do this myself, but can understand why.

Another thing that helps is to embrace the bump that happens while expelling the air and re-taking the breath. Ride it, even. It is normal to experience it and will get better with time, if you persist. So many flutists give up when they hear the horrible gap for the first time.

Note to self: write a practice guide to Flames must not encircle sides. This piece is so cool!

Here is the circular breathing tutorial, if you haven’t seen it already:

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Glissandi and Quarter Tones on the Lowest Notes

I often get asked if glissandi and quarter tones are possible on the lowest notes of the flute. Sure, I say, theoretically. Nine times out of ten, I regret this positive answer. Here are the notes in question:

The lowest notes on the flute

On these notes, glissandi and quarter tones are produced with the embouchure. There are no open holes to help. This is also true for Kingma system flutes, although they can easily start quarter tones from D. Since the tube is long (especially if the flute in question is alto or bass), don’t expect large-interval glissandi.

Lipped glissandi that follow the easy (but not hard-and-fast) rule work well:

  • Glissando upwards with crescendo
  • Glissando downwards with decrescendo

Since quarter tones must also be produced with the embouchure, there are limitations of speed and accuracy. And the bigger the flute, the the longer the tube and the less pitch flexibility you have.

Bear in mind that notes that are lipped down will have a diffuse character that will not carry well in an ensemble situation. Notes that are lipped up will carry easier, but may have a higher air component.

These are just caveats, not prohibitions. It’s always good to ask your local flutist for advice 🙂

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Electro-Flute

“Music is Love” – Anthony Braxton

Lately I have been more interested in creating and producing sounds than words. It has been difficult to distill my experiences of the last season in to words, so I have not been blogging. Over this blastedly hot summer “vacation”, I decided to take only Anthony Braxton’s Composition no. 133 with me to practice. Having re-visited Stockhausen’s PARADIES in May, I was eager to work on a piece that has a similar concept, that of given material in strophes where the performer has a certain amount of freedom to shape the material. Braxton’s piece allows for much more freedom than Stockhausen’s, but does not include an electronic track. But then I thought, why should it not include an electronic backing? And the thought snowballed.

There are not enough really excellent pieces for flute and fixed media, in my opinion, and even fewer that include improvisation or some sort of freedom for the performer. It seems that a lot of really experiment-oriented composers are writing for live electronics and processing. Which is really cool! But for those of us performers who want an easy set-up of solo work, some speakers and a microphone that we can play in simple venues such as clubs or art galleries where there are no technicians and only a small budget, I for one would welcome some really good new works for fixed media that include some sort of side-stepping from the fixed-composed tradition.

I’ll tell you why I think this departure from fixed composition is important at this point in time. Almost every piece that I hear for flute and fixed media is using the same flute sounds (and in some cases, electronic sounds) that have been around since the 1980s! It is time to find some different sounds. No wonder composers seem more interested in live processing flute sounds. But I don’t want the world to give up on fixed media yet because of the practicalities mentioned above, and its potential awesomeness!

I have several unhatched plans to remedy this situation which include collaboration with several artists willing to include improvisation or elements thereof in their pieces. I have been working on creating compositions of my own (not for Braxton’s piece though, I have decided to leave that alone). The learning curve has been quite steep but I am loving delving in to the world of sampling, granulation, processing, etc. So back to creating sounds instead of words 🙂

Photo credit: Hans Peter Schaefer

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