Which extended techniques are harmful to flutes?

PDF pageEmail pagePrint page

During composer workshops, I am sometimes pleased to hear the question: “What are some techniques we should definitely not use because they may harm your instrument?”

So I will keep a running list here.

  • Slamming your hands onto the keywork. A snap of the finger for a key click is one thing (and not all flutists like to do this, including myself), but once I was actually asked to raise my arm above my head and bring my hand down full force on the keywork. Repeatedly. For some reason, I had trouble convincing this particular composer that this might actually break or bend the posts and rods holding the keys in place.
  • Immersing part of the flute in water. If water, even a tiny drop, gets onto the key pads, the pad can swell up and not seal properly (and it may need to be replaced). The same can happen when pads are exposed to excess moisture, which is why I do not like to play out of doors, but that can’t be helped sometimes.
  • Putting your mouth directly on wooden lip plates. This is why I get out my plastic piccolo if I have to do a tongue ram or any percussive effect that requires me to close the embouchure hole with my mouth. Salivation is the first stage of digestion, and I don’t want the result of those chemical processes on finely carved wood.
  • (Not an extended technique, but please bear in mind.) Extreme temperatures. With metal flutes, key pads and the mechanism might go out of adjustment. With wooden instruments, it can be fatal! Some insurance companies will not even pay out if damage occurred while the instrument was below or above certain temperatures.

I am sure I have forgotten something!

Share

Tempo, Where’s the Hurry?

PDF pageEmail pagePrint page

In my last entry, I made some sarcastic remarks about the tempo in Berio’s Sequenza for flute being too fast. Now with genuine curiosity, I would like to probe composers’ psyche in the hopes that it will reveal why given tempi are often too fast. I will try not to make this a rant.

Given today’s technology, it is not surprising that computer generated scores can churn out notes at a certain tempo that sounds “correct” when electronically reproduced. Then when produced with actual living, breathing creatures playing mechanical objects, the composer realizes that compromises or adjustments to tempo have to be made. That is understandable.  However, I  encounter this phenomenon with pre-technological pieces as well as contemporary ones that were composed away from the computer.

The problems I see when a tempo is too fast:

  • Variations in division of the beat are poorly perceivable. Personally, I like my quintuplets to sound like quintuplets, and be discernible from sextuplets or sixteenth-notes.
  • Variations in pitch are poorly perceivable. Not only are fingering and lipping microtones difficult at high speeds, but can you really tell in a blur of notes if I play an F or an F a sixth-tone high? Should I really bother? [When I (and probably most flute players) get excited about a loud, fast passage, my F, and all the surrounding notes,  will be a sixth tone higher whether I like it or not.]
  • Variations in articulation are poorly perceivable. If inflections of long and short are important, I would appreciate time to produce them and to make sure the audience has time to capture them.

Sometimes I am annoyed when I point out these things to a composer, and the response is: “Oh, that is the tempo you strive for, the ideal tempo.” Well, do I really strive for that tempo (which I can achieve in some cases) and sacrifice the musical details? If you know me already from reading my blog, I am at my worst when presented with conflicting information. I do appreciate conflict as a positive creative force, but do not appreciate it when it is a result of artistic laziness.

But I am a nice person, and cannot believe that the majority of composers are lazy. So what is going on?

Share

Berio Sequenza, some musings and links

PDF pageEmail pagePrint page

Several days until I record the Berio Sequenza no. 1. This winter break has been very stressful. I was with my family in St. Petersburg. Family can be stressful, my son is at a difficult age, I myself am at a difficult age. Russia is stressful. It was so cold that it has taken my skin and lips days to recover. But now back in the saddle of my bicycle in the temperate zone of Northwestern Europe, I have hit my stride.

I am allowing myself a luxury. Next week there are plenty of pieces to prepare, old and new, but I decided to forget about them and devote my practice time to concentrate on Berio.

The main reason is that my body feels soooo much better when I keep my practice time to only a few hours a day. This is how I want to feel during the recording. So I warm up, play Bach for sound, articulation, style and focus. (Watch Pahud’s video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUxY7tagf0g where he gives his ideas on playing with focus. I practice like this with either one or two movements of Bach. I don’t recommend learning new pieces like this, but with pieces you know well, it is a great lesson.) Then Berio. Then for the rest of the day I do my Helen stuff, read, hang out with family, watch dumb and smart stuff on Youtube, study Jazz. This is luxury, as I have said. No rehearsals or teaching this early in the year.

This time around I thought I would re-visit Gazzeloni’s recording. Just because. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SVeJhagG1I)

It reminds me of a conversation I had with Camilla Hoitenga about new scores and recordings. You receive a new score along with a recording by the person for whom the piece was written. So you dutifully sit with the score and listen, but so much doesn’t correspond. So how do you prepare, follow the score or the recorded performance? You assume the player worked closely with the composer, and the composer is happy with the recording otherwise he wouldn’t have sent it to you. Even though I am sure I have been that player/dedicatee, I still don’t have an algorithm to navigate this situation.

Since Gazzeloni’s recording is very much of its own time, I doesn’t spin me into a crisis. I find it very revealing though. I won’t end up following his tempi, but there are quite a few turns of phrasing that inspire me to think differently.

About the tempo. I was talking to another local flutist who had worked with Berio on the Sequenza. He told me Berio complained that most players “play it too f(*&^ing fast!”. Well, I have news for you, Sr. Berio. You wrote it too f(*&^ing fast. Funny that the new edition doesn’t even adjust the metronome marking.

I have also enjoyed watching Paula Robison speak on the subject. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irY1kHq_F3g) In the last section, she points out possibilities that Berio allows (one namely being a slower tempo). I was also interested to hear about how she connects the Sequenza to the works of Samuel Beckett. Through Berio’s electronic piece, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), I was aware of the James Joyce connection, and Beckett does make sense. Through playing Rebecca Saunders music, I am quite familiar with some of Becketts’ texts. So another inspiration has surfaced 🙂

One big influence on Berio that I think really should be mentioned is that of the musicians around him, namely, his wife at the time, Cathy Berberian, for whom he wrote the third Sequenza.  Her theatricality, her agility, never cease to inspire me. Only recently did I come to know she composed herself. Here is an example of her graphic score, Stripsody (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHUQFGhXHCw).

I love her recording of the vocal Sequenza too, but I just came across a recent recording of the Sequenza no. 3 for voice by a young singer, Laura Catrani that fascinates me. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0TTd2roL6s). I can’t aspire to this type of recording, but it does give me food for thought.

imagesI am unashamedly playing from the old edition. Being a creature born myself in mid-20th century, I am hoping the good people of Universal Edition will forgive me. The old version has been in my memory for about 20 years now. But I do own the new addition, and am finding it more useful than ever this time around to answer questions about timing. For an interesting discussion of the two versions you can read Berio’s Sequenzas: Essays on Performance, Composition and Analysis, Chapter one by Cynthia Folio and Alexander Brinkman.

Share