Monday, 7 April 2014

The little things make all the difference

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have been preparing Gérard Grisey's Accords Perdus to perform with Composer/performer Horn player Max Pankau . For those of you that are not aware of this work it is MONUMENTAL for two horns. It is based on the natural harmonic series and is done so in a way that you end up with a great amount of microtonality, from quarter tones to eighth tones. It is a remarkable work you can read about it here. The Oil Valley Hornist blog does a great write up on it so I will not try. Go ahead and wander over there and have a read.

What I want to talk about is how I go about learning microtonal skills. This also relates back to the Stockhausen as he does call for some microtonal sections. More often than not microtonal things fall under that "faking it" post I made a few weeks back. Which is a shame, because poorly executed microtones sound all kinds of bad. When I first encountered micrtones I took a peers advice and just "played it out of tune". When I look back that was terrible advice that just missed the point. So here are my quick tips to figuring it out

  1. You need to learn to hear and be comfortable with microtones. 
    1. Practice playing a semitone and find the space equal between the two. Try different fingerings etc ( I will get into that later) For the horn we are lucky since the harmonic series has things like flat seventh harmonics. KNOW THE SERIES, and use it.
    2. Don't use a tuner to do it. That is just a dog chasing it's tail, be able to HEAR it. Compare from the semitone above and below, isolated and in context.
  2. Figure out the best way to do it for the work you are playing.
    1. Two examples:
      1. I did a work last year that had some rapid microtonal things, no way I could do it well with using harmonic series based intonation. You can always DETUNE your horn. A brief note about that. Usually things happen too quickly to muck around with slides. So detune the Bflat side of your horn and use it for the micro sections and the F side for regular things. Mark the slide where the quarter tone is (eighth tones are a diff beast) and use a slidelock so you can get back to home base quick. This will also work if a composer gives you microtones below the trebel clef staff (horn in pitch) where microtones don't really exist in the harmonic series.
      2. Grisey's Accords Perdus uses harmonic intonation, you are called to play quarter tones, and eighth tones so the only way you will make it work is the harmonic series. That being said, when you are in rehearsal you need to make sure the aural product is correct so be prepared with all the alternates (fingerings, and where they are in the harmonic series).
  3. Be aware of the colour. With microtones the colour shifts on the horn through a great deal of spectrums we usually don't get. Keep an ear for it make sure it makes sense sonically.
  4. Finally, practise, practise, practise. These things are hard enough on the best day and fall outside the traditional technique in many many ways, so when they are called for don't be surprised (you will surprise people when you can actually do them)
I did some google footwork for people.
Oil Valley Hornist - Huge resource for this stuff, great work!
Charles Ives - Not for horn, but you can really hear it.
Doug Hill covers this in his Extended Technique book (something all horn players [and not composers...] should own.)

No comments:

Post a Comment