The Building of the Second Towers

Dry Brains vs Wet Brains

Over the past few years (perhaps more than a few), homemade instruments have been on the rise. From activities in the classroom to full, world-touring orchestras made from recycled garbage, homemade instruments have opened doors for people in a variety of exciting and innovative ways.

For me, the ‘homemade’ instrument is most important due to the reach of organic new sounds that they can create. To give one example, check out the video below of Görkem Sen playing his amazing instrument, the Yaybahar:

This instrument works by transmitting the sound from the string down the coiled cables into the drum membranes at the end, which resonate the sound. This intriguing design allows for the sci-fi-exotic sounds to emerge.

One such instrument, designed by the Brazilian band, Uakti, has held my attention for a long time: the torre. The torre (or tower) has a much simpler design: it consists of strings stretched down the sides of a cylindrical, rotating resonating body, which are activated by a specially made bow. Check out this performance of their piece Krishna:

What fascinates me about these exotic creations is their lack of need for electronics. As an acoustic composer, I strive to find ways of creating new and exciting sounds without electronics in the context of live performance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against electronic music; I enjoy it as much as the next man and love attending presentations of it but I will tell you what I don’t like.

First of all, in a ‘performance’ (or what I prefer to call a presentation) of electronic music, the composer or person presenting their work sits behind a computer keyboard/mixing desk/general sound making technology and conducts quite isolated actions. There is a lot of skill in what they are doing, whether diffusing through a surround sound system or working in some way with a live performer, but there is still a barricade between them and us. Personally, I find it un-inclusive and impersonal from an audience’s perspective.

You could argue that my goal of creating exotic drones would be easier, cheaper and just as good through an electronic system. I would ask, then, why we even still have live performances? If an electronic system is ‘good enough for everybody’ then why even go to a concert? Why not just stick it on YouTube and create your own concert? Why not just press play on a CD player? What about all these silly composers spending loads of money getting their works performed by choirs and orchestras when they could just train a computer to do it for them?

I find that there is something incredibly special about sound produced through ‘organic’ instrumentation. The input of the performers, the unwanted but unavoidable mistakes and the time and effort put into organising a full-scale performance all contribute to an experience, or in the words of Allan Kaprow and his contemporaries, happenings.

Perhaps I am being unnecessarily harsh, but it is the way I feel as a composer. My goal is to produce a real-life, pain-in-the-ass-to-make, experiential drone, and that is what I will do.

The Second Tower

As part of this project, I will be designing and building an adaption of Uakti’s torre for use in this performance piece: The Second Tower (torre II).

There are a few challenges that come with this: limited funding, terrible DIY skills and inexperience to name but a few. But I also have a lot of skills that will help the process. One of which, I learned from my Dad and that is technical drawing.

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This image is a technical design drawing to be sent to a sheet metal maker and it will allow me explain the changes that I have made to Uakti’s innovative design.

The first difference is what the main body of the instrument will be made of. Uakti’s design was made from a PVC tube, which acts as a resonating body and/or amplifier. In my design I will be using sheet metal in the hope of adding to the metallic, shimmering sound. This will also have varying sized holes cut out of it to create a different pulsing sound from the body itself.

Along the bottom, are peg holes to insert holding points for each of the eight strings. These will be secured by small bolts that are slotted in and tightened.

This flat design will then be rolled into a cylinder and will act as the main body of the instrument. This has been the biggest design challenge so far, so I really hope it works.

The next stage of the process is getting these designs made; I look forward to sharing pictures of the developing product. My next blog post will feature some new pictures, some inner workings of the creative process and my plan for some ‘sheet music’ that I can assure you, won’t be normal.

Until then, how do you feel about electronic versus acoustic performances? Do you feel there is a difference? Or am I being unnecessarily awkward? I would love to hear your comments.

Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performance artists.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brycehopecomposer

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/brycehopecomposer

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An Anecdote of Drones

I have, for a long time, been fascinated by the musical worth of drones. From the rattling of engines to the clouding of a white noise machine or the roar of planes, drones have become a fascination of mine, one that I have been wanting to explore in a musical way for a long time.

The best thing that I have experienced about drones is the inherent ability of them to make other noises musical. The first time I experienced this was when listening to France’s beautiful Mistress of electronic music, Éliane Radigue, whom I want to talk about here.

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[Above: French composer Éliane Radigue, b. 1932]

One of the most stunning pieces of electronic music I have ever heard is her L’île Re-sonante (2005). The near-hour long piece consists of varying-frequency drones coupled with voice and other elements. The gradual transition of sounds produces a slow motion, aural variation that allows you to be completely immersed in a mesmerising, meditative zone.

One day, listening to this piece, I was on a clanging and rattling old bus and I found that the sounds I would usually dismiss as unfavourable sonic irritations had become musical, percussive and, to some extent, rhythmic.

Investigating further, I strolled around town to the noisiest places I could find: main streets, building sights, industrial areas. Here, I experienced the same effect: the drone was allowing me to filter out certain elements of sounds that made them dismissible, replacing them with an augmented appreciation of the aleatoric aural environment. What a discovery it was.

Determined to expand my appreciation for the drone, I delved deeper into Radigue’s work to discover a piece that would not only grow my love of drones but also of the spoken word (something I have been working heavily with recently: listen to Happy Richard here to discover more on that).

The piece features narrators Robert Ashley (the English voice) and Lama Kunga Rinpoche (the Tibetan voice). Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream (1992) again features the long, slow motion waves of Radigue’s APR Synthesizer with the spoken word of the narrators. The impact that this provides, for me, was magnificent. It appears to me that she has used the waving motion of the drones to not only frame and contribute significance to the simple spoken word, but she has also found a way to musically harmonise the speech with an extra-vocal sound (I tend to think about it as pressing a single bass note on an organ while playing a harmonically-variable melodic line on top – each note will react differently with the pedal note).

This technical aspect also helps to demonstrate Radigue’s love for Tibetan Buddhism. The drones, as mentioned above, create the perfect, meditative sonic space and give time for the listener to contemplate the words while enjoying the ataractic aural waves.

The question now, I suppose, is what significance does this pose to the project at hand: a dance-sound partnership based in the rural setting of Aberdeen?

Well firstly, it gives me a chance to finally experiment with the drones I have grown to love. On their own, drones can be very difficult to use: Radigue uses them as an experienced electronic composer with a grand knowledge of technology and surrounding supporting material, such as text and voice. On the contrary, my music is acoustically based although the sound shapes presented by my work are considered akin to those noted in electronic music (have a listen to my friend Andrew Fowler performing my solo piano piece tEn here and you will see what I mean).

Secondly, the inclusive nature of the drone – meaning their capacity for transforming everyday sounds into musical sensations – is perfect for the outdoor nature of the piece. It means that whatever sounds may by chance happen within the environment, they can only contribute to the sonic scene rather than detracting from a secluded and private ‘classical’ performance.

Keep an eye out for the next part of my blog posts, where I will be discussing the droning activities of a particular South American Ensemble with a penchant for home-made instrumentation.

 

Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performances artists.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brycehopecomposer

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/brycehopecomposer