Mallets, Bows and Recorders

I'm currently in a pretty big musical learning phase and most of the music I'm working on asks some pretty simple questions. Like: "What would it sound like if....?" and  "Whoa. That's a cool sound. Can I use it?" or  "I like this plug in - can I do this with it? - what happens if I automate that here? Yikes it's not a recorder anymore, but I can use that sound... right here."

I try to keep the creative process basic so that my neocortex has plenty of goodwill to deal with complex details and problems as they arise - and they always do, so I don't overthink the simple things. Here's the story (in point form) of how I kept this piece as close to the reptile brain as possible :

  • "That's a nice looking marimba - I can probably play that."
  • "Next to the big marimba is a marimbaphone. I will play that too." So I pick up a bow and get some great shimmery notes. (Marimbaphones are tuned percussion that have slots in the metal tongs specifically designed for bowing.)
  • "That's a reco-reco. I can bow that too." The reco-reco is a percussion instrument; the one I used has coiled springs like overgrown bass strings on a piano. You can see it pictured on the right.
  • This is what it sounds like when you bow it and use a contact mic:
  • "Can I try bowing a couple of notes in tune on a double bass?"
  • "Now I want the sound of that hang drum over there, this kantele, and some of those kitsch looking cardboard wind chimes."

And as I went along I was constantly adding recorders and putting together the puzzle of binding everything together into a few minutes of music.

I kept my thinking simple to take away any unnecessary inhibitions or fears and let it be fun. There are always opportunities to be afraid or anxious, so I just bring them to the party and show them a good time. I really can't play the double bass, but it feels great to embrace such a big resonant soundboard and really feel those notes. Fear agreed that it was pretty cool too and was happy to be hanging out at this particular party: so there's a couple of notes buried in there that do add to the overall sound.

Having lessons or joining a group to learn a new instrument is something I'm always doing when I can: Right now I'm on the look out for a local percussion group I can join so I can develop that side. And, I'd be the first in line to join a Portsmouth Sinfonia (Gavin Bryars founded them, Brian Eno played clarinet with them, and Michael Nyman got to play cello and euphonium) or The Really Terrible Orchestra. I'd be there at all rehearsals and make my way through every. single. instrument. The Really Terrible Orchestra actually tour, unbelievable! Being asked to be a guest performer on any instrument I can't play would be one of those rainbow lifetime cool moments and I'd probably be righteously blocked by most of my facebook friends for over-sharing the glory along with too many truly horrible sound bytes. Letting go of ideas of what it means to be a good musician, or in the case of these orchestras, being asked to move on when you start getting too good on a particular instrument is liberating.


A big thank you to Brian D'Oliveira for bringing me into your world and sharing so much. You have reminded me to play lots of instruments (as well as recorders) and the future hurdy-gurdy/bag-pipe player and taiko drummer in me bows deeply to you.