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.

Swirling Leaves



Swirling Leaves (Racheal Cogan 2015)

Geri Bollinger: Contrabass Recorder

Racheal Cogan: Tenor Recorders  and  Bass Recorder

Mixing: Racheal Cogan

All recorders made by Geri Bollinger


The instrument all pulled apart - including optional mouthpiece.
The instrument all pulled apart - including optional mouthpiece.


I wrote this piece to celebrate a tenor recorder that Geri Bollinger had very generously given to me. It is a beautiful instrument (you can see it in the pictures) with a unique headpiece. The headpiece is in two parts. When the parts are together, it can be played like a fairly traditional style recorder. When the top alone is used, with small adjustments of the mouth and face, you can have control of pitch, dynamics, and the timbre of the instrument. The timbral spectrum is awesome - all the way from a super breathy sound to the more pure tones of a typical recorder. When you listen to this piece you will be able to hear the breathy tones exploited in what I call the more Carnivale like sections in the music. For me, this quartet has the feel of walking through rustling autumn leaves in a broken down Carnival site whilst the wind noisily shakes out the trees.

Awesome Contrabass Recorder
Awesome Contrabass Recorder

Many thanks go to Geri for playing the Contrabass in this recording and for his invaluable advice and suggestions.

Swirling Leaves is written for two Tenor Recorders, Bass Recorder and Contrabass Recorder.

Geri's website is here:


Sughisti (Racheal Cogan 2014)

Geri Bollinger - Greatbass and Contrabass Recorders (instruments also designed and made by Geri Bollinger)

Racheal Cogan - EAGLE Alto Recorder (designed and made by Adriana Breukink and Geri Bollinger) and Küng Bass Recorder (designed and made by Geri Bollinger).

Mixing - Racheal Cogan


Sughisti is a gift for a new friend, Geri Bollinger. Geri came across my website with a photo of me holding one of his lovely Küng bass recorders, heard my music and sent me an email out of the blue, thus beginning a friendship of music, recorders, and recording.

We started writing to each other over a summer that saw both of us, one in Canada and the other in Switzerland, cooking up and bottling tomato sauces from the abundant summer harvests. That year I bought boxes and boxes of tomatoes and bottled them plain, as ketchup, as pasta sauce, and dehydrated a large batch as well: all to ferret away for the long, insistently cold and icy Winter in Alberta.

Geri called his bottled tomato sauce Sugo. Sughisti are sauce makers. This piece is titled for the background food of all the music and instruments that we were both making and writing to each other about. The recording itself was made from across the two sides of the earth. Geri plays the Contrabass in F and a Greatbass, he built and designed both of them. I play the Alto Eagle recorder that he and Adriana Breukink designed and make, and the Küng Bass Recorder that Geri also designed and built. I had both recorders before I met him, so perhaps we were already on the way to working together before we realised it. The instruments that Geri makes are simply awesome.

Geri made a lot of great suggestions for this piece – it wouldn’t have been the same without his input. He says that I compose, he builds instruments, and we both cook with sounds making Sugo for the ears! We both enjoy good homemade sauces and very cool homemade sounds. We hope that you like our music too!

Geri's instruments, Adriana's instruments, and so many more that I haven't yet tried are re-defining what it means to be a recorder player. Flexibility of tone, larger registers, ease of playing notes, evenness of tone throughout the register, louder possibilities, more control over dynamics, and a range of unique timbres from each incredible design is opening so many creative possibilities for those of us that play the recorder.  There is now even more beauty for the possibilities of the music that we can create with them.

Geri's awesome instruments are here:

The bold and beautiful Eagle recorders here:

Adriana's Instruments are here:

Küng instruments here:

The score of Sughisti is published by Edition Tre Fontane.

Geri made a video of this music:

It Snows Here

♦ Racheal Cogan - composer, recorders, harpsichord, mixing

Kung Bass Recorder (designed and built by Geri Bollinger), Treble recorder (by Michael Grinter)

♦ Tony Lewis - tombak

♦ Jay Elfenbein- bass Viola da Gamba

♦ Wendy Rowlands - viola

♦ Jonathan Lewis - violin

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This project could not have existed without the generosity and beautiful playing of the four musicians. They all contributed from different parts of the globe: Wendy and Tony in Australia, Tony in Sydney, and Wendy in rural Newstead (Victoria). Jay recorded his parts in France, and Jonathan (closer to me) in Calgary. I thank them all for so generously giving their time and skills to this project. Tony also for his invaluable mixing advice.

A big thanks goes to Violaine Corradi for the ideas and advice she so generously gave that allowed this piece to develop beyond my expectations and preconceived ideas.

Whilst working on the last parts of It Snows Here, my mind often turned to my dear friend Lucille who passed away late last year as I started sketching this project out. This piece is dedicated to you Lucille who squeezed every last drop of living (and way more) out of life. You taught me  how to make a tomato pasta sauce and how to select the freshest of produce. My stomach thanks you every time I eat.

Last week I worked on the final mix as it snowed for three days outside my window. The trees hadn't even thought about dropping their leaves or changing color, so the weight of the snow on their lush leafed branches caused a lot of destruction to the deciduous trees in Calgary. Many lovely old trees were lost in this time.

In this place I am learning about the cold, the ice, and most of all - the snow that can fall for 8 months of the year.

Midday, midwinter, just outside Canmore.
Midday, midwinter, just outside Canmore.


Tanpura (Racheal Cogan 2014)

Paetzold Contrabass (by Herbert Paetzold), Kung Bass Recorder (designed and built by Geri Bollinger), Ganassi in G and C ( by Michael Grinter), Futujara ( by Vladiswar Nadishana),

Bells, Gongs, Skiddaw Stones, Tubular Bells (from soniccouture).

I have always loved the resonance of the tanpura and jealously adored the overlapping resonance of this plucked string, drone type instrument.

I was aiming for the same feeling of resonance and notes overlapping on recorders - like a large organ, but with the sounds coming from different places and each with their own unique tone, length, and shape from the minds of each individual player.

With that in mind,  I began shaping this meditative piece with each note played into a different track, overlapping the one before to create long phrases made up of different players working together to make a cohesive, integrated whole. Even though it's just myself playing each track, as I created this piece I envisioned many players coming together to make up a moment of resonant space and sound. As I worked, this music felt to me like a form of falling deeper and deeper into an ocean.

Listen with a good set of headphones in a quiet space.

The image is a painting from a very dear friend who is an incredible and dedicated artist - Mitch Lang. I have adored both her and her art for at least 25 years now. The world is a richer and more generous place for her being in it.

Australian Waters by Mitch Lang
Australian Waters by Mitch Lang

 Mitch's image is both a reflection on living by the sea and the current Australian Government's long term and increasingly callous and inhumane treatment of refugees seeking asylum by boat in Australia.

Thank you to Violaine Corradi for always encouraging me to go yet further and to Andrew for always listening.