Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sonic obsessions, revisited (2)


Bowed metal, of all sorts.  Sustaining complex sounds with non-harmonic spectra with unpredictable developments, yet sounds which are intensely gratifying to the ear for their internal proportions, the way they fit together and create musically coherent continuities.  Pride of place belongs to the saw, of course, and not just for its haunting melodic capacity (isn't their something deeply compelling about metallic sounds with clear pitches that slide?), but its harmonic dimensions as well, both from high pressure multiphonics from a single bow stroke and for the ability to sustain overlapping tones produced at more than one position along that s-curve which places the metal in exactly the right tension.  Then comes the bowed flexatone, a useful and portable auxiliary to both the saw and the hammered flexatone (use lots of rosin).  Bowed vibraphone and marimba come next, best in a careful choreography between notes produced at front and back, with some possibility for producing harmonics, by lightly touching nodes of the bars.  Then bowed cymbals, tam tams, flat gongs, cowbells:  sustaining sounds that are most familiar as sharp attacks and smooth decays, allowing real surprises to emerge. (See, for example, La Monte Young's Studies in the Bowed Disc, using two bows to create unbroken continuity on a piece of sheet metal cut round as a piece of sculpture.)

(Image: sculpture of Tom Scribner, saw player,  by Marghe McMahon, 1978.)

3 comments:

Charles Shere said...

We have a replica of Duchamp's famous bicycle wheel, which I had made back in 1968 by a studio carpenter when I made a television obituary of the artist at KQED. (Boy, those were the days.) Duchamp was right: it's a pleasure to have in the room, calming and always interesting, like a fire in the fireplace.

Plus, it's a delight to bow its spokes, each a slightly different pitch; and even to bow the rim. I use a 'cello bow, because that's what I have at hand.

Daniel Wolf said...

Charles, that's marvelous, a made-to-order replication of a ready made. And musically useful, to boot!

Neal said...

I agree. The saw, although not normally heard as a musical instrument, has a beautifully pure and resonant sound. I had the privilege to study oboe with the Los Angeles Philharmonic's former principle oboist, David Weiss, who also happens to be and avid saw player. You should check out his CD...http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/davidweiss