E-recorder

The recorder encounters a problem when it has to play differences in dynamics. If the same note has to be played forte and piano, what is normally going to happen is that the piano will be flat because the instrument is not receiving enough air pressure and the forte, on the other hand, will be sharp because of the excess of air pressure. Recorder players have to learn how to master several alternative fingerings as a basic technique in order to achieve a basic dynamic flexibility. An alternative fingering for a note that has to be piano produces a pitch higher than the normal fingering, so that, in combination with diaphragm control, it can be tuned by blowing less air pressure into the tube. To tune a note that has to be forte, some extra holes should be closed to lower the pitch, so that by blowing harder one can still play in tune.

The technique that I use to obtain a good sound with the recorder is based on a very conscious and controlled air stream, full and very rich in harmonics. Due to the simple way of emitting sound from this instrument, it is very sad that many people forget to concentrate on what is the most precious thing in life: breathing! Recorders gained the reputation of being incapable of playing together with, for example, an oboe or a violin because of its weakness in sound. My opinion is that this “weakness” does not apply to the instrument but to the player’s sound-producing technique. Indeed, recorders are instruments that are easy for beginners and also very popular among amateurs because of the natural way of producing sound. The fixed structures of the recorder—block, ceiling and labium— are responsible for the normal quality of the sound of the instrument. The advantage is that no real effort is necessary to make it sound right from the first blow. However, not being flexible like reeds for instance, the sounding mechanism requires us to struggle to create a flexible and colorful sound. It is the price that has to be paid in return for an easy beginning. Paetzold square recorders have a more stable sound than normal types, because the model is based on the tube of an organ. The so-called multiphonics are more in tune and easy to produce. Nevertheless, it is necessary to have a very well-trained diaphragm that can produce a stable sound in any register. Without this training, it will not be possible to retain certain sound effects for a period of time longer than a second (multiphonics, for instance). Another technique used in contemporary composition that requires careful exercising is the radical change in air pressure required when jumping from bottom notes to the extreme high harmonics.

Dealing with the “e-recorder” has been a great adventure in discovering the physical limits of the interaction between playing an acoustical instrument and controlling the live sound processing. To construct and shape both in a coherent musical structure, I had to go through a gradual training in perfecting my awareness of what is happening during a session in order to make decisions in structuring the music. Also, it is physically demanding to press sensors, activate faders, move the bird cage, look at the computer, and play the recorder, all at the same time. The next upgrade in the e-recorder’s system will be to give the Bird Cage the ability to control up to eight individual outputs, so that sound spatialization can be integrated in the performance. Also, we will adapt a screen to the head of the Paetzold recorder, so that it will be no longer necessary to have the PowerBook computer on stage. That means, also, that the wires and the mixing console are going to be backstage, which I find to be an enormous aesthetic upgrade.

The challenge of choosing the use of electronics as an extra source of musical possibilities linked to the recorder was not as radical as I had previously thought. The reason, I believe, is because I decided to follow Michael Barker’s idea of using the electronics as an extension of the instrument. Naturally, to control this extension, a new technique has to be developed, but once some coherent control is reached, the way of creating music is no different from any other style I play. The perfect recipe lies not only in the physical control of the sensors used to shape the electronic sounds but also in building limits of interpretation, so that musical ideas become more focused.