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Are You Sure This Is A Musical Instrument?

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northie

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Being a percussionist means a varied musical life - a violinist usually has one instrument, as a percussionist I can find myself playing any of at least ten different instruments. Many composers like to experiment in how they use an orchestra - often, the results end up in my section.

 

Sometimes this means we have to beg, borrow, buy, hire the instruments required and every now and again I feel as though I'm part of a cinematic sound effects team. The Strauss piece mentioned my last blog (Eine Alpensinfonie) is a case in point: to add colour to the Alpine scenery, we all had a pair of cowbells (try to pick them up quietly :pinch: ) and two of my colleagues had to 'play' a wind machine and a thunder sheet.

 

Two other pieces go to extremes. In the 1950s, Malcom Arnold wrote a short piece for one of Gerard Hoffung's humorous concerts. A grand, grand overture has a starring role for three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher to be 'played' by soloists. The vacuum cleaners theoretically have three different, defined pitches and I remember as a student at a small seaside university town in Wales wondering how on earth I was going to manage that - the answer: a fudge, as usual. :rolleyes:

 

Erik Satie is a French composer best known for his piano pieces (Trois gymnopedies etc). During WW1 he was asked to write music for a ballet with a scenario by Cocteau, and set and costume designs by Picasso. Parade is a faintly bizarre piece of music if only because the percussion section is required to provide a typewriter, ship's foghorns, pistol shots, water splash and a bouteillophone. This is an instrument to be constructed out of a series of differently sized glass bottles, filled with varying amounts of water and so forming a sort of glass glockenspiel (bells in the US) only the playing surface is upright, rounded, irregular and liable to movement... :huh: I can tell you it takes forever to construct, is almost impossible to play and is needed for a minute or less of music.

 

If a composer wishes to include something, anything, they want, they will ...

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Pink Floyd successfully uses conventional noises to good effect: animal voices; clocks; cash registers; elevator; jet; etc. I mention this band specifically because their use of "non-musical sources" is not just occasional—notwithstanding the sounds being artfully, electronically enhanced. It's certainly different than say, playing something unconventional as an instrument live as you do. Though both uses teach us that music is all around us everyday. Thinking outside the box isn't a bad thing.

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This is a fascinating entry, northie. Almost makes Gershwin's cab horns for An American in Paris seem mundane ;)

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Pink Floyd successfully uses conventional noises to good effect: animal voices; clocks; cash registers; elevator; jet; etc. I mention this band specifically because their use of "non-musical sources" is not just occasional—notwithstanding the sounds being artfully, electronically enhanced. It's certainly different than say, playing something unconventional as an instrument live as you do. Though both uses teach us that music is all around us everyday. Thinking outside the box isn't a bad thing.

 

Generally, I'm all for experimentation - it's just the difficulties of realising the composer's expectations (particularly as an amateur musician).

 

I find John Cage's scores fascinating - from 4'33" to other experimental works exploring precisely 'what is music'.  He really did have an original mind and I enjoy the fact that his scores from 50, 60 years ago still shock and stimulate people. 

 

Music, like any art form, must continually push boundaries.

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This is a fascinating entry, northie. Almost makes Gershwin's cab horns for An American in Paris seem mundane ;)

 

These horns have to be commercially hired (usually) because they are given specific musical tones.

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I think they'd both end up in the percussion section. I've never seen the second one before ... That's why I like being a percussionist - it's such a large family, continually growing and with a substantial number of eccentrics! :)

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I have an Underwood typewriter!  LOL.  But I remember someone from chat shared an ingenious apparatus that can make music.  Let me see if I can find it on YouTube.

 

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I have an Underwood typewriter!  LOL.  But I remember someone from chat shared an ingenious apparatus that can make music.  Let me see if I can find it on YouTube.

 

 

This one looks as though it's straight out of steam punk. :)

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Almost everything can be a musical instrument...if in the right hands. Or innocent hands. We once tasked a group of kids between 4 and six to take whatever they wanted from the room (no real instruments) and try to be an orchestra and play a piece of music. The result was most interesting and strangely melodious. 

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Almost everything can be a musical instrument...if in the right hands. Or innocent hands. We once tasked a group of kids between 4 and six to take whatever they wanted from the room (no real instruments) and try to be an orchestra and play a piece of music. The result was most interesting and strangely melodious.

 

Indeed! Anything capable of making a sound can be utilised in making music. Just depends how broad a definition of the word 'music' you can open your mind to. :)

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