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Unshackled Strings

New Imaginings

By John Robinson

String music has always been at the forefront in the creation of new sounds and timbres.Dancing, sliding bows and fingers gave life to the abstract and the imitative, to the sublime and the simple, the greatest fugues and the songs of old leaves skittering down windy streets. Nowadays together with the usual infinitely variable pitches, long sustained notes, harsh and mellow sounds and some new elements, strings are giving life to new and unimagined music. Prepared conventional violins can be set up in any number of ways. Simple mechanical alterations such as novel bridges, beads on strings, irregular strings or even just a hair clip inserted across the strings produce interesting, often random, effects. New bowing techniques such as circular bowing, where you hold the bow normally then make a horizontal pot stirring motion, have been developed and unusual bows such as hoop shapes are seen. There’s no end to purely mechanical changes that could be made and many may be worthwhile. If that’s not enough digital processing of the instrument signal can be applied and that can be taken to any lengths. Guitar effects showcase those possibilities.

However, simple close mic-ing is a technique that allows the player to produce amazing new sounds on an essentially standard violin while keeping all the benefits of usual string playing. That makes the technique very attractive. Aldar Tamadyn, a traditional fiddle player from southern Siberia shows how on a two stringed horse headed igil which should delight any violinist. Aldar takes imitation to lyre bird heights though those birds would scorn a mic. My thumb sized rosin wheel bird caller is good enough to interest the more naive species and many other callers and flutes are excellent but they are ultra-specific compared to Aldar’s protean igil . Some more familiar but still impressive sounds are played here by Sebastien Savard on a standard classical violin in a fine performance marred only by his callous mousetrap effort. Having seen these possibilities all that’s needed now to get started is a singer’s type mic and a boom box or suitable hi fi amp and speakers.

“the shackled rank and file”

While new sounds alone are stimulating what about the staid old classical performance protocols? Can the soloist, with her stereotyped poses and gestures, and the shackled rank and file be brought back to life? It seems they can. These problems have been taken in hand by the younger generation. Yasunoshin Morita, winner of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) 2013 Young Composers award, shows his way in his kinetic new piece “Les animaux a metamorphoses” (The animals transformation) which can be seen here being danced, drummed, slapped and played the way it ought to be. You can find out more about Yasunoshin Morita here.