Wednesday, January 28, 2009

an adventure

At the request of some students, friends, and colleagues I am starting this Irregular Blog to document my research in new techniques of cello playing, resonator design, instrument building, and bow making. Some of it will be pretty nerdy, and some written on the fly.

long ago....
As a small child I dreamt of playing the cello in the warm classical manner, but as my studies progressed I found myself careening off onto wonderfully strange paths that took me ever deeper into the unknown. The wilder the terrain the better. And the cello is so sonically rich and intrinsically beautiful that no matter what one plays, it never looses its warmth.

Chordal playing grew from an idea into an obsession during my student years in the mid-70's when I lived in Rome and frequently improvised with groups such as Nuove Forme Sonore, and later alone. It was during this solitary improv time that I felt a growing musical need for explicit rather than implied harmony.

I commissioned a curved bow from a local Roman luthier, Giorgio Corsini, so that I could access all the strings simultaneously. Heaven! At least for several months.... It seemed the perfect solution, but gradually l found it too heavy sonorally for my own music.
I dreamed of being able to play any string of my choice in any combination with the others, to be able to control the timbre of each voice, and to have differing dynamics and articulations for each string. An independently voiced, multiphonic polyphony.

After months of experimenting, the solution came to me; manipulate two bows in the right hand. In this way the left hand is free to play chordally as well as melodically, and two bows give the flexibility for playing the 4 strings non-adjacently and in any combination, with a large independent gamut of dynamic and expressive possibilities.

In 1976, I premiered the 2 bow technique with works of my own at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, and in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne, VPRO radio Netherlands, RAI Italiano etc . And subsequently in countless solo concerts throughout the US, Europe, Russia and Asia.

This was a time of rich ideation. As the left hand is the chordal limiter in its defined span, I found that new tunings could facilitate chords normally unreachable. I researched the use of many tunings and stringings (more than 75 to date) each of which give different timbric and harmonic possibilities.

I further restrung the instrument using 4 A strings, or 4 D's etc. This work was recorded in 1979 on the Cramps, Milano label of Italian cultural icon, Gianni Sassi. It is due for imminent re-release on JdKproductions in cd format. Luigi Nono was very much interested in the two bows as well as the tuning and restringing ideas I'd been exploring. In the 80's we taped my improvisations during the research sessions at the Heinrich Strobel Stiftung in Freiburg Germany, and he later used it extensively in his powerful political work, Diario Polacco II. These tapes of my improvs were later given to me and would be interesting to document after all these years. Louis Andriessen also used this restringing idea in the perfect jewel he wrote for me in 1981, La Voce. And Jonathan Harvey again used 2 D strings in his beautiful dedication, 3 Sketches.

Since that time, the two bow technique has grown to include controlled poly rhythms between the bows. Technically, the two bows act as one bow, in that the right arm controls the horizontal actions. But the vertical articulations within these movements are totally free.

Some cd's: ECM there is still time (with Paul Griffiths reading) Uitti 2 Bows from BVHaast, Sonomondo with Mark Dresser on Cryptogramophone, Uitti/Sharp (with Elliott Sharp) on, and Imaginings, Sargasso of improvisations with Jonathan Harvey.

Along with Luigi Nono, Gy├Ârgy Kurtag, Giacinto Scelsi, Jonathan Harvey, Guus Jansen, Jay Alan Yim, Richard Barrett, Vinko Globokar, Clarence Barlow, James Clarke, David Dramm, Geoffrey King, Martijn Padding, Horazio Radulescu, Sharon Kanach, Martijn Padding, Peter Nelson, etc have written for me using this technique. Nederlands Muziek Centrum has the Dutch works and the others are published variously by larger and independent presses: Faber, Universal, Peters, Boosey, etc.

The two bows can move independently in a vertical sense: the under bow playing very close to the bridge while the upper bow is sul tasto. They can slide smoothly to the ordinary position and reverse the sense while moving horizontally.
The two bows can produce independent articulations, accents, durations, legati etc. For example the upper bow can play staccato while the under is legato. The under bow can produce jete while the upper is legato and vice versa. Keep in mind that the under bow has less amplitude than the overbow for voicing and melodic lines.*
Cross rhythms (three against four, four against five) can be articulated between the bows, though the bows move in the same direction as the arm.
The upper bow can move into col legno position (and back again) while the under bow continues in ordinary position.
Both bows can play col legno, but one must reposition the bows for a fraction of a second to change their positions.

In general, horizontal bowings are suited to the two bows and in the case of the large detache, the volume of the cello is doubled. Tremolandi acquire a rich and complex timbre. All up and down actions (for example,double spiccatti) are a challenge to control. I am redesigning the bows these last years and making them (6 prototype designs so far) to facilitate more control.
The use of two bows in conjunction with stopped or open strings can produce multiple multiphonics of eight or more pitches.
There is some documentation on my website