31 January 2015

Säckpipa by Piotr Nowotnik at Sampleism

My new virtual instrument created for NI Kontakt. This time it is a Swedish Bagpipe sampled with three different velocity/expressiveness layers!

Säckpipa by Piotr Nowotnik at Sampleism

12 May 2014

Hurdy-Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (IV)

Presence of the hurdy-gurdy during the Renaissance

The period between the late Medieval and early Baroque holds very special significance to the perception of the hurdy-gurdy in Western culture. Its presence in folklore and popular culture has been documented by numerous paintings – among the most popular ones is the one of Hieronymus Bosch depicting a typical renaissance instrument with the first-ever documented buzzing bridge’ called trompette. Since the painting came in existence around 1505, it is believed that the idea of this rhythmical device attached to the body of the instrument became popular in the late Fifteenth Century.[1]

Fragment of the triptych known as "The Garden of Early Delights” (by H.Bosch) depicting renaissance hurdy-gurdy[2]

During that time, the instrument was firmly associated with the world of travelling artists and blind beggars earning their living by playing at festivities, weddings and funerals. Since physical blindness was very often considered a result of mental and spiritual impairment, the instruments became associated with the world of sin and representing demonic presence. As such, the instrument was perceived by many – especially the upper class of society – as impure.

This misconception did not stop hurdy-gurdy players from become sought-after, popular entertainers among peasantry and lesser nobility. Many artists – especially painters – were able to see through the artificial prejudice of social layers and gladly portrayed hurdy-gurdy players as elements of local folklore inspiring a world of rural beliefs and fables. Many captured the mysticism of both the instrument and its player, conveying their unique aura.

"hurdy-gurdy player" by Georges de la Tour (mid. XVII C.)[3]

[1] Source: http://www.gurdy.co.uk (accessed August 2012)
[2] Source: http://www.hieronymus-bosch.org/ (accessed August 2012)
[3] Source: http://www.abbeville.com (accessed August 2012)

14 November 2013

Hurdy Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (III)

Pivotal transformations of the 'vielle' in the Eighteenth Century

During the Rococo period in France, the vielle became of interest to aristocracy and nobility seeking inspirations in regional music and a rural ‘idyllic’ way of life. Early instruments however have been found as sophistically inadequate to appear in the courts as an acceptable musical instrument. For a while they appeared as ‘props’ and ‘novelties’ in operas, theatre and musical works imitating its drone effect.

One of the ‘promoters’ of the vielle at the French court was Henri Bâton (born Late Seventeenth Century – died 1728) – a luthier and instrument maker from Versailles[1]. Diminishing participations of theorbos, lutes and guitars in court music filled his storeroom with many unused instruments – many of them of the superior quality built some time a century earlier. Bâton used bodies of lutes and guitars and modified them to accommodate a key box, wheel and new peg box.

Bâton’s sense of fashion and visual artistry turned new vielles into richly ornamented and spectacular pieces of luthiery. He crowned his peg boxes with sculptures resembling those of viols and violins. His undertakings were not merely for decoration. He balanced the velocity of strings – especially between bourdon drones and melodic chantelles. The new vielle become sought-after and very popular with female aristocrats.[2]

The success of Bâton's ideas can be gauged in many ways: by the number of paintings and engravings of the period in which members of the nobility were portrayed playing musettes or hurdy-gurdies, by the number of stage works of the period which featured the instrument, by the many title-pages which suggested that their music was suited for these instruments, by the several instruction books published, by the number of makers who turned out these instruments, and by the number of virtuosos on them. The instruments were heard at the Concert Spirituel at Christmas 1731, 1732 and 1733, and were praised by those glad to hear simple tunes but criticized by those who regarded rustic instruments as too primitive.[3]

As has been said, the overall efforts of Bâton into creating new quality for a vielle were not only of a cosmetic nature. His design extended the scale of the instrument to two chromatic octaves while mounting tangents on the movable points, hence enabling finer tuning after new applications of cotton to the strings.[4]
Most importantly, the use of finest wood, thinner sound-board and new shapes of the body allowed Bâton to accommodate the instrument into the culture of chamber performance and concert music. The balance of the sound attained gave performers more control over timbre, dynamics and overall sonic efficiency:

Bâton imagined that, since the hurdy-gurdies mounted on the bodies of guitars had had so much success, that instrument would take on yet more mellow sounds by mounting it on the bodies of lutes and of theorboes. Accordingly, in 1720 he carried out this new idea, and the hurdy-gurdies in the form of a lute had an even greater success than the others. It was then that the hurdy-gurdy began to be taken as seriously as other instruments and to be admitted into concerts...[5]

[1] Source: http://www.richardhaynesmusicservices.com (accessed June 2012)
[2]Robert Green; Hurdy-gurdy in XVIII Century France. Publications of the Early Music Institute,
Indiana University Press
, 1995
[3]Neal Zaslaw. ‘Bâton, Henri.’ In: Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/subscriber/article/grove/music/02316
(accessed July 2012).
[4] Raw cotton is used to cover string at the contact point with the wheel – quality, technique and amount of the cotton applied often alter the nodes on the string as well as overall sound quality and timbre
[5] Robert Green; Hurdy-gurdy in XVIII Century France. Publications of the Early Music Institute,
Indiana University Press
, 1995

17 August 2013

Psychedelic Sonic Journey Through Victorian Countryside

Desolated plains of Australian countryside, forests sharing its skyline with bush, sleepy roads and hidden paths leading to unknown places... Marko's film - premiered last May in Cannes Short Film Corner - was a fantastic visual inspiration leading me through the exploration of my woodwind collection. Most profound sounds are those of fujara - Slovakian mountaineers' overtone flute - Irish low whistle, bassoon, ney, duduk, tin whistles - they all fit seamlessly with the landscapes I was presented with by the director. However the music would never happen without Ukrainian bandura, zither and our modest piano. Like a glue to interweave throughout contrasting textures: human voice and a handful of electronic gadgets... Did I mention jaw harp? ;)

"The Journey - Original Soundtrack" will be available soon on iTunes, AmazonMP3 and other digital retailers - stay tuned :)

07 January 2013

Hurdy Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (II)

Short excerpt from "Nomenclature" section clarifying some issues regarding etymology of the instrument' s name"


It is believed that the name ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is onomatopoeic in its origin and in Old English its meaning is often  equivalent  to loud commotion, disorder and havoc1.  

The  English term  ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is shared with a musical device known as the barrel organ. These are  often confused by  their superficial similarities, such as crank action or continuous sound. 

For the purpose of this work, the name of the instrument – hurdy-gurdy – has been used exclusively to describe the lute- or guitar-shaped mechanical fiddle, equipped with buttons stopping melodic strings and a rosined wheel touching strings to produce friction and vibrations just like a bow moved across the strings. 
This serves  the purpose of differentiating  the hurdy-gurdy from a barrel organ, even though the latter is commonly called ‘hurdy-gurdy’ in English. 
The English name of the instrument is the only  thing  shared between two different, mechanically unrelated and musically distant entities.2

National versions of the instrument  have  names associated with a specific region or a country of Europe where it  is played. For example,  the Polish hurdy-gurdy  is known as  Lira Korbowa  (lit. lyre with a crank), Ukrainian – Lira (which is often used with variations across Eastern Europe), Hungarian – tekerőlant and German Drehleier. Zanfona is an Italian instrument, while one the most appropriate replacement for English word ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is French la vielle à roue or simply a vielle3.
Since most of those regional names are idiomatically related to specific variants of the hurdy-gurdy, I will be using them interchangeably to outline the notion of  the  international presence of this instrument.  

1. Oxford English Dictionary - entry for hurdy-gurdy 
2. Robert Green; Hurdy Gurdy in XVIII Century France. Publications of the Early Music Institute,  
Indiana University Press, 1995 
3. Margaret J. Kartomi: ‘On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments’. In:   
Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990 


02 January 2013

Hurdy Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (I)

Below is an opening from my recent paper on hurdy-gurdy in contemporaneity. The entire work will be published soon and is aimed mostly at the enthusiasts of the instrument:  

"The aim  of this dissertation is to  bring  the fact of presence of  a  relatively unknown musical instrument  –  the hurdy-gurdy  –  to reader’s attention  while focusing on the musicality of the instrument and its constant evolution throughout the history to modern times.   

The hurdy-gurdy is often considered a musical oddity – a novelty – often misunderstood due to its inaccurate etymology and – oddly enough – suffering a stigma of marginalisation which originated from outdated social class divisions throughout our history of culture. 

Those who decided to uncover the true past of the instrument often had to confront problems of a logistic or economic nature – e.g. the hurdy-gurdy is not easy to acquire, to build or to purchase. Those conditions  though lead to the creation of a special bond with the instrument, which I as a composer, researcher and hurdy-gurdy player, find unique and very rewarding; a bond which I could not successfully form with any popular and widely available musical instrument. 

While enthusiasm and dedication is necessary to become  a  competent player, the appreciation of the past of the hurdy-gurdy is very satisfying and inspirational adventure taking aspiring players through the sounds and musical idioms which are not easily found in popular streams  originating from past three centuries of popularized tradition.  

By presenting  the  current  status  quo  of this instrument, I am aiming at delivering  an  accessible compendium of information and insight into the plethora of potential musical application for the hurdy-gurdy, – with respect to currently available instruments, performed and recorded music and areas for further experimentation and development.   

In doing so, I decided to utilise  descriptive analyses  of  samples of  existing music representing different artistic approach  to the instrument; interviews with selected players and makers and my own personal experience with technical aspects of the hurdy-gurdy. 
Knowing the instrument without hearing its traditional oeuvre and playing it for the first time without knowing  ‘what to play’  is probably one of the most important moments in one’s own discovery of a new world of sounds.  

While  the  chronological brief included in this work addresses  a  wide historical scope, the main objective is to present the hurdy-gurdy as an able and adequate instrument for music students today, amateur and professional performers and enthusiasts alike, as well as for musicologists. 

The chapters discussing technical solutions allowing the hurdy-gurdy to be adequately incorporated into contemporary styles of music and its idioms require an  intermediate level of understanding of musical terminology and physical aspects of sound-production, conductivity of the sound waves and a basic level of knowledge on instrument maintenance and handling. A certain level of knowledge on electrification, amplification, recording and MIDI equipment is  advised yet not critical  for an understanding of this dissertation. 

The existing knowledge  about  the instrument suffers  from inadequacies in its scope  –  historical treaties are lacking musical application for contemporary player and many modern-day enthusiasts of the instrument are often limited in perceiving their instrument as a passable tool for contemporary improvisation and musical experiments.  I therefore believe that this dissertation will encapsulate the majority of the aspects of the instrument and shed a wider light on its presence in musical culture. "

19 June 2011

Birds of Hatgal Forest for Brass Quintet

Hatgal is a region in Mongolia - mostly unknown to foreigners and removed from stereotypical perceptions of Mongolian landscapes as plains of Gobi desert and rocks-filled steppes.

"Birds of Hatgal Forest" is a 6:30 piece inspired by sounds of birds, their interlocking patterns and brief melodies derived from randomly overlapping "melodic gestures". Glimpses of tonality here and there - accidental? Maybe intentional. As day passes, light changes - birds commencing new stories and their responses are flowing away with dynamic elements of the landscape - clouds, rivers, wind...

Brass Quintet seemed like the perfect choice - no woodwinds to induce stereotypical picture of singing birds... "Rawness" of brass striving for its gentle side when needed only to demonstrate its tutti power afterwards...

Below excerpt contain only first 9 pages. The whole score will be available from Wirripang soon. Or currently directly from composer ;)

18 June 2011

Work on Grimra

Grimra is a new show currently in the phase of artistic development by Drill Performance Company. Below track is an example of draft music I wrote for the opening sequence.

Grimra Opening Draft v1 by PMN Music Creations

More about Grimra and DPC:

Mockup Music for Saturn Electronics commercial

I have found this ad online and its unparalleled visuals inspired me straight away to write my own music for it.
I decided to follow up the idea of evolution to occur also in a musical layer...

The narrative leads us from didgeridoo soloing on the orchestral textures through to the sounds of Moog, Rhodes and other electronics. The percussive layer builds tension from simple shakers to Middle-eastern percussion ensemble then transforming to modern electronic percussion...

03 February 2011

Khustar - delight from Xinjiang

"Khushtar is part of the ancient Uyghur musical tradition. It was handmade in the tradition of Uyghur Master Instrument makers in Kashgar, Xinjiang - western border of China and Turkestan.
Khushtar is made from the wood of a mulberry tree. It has 11 strings; four are for playing, as with a normal violin, and the others are sympathetic strings that resonate along with the bowed strings (similar to a viola d'amore). 

The Khushtar is named for the carved bird that is placed on top of the handle. Khush means bird, and tar means strings. The sound of a Khushtar is very clear and resonate, reminiscent of a birdsong. The Khushtar evolved, in ancient Kashgar, from the venerable Ghijek instrument."

...When it arrived from China, it was fitted in a sturdy wooden box filled with wood shaves. One of the sympatetic pegs was broken but soon I learned that replacing them all with small violin ones, serve the purpose much better.

Tuning was somewhat tricky. Supposedly GDAE, the instrument felt very unnatural and heavy in the higher register, while the lower two strings G and D were soft and easy to play. My epiphany occurred when by accident  one of loose higher pegs jumped to D. Tuning GDG'D' works beautifully, and I will never touch the pegs to re-tune them... It very earthy, growling and dark when double stopping the 5th only to progress upwards on the lower drone string. The highest notes gives a variety of sonic reflections - from nasal high pitched ones to open, bright and freeing - all depends on the bowing, amount of rosin, the temperature and off course the mood of the instrument's soul ;) 

It was almost 6 years ago. Little bird at the top of the headpiece lost his (her?) beak and all the strings has been fitted with micro tuners from small violin...

Most of the learning was done rather impromptu during 2003 - 2007 when playing in a band called "Umanee" (http://www.pmnmusic.com/umanee/index.html). The repertoire was a mystical beverage made of Triglav's (Polish pagan god), Thor's (Scandinavian) and miscellaneous minor deities infusions including the pantheon of regressive rock-folk and rugged association with world music... Thanks to Michael O'Connor, Bill Thomson, Keryn Lientshnig, Rob Law, Dushan Mitrovic and Shakira Searle - I experienced very dynamic learning environment where my lack of proper bowing technique was not unwanted - it simply become "the sound" of the instrument which penetrated many of our textures and sonic landscapes...

(Umanee with Emah Fox, Montsalvat 2006)

And here our album LP version (from "Fravashi") with the guest vocals of Shakira Searle:

"Dzikie Pola" (Wild Steppe) with band Umanee - from "Fravashi" (2007)
by PMN Music Creations

Few years passed before I joined "Soteria Bell" and took on the Khushtar again. This time is more Hellenic, Balkan and even Uyghur - where it finally belong :)

Source: Global Times [17:29 July 14 2009]

Now a prominent instrument in the professional troupes, the khushtar viol was developed in the 1960s. It modeled its shape on instruments depicted in Xinjiang's early Buddhist cave murals. It is tuned and bowed like the professional ghijak, but its tone is lower and softer, since the whole instrument is made of wood. It is also found in soprano and tenor versions."

The maker of the instrument told me about the "Iconic" place of the Khushtar in the Uyghur national consciousness - it carries the connotations to the decades long fight with the Chinese government to gain an independence for the Uyghurs. Frankly, the instrument is now becoming the part of  traditional Chinese ensembles...
"The Uyghur (Uyghur: ئۇيغۇر‎, ULY: Uyghur; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Wéiwú'ěr; [ʔʊjˈʁʊː]) are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin.
The largest community of Uyghurs outside Xinjiang in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Smaller communities are found in major cities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Outside of China, large province." (from Wikipedia)