…or effect that you ever asked for from a player in a score of yours, that surprised you by how well it worked? (Bonus points for telling us what made it so musically essential for you to ask for it.)

14 Responses to “The most unusual instrumental technique…”
  1. Daniel says:

    For violin: Four beats, with the bow, legato. Musically essential: Because everyone else is writing for col legno, sul ponticello, while screaming in Urdu your favority color while standing on your head in the middle of Central Park.

  2. Seth Gordon says:

    Tough… since I’m my own player 90% of the time. And I generally have a pretty good idea of what will “work” (in terms of sonic effects) in my head before trying it. I suppose the oddest would be playing the guitar with an electric toothbrush – the spinny kind, not the up-and-down kind. Yes, it was kind of a rip-off of EVH playing with the drill on Poundcake, but more controllable since you could limit it to one string at a time, actually (kinda) play runs with it. Added bonus was it didn’t wear down the strings nearly as much. I wanted a sound that would “swell” in and have indefinite sustain but be grittier than the usual ways of accomplishing that, like an eBow. Only works on an electric axe, really, since micing an acoustic would pick up too much of the motor noise.

    Second question: what’s the most unusual instrumental technique you thought of that fell short – and what were you trying to accomplish?

  3. Tom Myron says:

    Sound effects date fast. Nonetheless, there’s a certain oboist that I’d like to hear under water but frankly I don’t need the legal hassle.

  4. The most surprising instrumental effect I have is not notated as an eccentric technique. Instead, it’s a couple of passages in “20 Worlds” where I was playing piano I and Dante Oei was playing piano II and there were moments where I could not tell whether what I heard was what I was playing or what Dante was playing. This came out of the way the texture was organized and not quite synchronized. I think of that as an ecstatic experience – quite literally, because there’s a rupture between hearing mind and playing mind; and there’s an uncontrolled emergent subjectivity coming from the two pianos combined. So as a player, you feel oustide yourself, which is more or less what ecstatic means.

  5. Steve Layton says:

    C’mon Tom; sure, “sound effects” date fast, but I asked about musical effects, no matter how unusual. More importantly, ones that worked in the piece and still do, no matter the date. Which is why I didn’t include Seth’s second question, though now he’s brought it up we might as well hear the horror stories too.

  6. Chris Becker says:

    Each musician I work with creates sounds that cannot be notated. Sometimes I’ll ask about certain gear or techniques they are using and we’ll make a note if we’re trying to create a musical moment that can be repeated. But it’s not like I can pass along this information to another musician and get the same results.

    I actually have trouble composing a work if I don’t know who is going to play it. I craft my music around that musician and they stretch themselves to come towards my ideas and concepts.

    Perspective is something to be aware of…an “unusual” instrumental technique to a Western musician might be a totally common way of playing to someone else (non-Western or someone just removed from the composers experience). Some composers spend a lot of time patting themselves on the back for their “new” concepts and techniques not realizing that these things have been in the air since the beginning of time.

  7. Matthew says:

    Bouncing a standard red grade-school issue kickball up and down a vibraphone with the pedal held down. Started out as solely a visual gag (it was for a children’s piece; and I was trying give the ensemble a lot of theatrical eye candy) but the sound came out just as entertaining: like punching a weirdly resonant, Messaienic heavy bag. Now I just need to figure out how to do it without it looking so ridiculous—the children’s piece will likely remain in the drawer (too hard for its own good) but I’d love to re-use that particular sound somewhere.

  8. Seth Gordon says:

    Now I just need to figure out how to do it without it looking so ridiculous

    Hmmm…. Holding two mallets crossed in one hand (a la Gary Burton or whoever…), squeeze the kickball between them, slightly above it’s equator. Secure with superglue. Maybe glue the mallets where they cross as well, so you’ve kind of got a “kickball with a handle”

    Dunno if that’d work (or if you’ve already tried something similar…) – just an idea.

  9. Daniel Wolf says:

    That’d be a trombone muted with an umbrella in my “Seven Etudes”. The umbrella mechanism allowed for flexible positioning within the bell in order to facilitate the isolatation of particular partials, imitating speech. The umbrella also came in handy because the theatre we played in had no backstage area, it was raining hard, and I had to enter directly from an external door.

  10. Aaron says:

    \\\”Sound effects date fast.\\\”

    Yup. Like that Berlioz hack. Nothing but gimmicks. Thank goodness people saw through that and the pieces just disappeared into historical footnotes.



    Back on topic …

    This is probably the most unusual technique I\\\’ve ever asked for in a piece … http://www.aaroncassidy.com/download/purples.pdf

    Though this is a close second:

    And Daniel … where can I hear the trombone/umbrella work?

  11. Matan says:

    A slight overshot:
    I asked a symphony orchestra to stomp their feet lightly in time at a certain section of a piece that was partially blues inspired. The conductor thought presicion was of the essence, and consequently insisted on everyone stomping in unison. My desired effect: a solo Blues musician pounding time as he plays. Sounded like: imperial storm troupers on the march. OUCH!

  12. Jeff says:

    Once had a cellist sing into her F-hole(minds out of the gutter, people). The resonance was great.

  13. rama says:

    i’ve got this orchestra piece going on next week 2/23 at the manhattan school (122nd/broadway 7:30 free) where i have the tuba player smacking the mouth piece with her hand. seems silly, and i’ve seen it before, but i can’t believe how well it works!

  14. Taylan Cihan says:

    Try playing percussion instruments with a chain; not hitting violently of course, but shaking several chains, that slightly touch to the instruments’ surface, while moving your hand gradually up and down. Works very well especially over the instruments that are made from metals; cymbals, cowbells etc. Get at least three percussion players with different size of chains in each hand, playing instruments with different timbral characteristics at the same time, a very delicate and dense texture will occur..