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The Art of Noise- Percussion in the 20th Century
Transcript of The Art of Noise- Percussion in the 20th Century
Percussion in the
& Categorization of Instruments
Musicologists divide instruments into five distinct categories based on how the instruments produce sound. These categories are as follows:
create sound with air. A column of air can be split with the presence of a mouthpiece or reed. The variety of methods of splitting the air stream or instigating a column of air to vibrate is one of the main contributors to instrumental color.
create sound with string. The taught string, stretched over a body is the most common form of a chordophone. The strings can be set in motion by plucking them, striking them, strumming them, or bowing them.
create sound with a stretched membrane (of a variety of materials). A majority of the instruments that call into this category are drums.
create sound by electronic means. This is a new category of instruments that includes synthesizers, computers, drum machines, etc.
create sound with the body of the instrument itself. Any body noises (clapping, snapping, singing, etc...) fall in this category, as do percussion instruments such as claves, as the sound is produces by beating the two clave sticks against one another.
Composers, conductors, arrangers, and musicians in general tend to divide these instruments by family or group within the orchestra. These labels are determined by both the material that each instrument is made of, but also by the role each instrument plays within the orchestra.
is the most diverse family of instruments. This family, like the woodwinds, is broken down into further categories, in this case, the first division it into pitched and indefinite-pitched instruments. The un-pitched (indefinite) instruments are then broken down by the material they are made out of.
Bamboo Wind Chimes
Keyboard instruments (such as the Piano, Harpsichord, Celeste, and Organ) are sometimes grouped in the percussion family, or further divided into a category of their own. Keyboard instruments produce sound in a variety of ways, but there is always a ‘third-party’ mechanism involved in the production of sound. For example, a Celeste is really not much different than a Glockenspiel- the bars inside the instrument are metal, but instead of striking the bars individually with a mallet, a player uses a keyboard which triggers an internal “mallet” to strike the bar, producing the sound.
Orchestral Seating Diagram
& its Relationship to Percussion
the use of percussion in the orchestra was limited to the TIMPANI during the Baroque and Classical Eras
the use of percussion expanded dramatically during the Romantic Era, as orchestral works tried to evoke programmatic details
the use of percussion on it’s own, or ensembles made of percussion instruments only is a revolution of the 20th century concert music scene
Urban Noise in
20th Century Concert Music:
‘Ballet Mechanique’ (1924)
uses player pianos, which “played by themselves” with the use of a music roll that was hand-punched
includes urban sounds like sirens, a wind machine, and even alarms
is an example of a work from a futurist composer. These composers during the 1920s were interested in creating new percussion instruments at the foundation of their futuristic ensembles
the accompanying film also challenges the tradition concept of film making and the “mandatory narrative”
rhythmic cells are resued from instrument to instrument to create material
is arguably the first work for percussion ensemble
only the very end of the work uses pitched instruments. The majority of the work utilizes unpitched instruments
challenges the idea of who is the actually creating the music (performer? or the audience?)
questions the idea of silence and whether or not it truly exists
is always different from performance to performance, perhaps more so than traditionally notated music
‘Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes’- Opening (1962)
makes the metronome, usually used in the absence of a conductor, a percussion instrument
when set into motion, each metronome being set at a slightly different tempo will create polyrhythms during the performance
this is another example of process music like Reich’s ‘Piano Phase’ and ‘Clapping Music’
the work is not traditionally notated with rhythms, but rather presented as a text piece which was typical of music made during the fluxus movement
excerpt from ‘Le Grand Macabre’- Opening (1974-76)
the whole introduction uses car and bike horns for percussion instruments
no one honk of the horn is the same, so the introduction to the opera varies from performance to performance
Mid-20th Century Concert Music
and the Influence of World Music
'Ostinato Pianissimo’ (1934)
uses the prepared piano, like John Cage
the instruments for this piece can change from performance to performance
once of the pitched instruments is unconventional- it’s a set of pitched porcelain bowls that the performer is responsible for providing
this instrument is loosely modeled after gamelan mallet instruments from places such as Bali
there are other conventional instruments in this work, such as the marimba
‘Fugue for Percussion’ (1941)
some metal instruments such as the flexitone can change pitch by manipulating the amount of surface area that is allowed to resonate. The same is true of instruments such as John Cage’s water gong (‘Second Construction’)
the unconventionally tuned resonating metal instruments, like Cowell, are interpretations of gamelan inspired sounds
a fugue is a form of music that was popular during the baroque era and creates imitative polyphony in texture
The Use of Percussion Outside
of the Western Classical Cannon
Japanese Drumming- Taiko Drums
the beginning of this excerpt has a long crescendo (instruments starting soft and gradually getting louder)
depending on the volume at which the instrumentalists play, there is a difference in the timbre (tone color) of the drum
this is also true based on where you strike the drum (ranging from the center to the edge of the drum)
Taiko Drums are examples of skinned membranophones and are considered unpitched
Baka Forest People- Water Drumming
by using the hand against water to create the percussive sound, these instruments are considered idiophones
by changing the shape of the hand, the force at which the hand meets the water, etc.... the timbre (tone color) of each percussionist will vary slightly, and offers a wide range of coloristic effects
Shabaz Hussain- Tabla Drumming
excerpt from ‘TEDxTalks’ demonstration
every Tabla player is equipped with two drums. The smaller drum creates a higher pitch and the lower drum creates a lower pitch
the skin on these membranophones is somewhat flexible, and by pressing down on the head of the drum at various points with various amounts of pressure, the pitch of each of these drums can change
the rhythms and pitch inflections played by the performer are also learned verbally by the performer, in order to assure that all of the nuances are noted.