I recently attended a great concert by Rarescale which incorporated music by contemporary composers for bass clarinet, low flutes and electronics. I have made notes on some of the pieces I heard, by composers who were all new to me.
Greg Caffrey: Nocturne
This piece by the Northern Irish composer was written for bass flute and bass clarinet. I had never heard the bass flute being performed before, and I thought it was a great combination – the sounds blend together really well. This piece had a combination of quite meandering melodies as well as sudden, quick melodic flourishes. It’s a very expressive piece, with intense crescendos and diminuendos through long, sustained notes. There are several instances where the flute and clarinet play a semitone apart, creating a beating effect which sounds very resonant on these low instruments.
Sohrab Udumann: Penumbra
This piece was composed for solo bass clarinet and live electronics (the first time I have heard live electronics being used in a performance). The electronics part featured recorded clarinet sounds which the live instrumental part appears to morph into. I heard this technique used later in another new piece for recorder and electronics – I think it can create quite an appealing and interesting effect, whereby the listener is not sure where the performer’s sound ends and the recording begins. When electronics are used to manipulate the recorded sound in some way as well (e.g. by extending its duration, adding resonance or pitch bend), it can be particularly effective. This piece has no definable rhythm or tempo – sometimes sounds entering gradually and other times jumping around frantically. I think it creates an atmospheric soundscape.
Unfortunately I missed the title of this piece, but it was written by the Irish composer Ryan Molloy whose work integrates traditional Irish music with contemporary music. This particular piece was played on bass clarinet, and uses multiphonics created from very deep notes which reminds me of the sound of a didgeridoo – I think it has quite a raw, tribal feel. The performer seemed to be able to control the relative amounts of the harmonics in each note in a very beautifully expressive way.