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The Concertina and Dissonance


LangoLee
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It seems that the most popular repertoire amongst contemporary concertina players is folk tunes, usually sticking to simple modal melodies, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. But while the anglo may have been designed for this purpose, the English concertina (and presumably duet) clearly invites experiments with chromaticism. The classical repertoire for the instrument seems to have been mostly written in the 19th C. Romantic era, which (with exceptions such as parts of Wagner and Liszt) generally avoided deliberate harshness. Regondi was no radical in this respect.

 

Although I too was initially drawn to the instrument via folk music, I've been thinking about how it might be used to play, not just classical arrangements, but more experimental sounds. A concertina may be limited in terms of possible 'extended technique', since its mechanical design makes it difficult to play against the grain in the same way as a stringed (e.g. col legno bowing) or blown wind (e.g. fluttertonguing) instrument, and the fixed tuning prevents microtones (unless one opens it up and fiddles with the reeds).

 

However, the EC has several possibilities for dissonant or atonal music, aided by the close spacing of the buttons. The major/minor second is generally regarded, in popular music, as an 'ugly' or 'wrong' sounding interval, but if one is going for an unnerving or unsettled sound, it can be very powerful, particularly in the extremes of the range. It is also possible to create very dense chords of, say, six or seven notes, using only a few fingers, something one couldn't do on a piano. I've only got a Jack baritone so far, but enjoy playing chords in the lower range, precisely to get the 'muddy', organ-like sound that some find unattractive. Conventional wisdom states that the concertina is not suited to these sorts of sounds, but I don't see why not.

 

At the other end, with trebles, one has the so-called 'dog-whistle' notes, which are surely the most underused part of the instrument. In the original East Asian free reed instruments (sheng, sho, khene), higher pitches are used to create very interesting sonorities; surely the upper range of a treble (or extended treble!) EC would be suited to something similar? Are there any known players who approach the instrument in terms of 'sound' rather than 'tunes'?

 

Has anyone tried to make arrangements of works by modernist composers (e.g. Schoenberg, Webern) for the EC? I looked in the thread archive and found someone who had done a twelvetone soundtrack for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which sounded promising, but the MP3 link was dead.

 

Would be interested in any further thoughts on this topic. Not trying to evangelise for atonalism here, merely thinking aloud.

Edited by LangoLee
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It seems that the most popular repertoire amongst contemporary concertina players is folk tunes, usually sticking to simple modal melodies, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. But while the anglo may have been designed for this purpose, the English concertina (and presumably duet) clearly invites experiments with chromaticism. The classical repertoire for the instrument seems to have been mostly written in the 19th C. Romantic era, which (with exceptions such as parts of Wagner and Liszt) generally avoided deliberate harshness. Regondi was no radical in this respect.

 

Although I too was initially drawn to the instrument via folk music, I've been thinking about how it might be used to play, not just classical arrangements, but more experimental sounds. A concertina may be limited in terms of possible 'extended technique', since its mechanical design makes it difficult to play against the grain in the same way as a stringed (e.g. col legno bowing) or blown wind (e.g. fluttertonguing) instrument, and the fixed tuning prevents microtones (unless one opens it up and fiddles with the reeds).

 

However, the EC has several possibilities for dissonant or atonal music, aided by the close spacing of the buttons. The major/minor second is generally regarded, in popular music, as an 'ugly' or 'wrong' sounding interval, but if one is going for an unnerving or unsettled sound, it can be very powerful, particularly in the extremes of the range. It is also possible to create very dense chords of, say, six or seven notes, using only a few fingers, something one couldn't do on a piano. I've only got a Jack baritone so far, but enjoy playing chords in the lower range, precisely to get the 'muddy', organ-like sound that some find unattractive. Conventional wisdom states that the concertina is not suited to these sorts of sounds, but I don't see why not.

 

At the other end, with trebles, one has the so-called 'dog-whistle' notes, which are surely the most underused part of the instrument. In the original East Asian free reed instruments (sheng, sho, khene), higher pitches are used to create very interesting sonorities; surely the upper range of a treble (or extended treble!) EC would be suited to something similar? Are there any known players who approach the instrument in terms of 'sound' rather than 'tunes'?

 

Has anyone tried to make arrangements of works by modernist composers (e.g. Schoenberg, Webern) for the EC? I looked in the thread archive and found someone who had done a twelvetone soundtrack for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which sounded promising, but the MP3 link was dead.

 

Would be interested in any further thoughts on this topic. Not trying to evangelise for atonalism here, merely thinking aloud.

 

You are undoubtedly correct in suggesting that the fullest potential of both the English and the Anglo Concertina is probably rarely fully utilised.

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Other ways of making "noises" on the concertina include:

 

Bending the note by increasing the air pressure (difference), without necessarily increasing the air flow through the reeds. This can be done by only partly depressing the button, and using quite a lot of bellows pressure.

 

Playing an interval of a third quite high up on the concertina. When two notes are played together you get a beat at a frequency that is equal to the difference between them. Towards the top end of the concertina range this difference is such that the beat becomes audible as a tone. Really quite ugly!

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It seems that the most popular repertoire amongst contemporary concertina players is folk tunes

I'm not sure this is true.If you hang about C.net it would seem so but go to a Squeeze In or a Whitney and the folkies are outnumbered.My impression anyway.

Robin

 

 

OUTNUMBERED BY WHAT?

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...the English concertina (and presumably duet) clearly invites experiments with chromaticism.

 

 

Indeed, I find myself NOT using my concertina on folk tunes but rather for thematic music (sound tracks, or attempts at them), and experimenting/improvising on both my Crane and Mccaan duets is loads of fun.

 

For folky stuff, which i do enjoy, I prefer my guitar and/or mandolin (I also built my own baglama a few years ago and amazingly its great for swing!)

 

I suggest giving a duet a go (if you can get your hands on one) to anybody contemplating concertina playing.

 

I also suggest looney tunes: the music scores in these cartoons are great. I especially like thematic music from late 40's early 60's movies. I was just playing my Crane last night to a movie from A&E "Gods and Goddesses" (well, there really only 5 themes played over and over again, not a great soundtrack).

 

reminds me, need to get back to my arrangement of "Chariots of Fire" for the 48 Key Crane duet.

Edited by Hooves
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I like to improvise and sometimes use dissonant chords. But I also like notes that are on the edge, also when playing together. I am not that fond of dissonant or atonal music. I see it more as something to spice up music with. Too much will get boring, but too much ''beautiful'' music can get boring too and sometimes needs a little adventure, like a note or a small passage that wakes you up. It has too be on the edge, not just any dissonant note or chord, so it is not that easy.

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Interesting topic.

 

Adventuresome musicians will no doubt take the instrument to the threshold of its capacities. I think of Pauline Oliveros with the PA. And I'm sure there are those who are "preparing" their concertinas in any manner of ways--especially those inclined toward mechanical experimentation.

 

As someone who began ardent listening to John Coltrane when I was in my early twenties, I too appreciate the expanded sonic palette forged by avant garde-ists through outside playing. I'd be most interested in hearing those exploiting "extended technique" as applied to EC and duet.

Edited by catty
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You might listen to the CD by Pauline De Snoo titled "Concertina Scape: Contemporary Music for Wheatstone's Concertina, 1985-2004," . . . . .see www.concertina-academy.com.................Allan

 

Thanks for that tip - I've seen some of her videos on YouTube. (Also, thanks for all of the responses above.)

 

Meanwhile, I found this interesting chart (via Wikipedia) of common chords played on the sho (Japanese mouthorgan, sonic cousin of the concertina), dense with adjacent notes - worth trying out for anyone seeking an otherworldly droning sound, although the fingering for some of them would be awkward on the EC:

 

800px-Standard_chords_of_sho.png

 

These seem to have been the sort of sounds favoured in ancient court music (> 1000 years ago).

Edited by LangoLee
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You might listen to the CD by Pauline De Snoo titled "Concertina Scape: Contemporary Music for Wheatstone's Concertina, 1985-2004," . . . . .see www.concertina-academy.com.................Allan

 

Thanks for that tip - I've seen some of her videos on YouTube. (Also, thanks for all of the responses above.)

 

Meanwhile, I found this interesting chart (via Wikipedia) of common chords played on the sho (Japanese mouthorgan, sonic cousin of the concertina), dense with adjacent notes - worth trying out for anyone seeking an otherworldly droning sound, although the fingering for some of them would be awkward on the EC:

 

800px-Standard_chords_of_sho.png

 

These seem to have been the sort of sounds favoured in ancient court music (> 1000 years ago).

 

They don't sound very nice on a Wheatstone. Bit baffled by them. What do you do with them?

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Meanwhile, I found this interesting chart (via Wikipedia) of common chords played on the sho (Japanese mouthorgan, sonic cousin of the concertina), dense with adjacent notes - worth trying out for anyone seeking an otherworldly droning sound,...

800px-Standard_chords_of_sho.png

...although the fingering for some of them would be awkward on the EC

I just tried them on a treble EC. Not something I would sight read. ;)

 

As for fingering, I found them all possible, but an extreme exercise in using a single finger to press more than one button. I doubt that I'll be practicing these any time soon, though, since I have no desire to hear these "chords" with any frequency. B) (Yeah, that emoticon should really be with ear plugs, not dark glasses.)

 

These seem to have been the sort of sounds favoured in ancient court music (> 1000 years ago).

Could be, but I wouldn't be surprised if something was lost in translation. Any idea what "temperament" they used?

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These seem to have been the sort of sounds favoured in ancient court music (> 1000 years ago).

Could be, but I wouldn't be surprised if something was lost in translation. Any idea what "temperament" they used?

 

Here is a YouTube clip of a Japanese gagaku performance (a tradition pre-dating Western classical music), presumably accurately reproduced - the sho is the instrument on the right. It may sound a bit shrill and discordant to some Western ears, but then many would say the same about the European bagpipe or hurdy-gurdy:

 

Edited by LangoLee
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Here is a YouTube clip of a Japanese gagaku performance...

 

Not a clip from some low-budget science-fiction movie?

 

Compared to this, an Irish "slow air" is a frantic race.

More seriously:
It is interesting, but definitely not my cup of tea.

 

I tend to agree - about the tea, I mean! I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed the sho solo rather more. I heard one live once, and the sound reminded me of the English concertina.

 

Listening to the clips that came up along with that one, I must say that I find Japanese plucked strings much more pleasant, more approachable. Somehow closer to me. After all, the shamisen is just another form of banjo :rolleyes:

 

Cheers,

John

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Ancient Asian arts are often sublime--undoubtedly beyond the range of the normal Western aesthetic to "enjoy." Yet, with nature being so central in the Asian aesthestic, I find their musical expressions, especially, accessible...much more than, say, John Zorn's duck call fancy...even though I am much closer to Zorn--in space and time--in the universe.

 

Zorn's, like Braxton, is intellectually derived to a degree that makes it much more "outside," to me, than most music produced on the other side of the planet, and from centuries ago. Although able to groove with the best--as well as uphold tradition--Zorn's post-modernism has also integrated the techno-industrial aesthetic--which is where I usually lose interest, with some exception..

Edited by catty
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Ancient Asian arts are often sublime...

If that Asian art is "sublime",

It's to their ears (or yours?), but not mine.

I've heard others muster

A more pleasant tone cluster,

And I don't think that "pleasant"'s a crime.

...undoubtedly beyond the range of the normal Western aesthetic to "enjoy."

Hmm. Don't sadists say that torture is a "pleasure" that "ordinary" people lack the refinement to enjoy?

 

While it (either of the above) is definitely a different aesthetic from mine, I don't for a minute accept the implication that it's somehow superior to my own.

 

...with nature being so central in the Asian aesthestic,...

Is it? An American colleague who lived and worked in Japan for the better part of a year came back with this observation:

"The Japanese claim to have a great love of nature, but
they always have to move at least one pebble
."

Maybe one of our Japanese members could comment on that?

 

I find their musical expressions, especially, accessible...much more than, say, John Zorn's duck call fancy

I like some Eastern music, but not all. Definitely not the performance in that video. And as for "nature", that performance strikes me as rigidly stylized to the point that a clockwork puppet show would be closer to "nature". I'm not familiar with John Zorn, but a quick YouTube search led me to some things I like and others I found annoying. Nothing associating him with a duck call, though, so I don't know how I'd feel about that one.

 

...even though I am much closer to Zorn--in space and time--in the universe.

Can you see him from your front porch? (Sorry, I couldn't resist. B))

 

Zorn's, like Braxton, is intellectually derived to a degree that makes it much more "outside," to me, than most music produced on the other side of the planet, and from centuries ago.

I don't know Braxton, either, but as I indicated above, that particular performance strikes me as artificial -- "intellectually derived"? -- in the extreme. And just being old doesn't automatically make it close to nature. The rumble of rockslide, the snarl of a cat, the call of a magpie. and the chirping and twittering of a flock of songbirds are all natural dissonances, but those particular tone clusters on the sho resemble nothing I'm familiar with in nature.

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