Dr Christine Potter – An Interview

– Email Interview with Peter Sheridan –

Christine_potter

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?

Many years ago I decided to work on the JS Bach Allemande from the Solo Sonata on alto because it would be harder than on c flute. Since my school had only a straight tube alto and I have short arms, I never thought of pursuing the alto until I went to my first NFA convention and saw there were curved head altos. I feel in love with the sound. Once I was able to buy one, I then had to find out what I could play on my new alto. There was no available compilation of repertoire, so I spent hours in the back room of a music store making a list of pieces from publishers catalogues.

 

AS AN ACTIVE COMMISSIONER OF LOW FLUTES MUSIC, WHAT MOTIVATED THIS DESIRE?

I wanted more fun pieces to play and conduct!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN AN ACTIVE EDUCATOR OVER THE YEARS, WITH A SUBSTANTIAL BODY OF PUBLISHED PEDAGOGICAL BOOKS, REPERTOIRE LISTS AND ARTICLES.  WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS MEDIUM?

My first book was a scale book that can be played as a duet, trio or quartet. I wrote this when I scheduled myself to perform a duet with Carol Wincenc at a Festival I was organizing. I needed to find time to practice and scales were something I played with my students, so I turned scales into duets. That book was hugely successful at the NFA convention, and from there, I wrote books that filled other needs. I wanted to play Halloween Duets with my students at a Halloween studio recital, and nothing existed, so I arranged some. There needed to be a book teaching people about vibrato, so I spent three years writing one. It has definitely been a labor of love, I figure I have earned about .05 an hour with all the time I spend.

 

My need to make lists of

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H

I

N

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I attribute to a personality disorder!

 

YOU WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN STARTING THE INNOVATIVE NATIONAL FLUTE ASSOCIATION ‘LOW FLUTES’ COMMITTEE SOME FIVE YEARS AGO NOW.

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THIS EXCITING OPPORTUNITY.

The NFA Board approached me with the idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it first. I made it my mission to spread the word about low flutes, to enrich the available repertoire and show that low flutes were not just for simple repetitive parts in a flute choir, but were capable of being expressive solo instruments. Many more events for low flutes are now programmed at conventions, and the music written for these events is blossoming, spreading out into the world and popping up in many wonderful places.

 

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR ANNUAL ALTO/BASS FLUTE RETREAT IN THE USA?

My father died several years ago and it made me think about what I wanted to accomplish while I still could. The first Retreat in 2004 was actually in a masterclass format that did not work very well since most of the people who came were not solo performers. Now I focus on chamber music that makes everyone happy, and I include two workshops that change topics from year to year. This year I have two Retreats, one in Colorado and one in Asheville, NC.

 

WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS

Matthias Ziegler is terrific! Then there is this guy in Australia . . . . . .

 

 

COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?

Katherine Hoover’s Two for Two, Daniel Rhone’s Bethlehem Pastorale, Matthias Ziegler’s Low Flutes at High Tides, Mike Mower’s Obstinato and Scareso.

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?

 

I would like to see alto flute taught at the college level equal to the piccolo and included in undergraduate and graduate recitals. I would like to see an international competition for alto flute and bass flute soloist. We have the repertoire to make this a reality, but would need to find some funding sources for the prizes, plus a suitable venue. I hope it will become commonplace for world renowned artists to include alto or bass pieces in their programs.

 

How does being Flute Choir Coordinator and Low Flutes Choir Conductor at the Galway Festival fit into your dream of world domination?

 

When I was asked to perform Matthias Ziegler’s Low Flutes at High Tides at the Galway Festival in 2013, I was thrilled. I was given top students to work with and the Galway’s were so pleased, they created a job for me and asked me to return the following summer. I will be returning again this summer with permission to program even more low flutes pieces. By including these works in their Festival, the Galway’s are recognizing the value and quality of the repertoire that is being created for low flutes and sending that message to the rest of the flute world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Dr Christine Potter

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). Chris spent five years as Chair of the National Flute Association’s Low Flutes Committee and developed the low flutes portion of the annual NFA conventions with numerous performances, world premiers and workshops. She directs a low flutes choir at the James Galway Festival in Weggis, Switzerland, where she is also the flute choir coordinator.

Her CD, Flute Menagerie, features solo works for alto and bass. Chris has commissioned and premiered many works for alto and bass, including Low Flutes at High Tides for low flutes choir and Voices for solo bass by Matthias Ziegler, Voices From the Deep and The Alchemy of Earth by Alexandra Molnar-Sujahda, Deep Space Heat Wave by Jonathan Cohen, Stone Suite by Sonny Burnette, Baikal Journey by Catherine McMichael, Obstinato and Scareso by Mike Mower, Two for Two by Katherine Hoover, and Ani Ma’Amin by Paul Schoenfeld.

Chris has appeared on the cover of Flute Talk magazine in with the 10-foot high sculpture of a bass flute in her front yard. She is a frequent contributor to Flute Talk as well as The Flute View and The Quarterly, the magazine of the National Flute Association.

Chris has been organizing and teaching Alto and Bass Flute Retreats since 2004. In 2015 there will be two Retreats, one in Asheville North Carolina, one in Boulder, Colorado. Both will be in June. Chamber music is the focus of each Retreat. Go to the “Retreat/Events” tab for information on the Retreats.

She has written and arranged fifteen books. Her latest contribution is Tres Ratoncitos Ciegos (Three Blind Mice) for flute choir premiered at the 2014 convention. Her books Halloween Duets and The Alto and Bass Flute Resource Book were both winners in the National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music Competition. Her best selling book is The Vibrato Workbook published by Falls House Press. All her books are available on this website.

Chris is known for her clever and innovative performances. She has organized concerts in planetariums, recorded a soundtrack in sea caves from a kayak for an improvised bass flute solo titled SplishSplash!, includes a movie in her performance of Lunar Mural 1, and organizes audience participation, including sing-a-longs.

 

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Alice Bennett – An Interview

Alice_Bennett

Melbourne-based flutist and sound artist Alice Bennett possesses a keen interest in contemporary Australian music and the low flutes, and has most recently developed a penchant for exploratory improvisation. After completing a Bachelor of Music with Honours at Monash University, Alice travelled to Austria for the Impuls 8th International Ensemble and Composers Academy for Contemporary Music 2013 where she studied contemporary flute techniques with Eva Furrer, and improvisation with Manon-Liu Winter and Frank Gratkowski.

Alice has had the privilege of premiering works by Houston Dunleavy, Peter Senchuk, Vaughan McAlley, Mitchell Mollison, and Katia Tiutiunnik, and has received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts. She is an active committee member of the Victorian Flute Guild, and performs with contemporary ensemble Faux Foe. Alice currently spends most of her time working on her Project 365, a challenge to complete and publicly release 365 original works during one year, and also enjoys cooking, drinking nice wine and hanging out with her pet rabbits.

Alice is a co-founder of Tilde New Music and Sound Art – a multi-platform project which aims to promote Australian art music, including but not limited to: improvisation, sound art, and works by people who aren’t dead yet. The first stage of this project was a mini festival held on Sunday 26th January at Testing Grounds, Melbourne. The festival featured performances of some of Melbourne’s most innovative sound artists and performers, and hosted the launch of the Tilde Roving Sound Art Gallery. www.tilde.net.au

 

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?

One morning in my first year of university I stumbled out of my dorm room having enjoyed way too much vino the night before, and seedily made my way to the weekly flute workshop. I waited with my classmates for a guest lecturer to appear. We had no idea who this person was or what they did. Little did I know that they were one of only a handful of low flutes specialists in the world, nor how lucky we all were to get our hands on a contrabass flute. One note and I was hooked.

 

AS AN ACTIVE PERFORMER AND IMPROVISOR, YOU HAVE JUST COMPLETED A MOST INTERESTING PROJECT TITLED 365.  TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS.

Throughout 2014 I took part in the WeeklyBeats Challenge (www.weeklybeats.com), where participants compose/record one piece of music per week for the duration of a year. I found the process so useful and inspiring that I attempted to do the same every day. Having a constant deadline and outcome (publicly releasing each track) gave me the motivation to experiment and work on my skills every day, and that includes improvising, using Ableton Live and other software, recording techniques and website management as well as playing. WeeklyBeats also gives you access to a community of peers who give weekly feedback and support.

 

YOU HAVE PERFORMED ON THE BASS FLUTE IN SEVERAL FLUTE CHAMBER ENSEMBLES? WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE, IN YOUR OPINION, OF THIS INSTRUMENTS SOUND WITHIN THE ENSEMBLE.

The bass flute adds two qualities to an ensemble: timbre and low-end support. The timbre of the bass is my personal favourite of the flute family; it can growl and grunt in the bottom register and is sweetest in the third. Its sound produces many more partials due to its wider bore, and it is almost as agile as a regular flute. It performs an invaluable role in the flute ensemble by filling out the lower end and supporting the lowest flutes that are not always loud or plentiful enough to counter-balance the top end.

 

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION IN STARTING YOUR ANNUAL ‘TILDE NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL’ IN MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA? 

The festival was inspired by the European new music festivals such as Darmstadt in Germany and Impuls in Austria. Tilde aims to promote contemporary art music including improvisation, sound art and works by living composers. It also provides a rare opportunity for composers, performers and sound artists to get together and interact with a growing network of new music enthusiasts and to showcase their work in a relaxing outdoor environment. The 2015 Tilde New Music Festival will be held on Saturday 24th January at Testing Grounds in Southbank, Melbourne. www.tilde.net.au

 

WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS

Three of my favourites:

Matthias Zeigler, Switzerland – Matthias’ album Uakti demonstrates his experimentation in amplifying the microsounds produced by the contrabass flute, creating interesting and engaging electroacoustic works.

Eva Furrer, Austria – Eva is a fantastic flutist and performer who plays some of the most challenging works for bass flute in the contemporary European style.

Peter Sheridan, Australia – Peter has the deepest, most resonant sound of any low flutes player I have heard. He makes the instruments sing, defying any restraint that the sometimes-clumsy instruments have.

 

COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?

I don’t have a single favourite, but the following are great works for low flutes:

Salvatore Sciarrino – Opera for Solo Flute/Bass Flute

Beat Furrer – Ira-Arca for bass flute and double bass

Vincent Giles – Differing Dialogues for bass flute and pre-recorded low flutes

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE (AND HEAR) FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?

With technical innovations making low flutes cheaper and more accessible to performers and students, these instruments are becoming more and more popular with both performers and composers. I see a lot of good music making in the future!

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Carla Rees – An Interview

Happy NEW YEAR to all our readers out there!

I had the wonderful opportunity to have a brief chat to the outstanding British Low Flutes specialist, Carla Rees the other day. This extraordinary performer, arranger and improviser has contributed so much to promotion and enthusiasm of these instruments, that it is only fitting to have her intriguing story as our very first ‘featured artist.’ We hope you enjoy the story and performance links.

Carla Rees

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE LOW FLUTES?

I first played an alto on a flute course as a teenager and fell in love with it. I lived in a rural area where there weren’t many flute teachers, and began teaching at the age of 14 after I did ABRSM Grade 8. I charged £3 a lesson, and saved up until I had enough to buy an alto flute. They were hard to find at that time, and I managed to get a second hand Monnig for £1000  – it changed my life! I loved the sound, and it opened up a lot of opportunities because I was the only one that had one. My first lessons on alto didn’t come until much later -when I was at the Royal College of Music, there was a masterclass once with Mary Karen Clardy, which helped me realise I was on the right track, and later Simon Channing joined the faculty. He ​did some orchestral alto playing and was kind enough to give me some lessons. By the end of my undergraduate I was convinced I wanted to specialise on alto – and later added bass (and now contrabass) to my low flutes collection.

 

HOW MANY COMPOSITIONS HAVE YOU COMMISSIONED FOR THESE UNIQUE INSTRUMENTS?

It’s hard to say exactly because my archives were lost in a house fire in 2011. I started working with composers around 15 years ago, and now I get sent a new piece through the call for scores nearly every week. I think it’s probably close to around 800 pieces that have​​ been written for me, but a smaller number (300 maybe) that have been written as part of a closer collaboration with composers.​ My ensemble, rarescale, premieres around 30 pieces a year, and I do more premieres with other projects too. I’ve also had nearly 100 works written specially for Kingma System low flutes.

 

AS AN ACTIVE COMMISSIONER OF LOW FLUTES MUSIC, WHAT MOTIVATED THIS JOURNEY?

​I started off wanting to specialise on chamber music repertoire for the alto flute in around 2000. At that time there were very few published pieces, and what I could find was either too musically bland or extreme contemporary repertoire, neither of which were particularly suitable for me at the time. So I set about to create the repertoire, and formed rarescale as a flexible chamber ensemble in 2003 to help promote the works through performance, and in 2012 I launched Tetractys Publishing to make some of the pieces available to the general public.​

 

YOUR WORK WITH ELECTRONICS HAS BEEN SUBSTANTIAL OVER THE YEARS. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS MEDIUM?

​When I was at the RCM, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Michael Oliva, an electroacoustic composer. He has a particular interest in writing music for low woodwind instruments, so it was inevitable that we’d start a collaboration. We’ve been working together now for around 15 years, and his music incredibly idiomatic for low flutes. ​ He understands the instruments​ and his language combines the tradition of Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin with the spectral language of Murail. It’s music that has something expressive to say, and which is a real pleasure to play.

 

YOU ARE A CHAMPION ‘QUARTER-TONE’ PLAYER AS YOU WERE ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF THE EARLY ALTO FLUTE INSTRUMENT. YOUR GRADUATE WORK IS BASED ON THIS TOPIC. WHAT ARTIST OR WORK INSPIRED THIS EXPLORATION.

​My Masters research was on the history of the alto flute since Boehm. During that time (1999 ish) I heard about Eva Kingma’s development of a quartertone system flute. I was finding the closed holes of the alto flute a major obstacle in musical expression – I had studied a little bit with Robert Dick and extended techniques were (and still are) part of my musical language. I was a major frustration having to deal with the​ limitations of a closed hole alto – so I approached Eva about a Kingma system alto.  The system has developed and refined since then, ​and the ergonomics, as well as head joint design, have improved significantly. Now you can do more with a Kingma System alto than a standard C flute, and my doctoral research explores how the Kingma System can be used to develop repertoire on both alto and bass flute. As part of it I made websites about each instrument – www.altoflute.co.uk and www.bassflute.co.uk it’s an enormous privilege to be part of the dialogue between composers and makers, and the repertoire, and the instrument itself, develops as a result of this dialogue.

 

WHOM ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOW FLUTE ARTISTS?

​I love the diversity of my low flute playing colleagues, and it’s a real honour to be able to work with them. Each one of the world leading players has their own area of special interest, and a personal repertoire develops around them. Every time I get to work with them I learn more and more – and have a great time too!​

 

COULD YOU TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WORK FOR THE LOW FLUTES?

​That’s a hard one – so many great pieces! Michael Oliva’s Apparition and Release has become something of a theme tune for me – we’ve performed it over 80 times now I think. But there are sooo many great pieces in different styles…I could give you a massive list!!​

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE (AND HEAR) FOR THE FUTURE OF LOW FLUTES?

​Low flutes are becoming increasingly important in the flute world. When I started out it was several years before I met anyone else with an alto flute – now everyone has them. It’s a very exciting time – the repertoire that has been developed over the last 15 years is now starting to be played by more people, and the instruments are improving all the time. ​

 

RECORDINGS (Sound files):

Michael’s Apparition and Release – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi5uf9CVQcg

Multitracked arrangement of Lotti – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/lotti-arr-carla-rees-crucifixus-in-8-parts

And a bit of Bach – https://soundcloud.com/rarescale/js-bach-sarabande-from-cello

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Developing Tone on the Alto Flute

Tone is an aspect of flute playing that takes many hours of critical listening and experimentation. The alto flute can produce a tone that is richer, deeper and warmer than the c flute, but it does not leap out of the alto as soon as we start playing. Like the c flute, the alto will sound best if you take full, deep breaths, create a large open space inside your mouth, have a relaxed and open throat and are covering just 20% or so of the flute’s embouchure opening. I cannot emphasize enough that a deep and full breath is critical to getting a big sound. Your body is an amplifier for the flute sound, and the more space you create inside your body, the deeper and richer your tone will be. A flute breath involves the entire torso, it is very similar to yawning. Think “Ah.” Work with a teacher to help discover how to make this kind of breath a default breath when playing the flute. Here is the link to my video on breathing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcB9PSgsDkc

To find your clearest tone possible, focus on the lips. Most people’s lips have an opening that is much too large. The target area for the air inside the flute is similar in shape to a thin ribbon. The opening in the lips should be comparable to avoid wasting air; it is basically a small and somewhat flattened oval. If you can see the opening in your lips in a mirror, it is too big. The best aid I have found to work with students on the lip opening size is a straw used to stir coffee. Get a mirror and one of these straws. Put the straw between your lips and blow through it strongly enough that you can hear the air hissing out: keep blowing and remove the straw. Observe how small the opening is and what muscles are involved in maintaining that small opening. Then get your flute and play any note. Observe the opening in the lips. We are trying to get as close as we can to the opening size of the straw because this will result in two wonderful things; you will use less air so you can play longer phrases and, you will produce a solid and clearer tone. I deal with this topic in my YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaeHSbGyGWM

Some people aim the air a little too high into the headjoint, resulting in a loud, hissing, unfocused tone. Some people cover too much of the flute mouthpiece opening, resulting in a clear but soft smothered tone with no dynamic range. A teacher can help you find the middle ground.

The lip position for alto is very similar to the lip position of the c flute, it is only slightly more relaxed. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 15% more relaxed. If your lips on c flute are already too relaxed, you may actually need to firm up your lips more than they are. This will help your tone on both instruments. If you like your tone on c flute, just keep the corners of the lips soft when playing alto. Usually we are playing alto because we like the less edgy and warmer, rounder sound. On alto, play with a sound less like an arrow and more like a warm cinnamon roll.

Spend time playing slow, simple melodies on alto so you can think about your tone and what you would like to improve about it. I have a collection of favorite pieces I use for this purpose. If you want to improve your tone, you must spend time listening to it without the distraction of too many notes. If you don’t like what you hear, you have taken the first step. Take step two and decide to do something about it.

Copyright Mar. 2013, Chris Potter

 

About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates

 

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Alto Flute: choosing a curved or straight head-joint

People who are interested in purchasing an alto flute must make a decision whether to get a curved or a straight head joint. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and people should try each design before deciding. Most entry-level altos can be purchased with either head joint or both head joints.

If you are a flute choir director purchasing an instrument that several people will use, I suggest getting an alto with both head joints. You will have short people and tall people, people who just can’t balance the curved head well, and people whose hands hurt if they play a straight head.

The primary advantage of a straight head joint alto is that the intonation is better in the third octave. It is not as good as a c flute’s intonation in this octave and you will still make some adjustments, but it is better than the curved head. The reason the intonation is better with a straight head is that makers are able to make a continuous taper from the crown end of the head joint to where it joins the body of the flute. If you look at your c flute head joint, you will see that the crown end of the head joint is smaller than where it goes into the body. This was one of the design features found to be necessary to improve overall flute intonation.

Some people prefer the more flute-like physical relationship of the straight head alto, it feels very similar to what you already know and there is just the one adjustment needed to line up the mouthpiece with the body, just like the flute.

The big disadvantage to the straight tube is that if your arms are short, the right hand has to twist to the left when you reach for the keys. This is painful for many people, and the foot joint notes are even more difficult to reach and are more awkward to play. The right hand thumb is put under even more stress as it tries to keep the flute from rolling backwards while having an even heavier instrument to support that is farther from the player’s body. The tube is larger in diameter than c flute, so it makes balancing the alto on the left index finger joint also difficult. This was my situation when I was looking for an alto many years ago, and I found a curved head instrument with a stunning sound that I have had ever since.

The big advantage of the curved head joint is that your right arm and hand are a comfortable distance away and there is no twisting of the right wrist. The little finger is perfectly positioned to play the foot joint keys with ease. The lowest notes are easy to play and access.

A second advantage of the curved head joint is that with a little experimentation, one finds a spot to set the position of the head joint so that it leans slightly back against the chin and prevents the flute from rolling backwards. The curved head joint actually allows a more stable position for the instrument than the straight head.

The big disadvantage is the intonation of the notes in the third octave. Starting with the C above the staff is almost all ¼ step sharp. It is not yet possible to make a continuous taper from the crown end of head-joint, through the curve and into the flute. Makers are using a graduated cylinder approach, where each section is slightly larger than the one before. This helps, but not enough. Look for improvements in this design in the future.

Choosing a curved head joint means you will need to develop alternate fingerings for the third octave when you have notes up there. You will need to become fluent with these fingerings, and you will find that more than one will be necessary depending on dynamics and surrounding notes.

A second disadvantage of the curved head joint is the challenge of finding the best possible position of the two independent parts of the head joint in relation to the flute body. The head joint does not go directly over the flute body or directly between the flute and the player. Start from a position on top of the flute and then tip the curved part about ½ an inch towards you, then adjust the short straight part of the head joint where you need it to be. Experiment with these angles until you find what works best for you. Once you find the correct relationship of these two parts, you will find that the balance is even easier than on the c flute.

If you are thinking you will do most of your practicing on the curved head to save your right wrist and then switch to the straight tube as you get closer to the performance, it’s a good thought but doesn’t work in reality. You will have to spend plenty of time on the straight tube to work out intonation and tone issues, and your wrist will still hurt. Go for the curve.

Copyright Nov. 2011, Chris Potter

 

About the author:

Dr. Christine Potter has performed in London, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. She is an internationally recognized alto and bass flute virtuoso and has performed at many conventions of the National Flute Association (NFA) as well as British Flute Society conventions (BFS). She is the artistic director of an International Low Flutes Festival to take place in Florida in March 2014.

 

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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Monologues and Dialogues – Peter Sheridan | Low Flutes

Monologues & Dialogues is Peter Sheridan’s new album featuring fourteen compositions for low flutes. Throughout the album, Peter performs on alto, bass, contrabass and hyperbass flutes, creating a showcase of the instruments pitched below the C flute. The project draws out many contrasts – the diverse ranges of the instruments, the various aesthetics and styles represented by each of the fourteen composers and the different (and sometimes surprising) roles that each instrument is asked to play.

The disc opens with Madelyn Byrne’s haunting In a Winter Landscape. The piece is a looming and mournful exploration of the bass flute as a melodic instrument paired with a largely sustained, synthesizer-ish electronic track. Directly following the Byrne, Ross Edwards’ classic, jiving solo Ulpirra appears, performed on alto flute. The spritely energy that Sheridan brings to this incarnation of Ulpirra (a piece generally heard in a higher register on recorder, piccolo and C flute) leaves no doubt as to the agility of the alto flute. These two opening tracks set the scene for the world of contrasting roles that will appear in variations throughout the album; that is, the roles of melodic, highly agile, “flutish” playing versus explorations into gritty sounds, percussive techniques and the timbral idiosyncrasies of these less common instruments.

Returning to the looming, other-worldly vibe of the opening track, Adrienne Albert’s Three for Two presents a number of sides to how the alto and bass flute can each interact with the contrabass flute as a duo. Albert opens the piece with bass flute and contrabass flute assuming roles of ornamented melody and sustained drone, respectively. Of note in this section of the movement is the use of voice in the contrabass part. We hear Sheridan singing and playing the slow, growling line, creating an amazingly striking, otherworldly landscape of difference tones and harmonics over the contrabass’s almost subsonic lower tessitura. Albert slashes straight into a contrasting B-section that depicts (for this author, at least) a slightly sinister carousel ride before the languid opening landscape returns and rolls into some gorgeous, rumbling, trilling harmonic sweeps on the contrabass. This is another amazing side of the contrabass’s sound world: the smoothness of the transition between rumbling low harmonics and flitting high ones is just sensational.

Gary Schocker’s Dark Star is a lilting look at bass flute and piano through a traditional, flute-as-melody piano-as-accompaniment lens, giving Sheridan the chance to show off some supple phrasing. Jane Hammond sensitively performs the impressionist-influenced piano part.

I find it a little difficult not to let my mind wander while listening to this particular track on the album. There’s something about many of Schocker’s compositions, including this one, that send me window gazing and I’m not too sure whether to call it a good or a bad thing.

Noisy Oyster is Hilary Taggart’s suite that features each of the alto, bass and contrabass flutes in five solo vignettes. Taggart has structured the movements such that the first and last movements are played on alto flute, the second and fourth on bass, and the middle movement on contrabass, creating a symmetrical fall then rise in pitch range over the course of the piece. The title movement, Noisy Oyster, is a jaunty little scene akin to Arthur Honegger’s Danse de la Chevre with something of a bubbling, seaside bent. It is interesting to see how much agility Taggart demands of each of the different sizes of flute. The alto and bass flute are both treated in a manner akin to writing for C flute, but Zephyr, the contrabass movement is much more of a study in the instrument’s idiomatic qualities. The opening phrase moves slowly through the contrabass’s low register, articulated with small amounts of key noise and a raspy tone. This is then juxtaposed immediately with a high phrase, demonstrating the contrabass’s extremely diverse palette of tone colours.

Vaughan McAlley’s Serenade and Burlesque is a playful set of two movements that demonstrate the low flutes in a traditional flute choir setting. Lisa Maree Amos’s appearance on C flute lends a soaring energy to the ensemble.

It’s interesting to note that Sheridan recorded each of the low flute parts himself by multi-tracking each one separately. This is a pretty cool idea and is mostly very effective but there are moments (for this author), such as on the last note of the Burlesque movement which doesn’t have a completely clean cut off, where working with a live ensemble might have given the recording a bit more of an edge.

[Listen to excerpt from Serenade and Burlesque]

Michal Rosiak’s rocking low flute quartet Quasi Latino was recorded in the same manner (i.e. all parts performed by Sheridan, multitracked) and has a very strong sense of ensemble. The piece uses the percussive key slap sounds of the lowest pitched member of the ensemble to suggest a slap bass to great effect. The piece’s zany, mixed meter material and the burbling and chugging of the low flutes suggests something of a Martian Latin band.

Vincent Giles Differing Dialogues is another adventure through the wilder sounds that the low flutes bring to the table. The piece has a certain sinister feeling, particularly once the trilling, flutter-tongue drum rolls signify the beginning of the march of doom into a shrieking, macabre forest. Giles paints an amazing landscape exploiting so many of the wondrous extended techniques offered by the instrumentation.

Addressing a completely different aesthetic are Stanley M. Hoffman’s Meditations and Memories, a restful, gorgeous and almost plainchant-like duet for alto flutes, and David Loeb’s Winter Sarabande, a hauntingly beautiful bass flute solo. These pieces each explore the melodically expressive side of the instruments as does Houston Dunleavy’s Serenade and Mike Mower’s Two Sonnets. The Mower is a dreamy and heartfelt piece that brings together elements of jazz and impressionism to create a landmark set for alto flute, occasionally reminiscent of Roussel’s Joueurs de Flute. Sheridan’s sensitivity to the phrasing shines through in each of these pieces, demonstrating his ability to approach the low flutes from a supremely musical angle.

To experience Dominy Clements’ Groaning Oceans as the penultimate track on this disc is joyously unsettling. The wild feast of electronic sounds and hyperbass flute leave one feeling a little vertigo with its wide, slow soundscape. This is a piece that very excellently pulls together some of the most wonderful sounds that Sheridan and the hyperbass flute concoct together and should optimally be enjoyed in a dark room lying on the floor.

[Listen to excerpt from Groaning Oceans]

Monologues and Dialogues is a CD whose strength lies in the achievements that abound in each track rather than as a whole album. The many disparate styles and aesthetics represented are sometimes a little incongruous when heard consecutively, but that should not take away from the wealth of care and expertise that has been put in by Sheridan and each of his collaborators – composers, performers et al. This is a disc that will teach you a great deal about what lies beneath the C flute and is a fine musical achievement to boot.

CD Track Listings (from Move)
1. In a winter landscape Madelyn Byrne 5:27
2. Ulpirra Ross Edwards 1:32
Three for Two Adrienne Albert
3. Dark and light 4:20
4. Lament for Sarah 4:13
5. Sassy 2:35
6. Dark Star Gary Schocker 3:35
Noisy Oyster Hilary Taggart
7. Noisy Oyster 1:59
8. Defragmented 2:12
9. Zephyr 3:43
10. Partita 2:30
11. Autumn Leaves 1:42
Serenade and Burlesque Vaughan McAlley
12. 2:35
13. 2:14
14. Meditations and Memories Stanley M. Hoffman 3:53
15. Differing Dialogues Vincent Giles 4:48
16. Winter Sarabande David Loeb 3:36
Two Sonnets Mike Mower
17. 4:08
18. 5:11
19. Serenade Houston Dunleavy 5:15
20. Groaning Oceans Peter Sheridan Dominy Clements 6:21
21. Quasi Latino Michal Rosiak 3:40

 

About the review author:

Shaun Barlow is a professional flute player based between Sydney and New York. He specialises in contemporary music, flute beatboxing, collaborating with composers and exploring the endless multitude of sounds available from the flute. Shaun has performed with the Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, the Kammerklang Orchestra and the Sydney University Opera Company. http://www.shaunbarlow.com/

 

 

All articles and reviews published on this website are representative of the opinions of the author/s alone and do not reflect the opinions of FTA or it’s affiliates
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