18 September 2020
THRUM - exploring multiphonics & percussive piano
The word thrum is defined as 'a continuous humming sound'. On our new album, I and my friend Kim Cunio (Head of ANU School of Music) interpret the idea in a space where fragile clarinet multiphonics meet resonant sounds from within the piano.
Kim and I had been plotting an album collaboration for a few years. As COVID-19 struck in March 2020, we seized on the opportunity to bring it to fruition. Suddenly Kim had less time trekking between Canberra and Sydney, and I had more time to think about the direction my music was taking.
Whilst notated music is my comfort zone, I have always enjoyed venturing into free improvisation. I think it is an important part of any musician's training, and, with persistence, one feels comfortable. Composed, notated art music has a beautiful sonic language that can be explored in improvising too, allowing the player to develop techniques or language in their own personal way.
The sonic possibilities of multiphonics was an area I was keen to explore in more detail. On clarinets, producing multiple sounds simultaneously opens up a rich palette of colours. Listening to and performing the music of Gerard Grisey and Salvatore Sciarrino was an influence. There was lots to explore, from the most fragile and almost inaudible overtones (and undertones), to wild raucous chords. Much of this language was familiar to me on the clarinet and bass clarinet. Less so on my newest baby, a Paperclip Leblanc contrabass clarinet I purchased in early 2020 from the States, it having endured and thankfully survived a life in an American High School Band. It was a timely purchase, as COVID-19 hit in the early months of 2020, giving me a new toy to play with, and an opportunity to explore notes so low my neighbour's foundations were going to be rattled.
On piano, actually mostly in the piano, Kim Cunio set about creating his sound world of striking, scraping and plucking strings and frame. A set of house keys was also utilised, and the una corda pedal of the piano also got a particularly good workout.
We pressed record and let the music happen. The result, a somewhat ambient adventure into the world of multiphonics and percussive piano. Restraint - a chance to take one idea, and stretch it to its limit. We had a lot of fun too, both in the recording and editing processes. Track three we decided to name: Not Suitable For Mother's Day. But the overall concept to me at least feels warm and engaging, and I think my mother would come back for a second listen!
Another album theme was the illusion of sounds being processed, when in fact very little processing was used. The sounds themselves have so much complexity and resonance, we wanted to keep that across the entire album.
The album artwork and graphic design were also integral to the project, and support the tone of the album. No outdated musician portraits on the front cover for us! I have always loved the idea of a record cover, and so the CD cover and digital image reflect this. We wanted to support a young artist to design a piece for the album cover - enter Gwyneth Grace Miller. Lainy Thompson and Peter Salhani were also great collaborators in the design of the album, and really took it to another level. The CD looks amazing, and importantly reflects the music.
It feels like an achievement getting an album out in 2020. Despite tough times for many creatives, COVID-19 has brought the opportunity to bring THRUM to the world.
© Australian Music Centre (2020) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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