Serendipity and diagnosis

Some years ago Jasper Fforde remarked at a Q&A type meeting at our local library that despite spending such a large part of his life in bookshops doing promotional signings etc., his favourite places to buy books were charity shops as there weren’t too many to look through, but a wonderfully eclectic mix.

I am inclined to agree since last week I found a Russell Hoban book I hadn’t read (Kleinzeit), which I would never have thought to go looking for. At the same time I bought two CDs of Arvo Pärt music, a composer I had heard of but not heard. All three are a delight.

The music reminded me how beautiful and varied the voice is as an instrument and I have been using vocal parts in some recent work. In addition it prompted me to attempt to create more vocal sounding tones. Logic Pro comes with an awe inspiring instrument creator / synthesizer which allows you to ‘build’ your instrument from first principles. It is notionally based around a string but you first decide whether it is to be struck, plucked, hit by an impulse, bowed or blown. You can then have another impulse  with a similar range of actions which are either reinforcing or moderating on the first. You have a choice of material from Nylon to Wood to Glass to Steel and parameters for vibrancy, tension and resonance. These factors can vary with how hard / fast the note is played, or where on the scale you are. I wanted an instrument that sounded like a wheezy organ pipe at low frequencies and somewhere between a whistle and a bell at the higher ones for a piece I was working on about the end of steam railways. It took only about an hour to produce just what I had in mind, which surprised me a bit. What surprised and pleased me more was how vocal the instrument sounded, particularly if you talk to a lot of aged Welsh smokers.

I haven’t quite finished Kleinzeit yet, I think subconsciously I am spinning it out a bit as I don’t want it to end, but it has provided me with a name for the ailment suffered by Mr. Thompson in a piece I had written but hadn’t named. Mr. T has a case of Kleinzeit’s Skewed Hypotenuse.

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