Thursday, March 15, 2012

Contemporary Clarinet (March 2012 Column)

In this column, we decided to explore sites relating to extended techniques and other pedagogical resources pertaining to contemporary performance practice. The list of sources below caters to players of all levels of experience with new music. Even readers unfamiliar with the various extended techniques are sure to find a site that will pique their interest -- or at least inspire them to experiment with new sonic possibilities on the clarinet.

The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century
"The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century" is a web site that accompanies and supplements E. Michael Richards’ 1992 book The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century: New Sonic Resources Based on Principles of Acoustics.   A password is needed to access all features of the site, but an incredible amount of information excerpted from the book is available for free.  Other resources (such as books by Rehfeldt and Farmer) offer fingerings for multiphonics and quarter tones, but Richards’ book is unique in that he explores the acoustical theory behind fingering choices and multiphonics.  He even includes spectrogram analyses of fingerings to determine the presence or absence of harmonics.  

This web site offers soprano, bass, and E-flat clarinet fingering charts of alternate fingerings, quarter-tones and microtones, microtonal scale patterns, and multiphonics.  Exercises and etudes with MP3 musical examples further illustrate the extended techniques.  For the full text, including the complete multiphonic fingering chart, clarinetists will have to refer to the print version of the book, although we had difficulty obtaining the revised 2009 version.  

Advanced Contemporary Techniques for the Clarinet
For a “method book” approach to extended techniques, take a look at Adam Berkowitz’s e-book Advanced Contemporary Techniques for the Clarinet.  Unlike other books that attempt to be comprehensive, Berkowitz’s book focuses on four techniques: double tonguing, circular breathing, singing while playing, and multiphonics.  Each technique is defined clearly and simply with exercises provided so that the player can try things out along the way. Berkowitz also notes ways in which learning these techniques can positively affect a player’s traditional clarinet technique.  

A few typos are distracting, and the four etudes require some techniques not described in the book.  However, Advanced Contemporary Techniques for the Clarinet is a solid choice for those looking for a friendly, pedagogical approach to extended techniques. The book is $19.95, but individual chapters can be purchased for $5.95 - a great option if you are interested in learning a specific technique.  On a side note, Berkowitz’s 2011 ClarinetFest® presentation could serve as a free “preview” of the concepts used in his book.

Clarinet Multiphonics
For readers not familiar with the fundamental properties of how multiphonics work, Nicolas del Grazia’s web site “Clarinet Multiphonics” offers an interactive guide explaining the phenomenon. Complete with animated diagrams depicting the various patterns of oscillation created by the air column inside the bore, the site gives viewers insight to the scientific principles behind multiphonics and offers wonderfully constructed visual representations. His concise explanations for sound production of multiphonics are a great introduction for clarinetists experimenting with extended techniques.  Not only does the site provide a database of over 250 multiphonics, but the annotated entries include sound bites, assigned difficulty levels, and dynamic ranges.  Del Grazia has made the site easy to navigate, making this a great resource for both performers and composers researching extended techniques.  

Le Paradoxe de la Clarinette
Alain Séve’s e-book Le Paradoxe de la Clarinette is a great resource about multiphonics and quarter-tones for our French-speaking readers.  (Others can use a translation tool such as Google Translate to get a rough idea of the text.)  The book, which can be read online, downloaded in PDF form, or ordered in print, covers the theory of multiphonics and includes quarter-tone and multiphonic fingering charts for both clarinet and bass clarinet.

Woodwind Fingering Guide
For quick references for fingerings and trills on Boehm-, Albert-, and Oehler-system clarinets, and even the Three-Key Kinderklarinette, the Woodwind Fingering Guide at offers a multitude of easy-to-read charts. Unfortunately, the section dedicated to multiphonics is limited and readers may find some of the sites mentioned above to be of more value.  However, the listings for quarter-tone fingerings for Albert- and Oehler-system clarinets are quite extensive and worth looking into.  Supplying reader with notes higher than the usual range of C7 given by most fingering charts, the possibilities listed for the very high altissimo notes (up to Bb7!) seem endless. The site also provides fingering charts for Boehm-system alto, bass, and contra bass clarinets--a wealth of information compiled by Timothy Reichard into one source.

Fingering Diagram Builder
Bret Pimentel’s Fingering Diagram Builder is a great tool for composer/clarinetist collaborations.  It allows the user to easily create a great graphic for any fingering and save it as a PNG or TIFF file.  You can even save directly to a Dropbox folder--very useful when working with multiphonics, where a composer typically includes fingerings in the score.  Teachers may even wish to utilize the Fingering Diagram Builder to create documents for students about resonance fingerings or altissimo fingerings.  Pimentel offers versions for standard and full-Boehm clarinet as well as student and professional bass clarinet.  

What a Mullerful World
An expert on the Bohlen-Pierce (BP) clarinet and also a contemporary blogger, Nora-Louise Müller is one of five professional musicians who play this obscure instrument. On her blog “What a Mullerful World” she writes about her endeavors performing on the instrument and presenting it to new audiences. Created by Stephen Fox in 2006, the BP clarinet utilizes an alternative harmonic system discovered by Heinz Bohlen and John R. Pierce during the 1970s and 1980s.  This new type of scale is derived from dividing a perfect twelfth into thirteen steps, in which the twelfth now functions like an octave and serves as a tonal reference point in the scale.  

The BP clarinet has less keys and simpler mechanisms than traditional models, but still employs the same fingerings as the Boehm-system clarinet. Despite its alternative harmonic chords and more consonant intervals, the BP clarinet has a limited scope of multiphonics possible. For more details and pictures of this instrument, including others in the BP clarinet family, visit her blog.  

Website List:

The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century (E. Michael Richards)

Advanced Contemporary Techniques for the Clarinet (Adam Berkowitz)

Clarinet Multiphonics (Nicolas del Grazia)

Le Paradoxe de la Clarinette (Alain Sève)

The Woodwind Fingering Guide

Bret Pimentel’s Fingering Diagram Builder!/clarinet/

What a Mullerful World (Nora-Louise Müller)

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