Unconventional and extended techniques offer a wider sound palette. As someone who has worked with electronically generated sounds and sampling, traditional ways of playing instruments produce sounds that often seem unsurprising. My question is: why would composers not use unconventional techniques? As a composer, I can’t fail to recognize and acknowledge the changing sound palette possible in music. Of course, one can choose to ignore it.
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My search for unconventional sounds led me in an esoteric, but what has become a very satisfying direction. A few years ago, I began to experiment with modifying and augmenting the sound of a Rhodes electric piano. One side of me said this was too obscure an interest to pursue, particularly the idea of composing using more traditional notations for this marginal (some might say, obsolete!) instrument. Another side of me was intrigued with the lack of work and expectations in this area, the resonance and dissonance with the Cage-ian prepared piano tradition, and the sheer joy that I experienced by making a music that fascinated me. I like to be surprised by what I’m working with, and the Rhodes consistently offered me new possibilities.
I recognized in my Rhodes an instrument that I wouldn’t be afraid to be truly experimental with—perhaps even playing it or modifying it in a brutal way. As a pianist and as a composer, the idea of beating on my instrument with a rock appeals to me at both a visceral and a metaphorical level, and I didn’t want to rule this out. Also, notationally, I would have to develop a way of scoring for this modified instrument.
So, this is one direction I’ve gone—I extended my original prepared Rhodes with a set of tuned rods which I could bow to create whale-ish sounds; I play and mute the inside of the Rhodes (tines and resonators) with my hands, with rocks and marbles, or with bits of rubber, tools, or cloth. I actually cut my second Rhodes into pieces and reassembled it with the goal of creating more sound making potential and greater spatialization. (It currently has 8 outputs.)