Why do you use unconventional techniques? Richard Lainhart



Richard Lainhart

My own involvement with conventional instruments played in unconventional ways dates to about 1975, when I recorded Bronze Cloud Disk for multitracked, processed bowed tam-tam at the SUNY Albany Electronic Music Studio, where I was studying composition with Joel Chadabe. While first thinking about this piece, I was looking for a basic sound source that provided a long attack, sustain, and decay and a rich, unpredictably varying harmonic structure. Percussion instruments, especially metallic ones, have rich overtone structures, and playing them with a bow allows the composer to extract selected tones and harmonics while disassociating those overtones from the characteristic percussion attack, creating unusual and beautiful sounds. I used an old bass bow to play a 28-inch Zildjian tam-tam, stopping the vibrating disc with my thumb at different points on its surface to emphasize different fundamentals and overtones, and mixed down many tracks of the bowed tam-tam with different electronic processing effects to create the final dense harmonic structure.

Since then, I’ve composed pieces for multitracked bowed Japanese temple bells (Two Mirrors Face One Another) and live bowed vibes with sampled bowed vibes under computer control (Staring At The Moon). More recently, I’ve been experimenting with EBows (magnetic devices that cause steel strings to vibrate indefinitely) in a grand piano, both in a purely acoustic setting (An Open Window In An Empty Room, acoustic version) and as a source for real-time computer processing (An Open Window In An Empty Room, computer version).

While it’s rare for other performers to play my music, I find that most percussionists at least are more than willing to learn new performance techniques, especially ones as visually striking as playing a percussion instrument with a bow. Audiences too find these techniques interesting, since they tend to produce new and vivid sounds and present an unusual visual appeal—in particular, the EBow’s blue LEDs make the inside of the piano glow mysteriously and tend to attract a crowd.

My own interest in these unconventional techniques, however, stems entirely from my desire to use any means necessary to create new sounds as complex, organic, and beautiful as those of the real world, in a music that reflects the structures of nature.


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A Sonic Gallery of Richard Lainert Compositions Using Conventional Instruments in Unconventional Ways: