De profundis

Marimbas and clarinets are rather strange animals in regards to their acoustics. The clarinet functions as a half-closed tube, significantly attenuating the even harmonic partials in its spectrum, particularly in its chalumeau register. Even stranger is the physics of vibrating bars and the naturally inharmonic frequency ratios of their partials; and while marimba builders can coerce some of these into harmonic ratios by shaping the bars and coupling them with resonators, their spectra remain both less complete and more complex than those of, say, the vibrating strings of a piano. The psychoacoustical implications of these facts, while subtle, carry very real musical ramifications—for example, the tritone lacks its usual rough, dissonant edge when played by the clarinet, and while a minor tenth on the marimba sounds surprisingly harsh, a minor ninth has an uncanny stability.

Here, I have tried to work with these instruments, and according to their own terms: rather than (as I am wont to do) imposing a foreign order, I sought instead to listen to their own voices, to respond to their own sounds. Perhaps, I thought, in so doing I might find a voice with which to speak, as mine had fallen silent. The result—a passacaglia of sorts, a descending octave line that never quite succeeds—did seem to speak for me, and managed quite nicely to step in and take over for my own words, which had of late been failing me, and quite spectacularly.

Recording: Duo Rodinia (Lisa Kachouee, clarinet; Jamie Whitmarsh, percussion). Recital at Samford University, March 2015.

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