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The Quadrachord and the Marimba Lumina

June 7, 2010

dresher.jpegOne of the many delights of experiencing the music of the Paul Dresher Ensemble (pictured) live is the opportunity it affords to check out some very unusual and beautiful musical instruments. The Bay Area-based composer and his collaborators have created a number of instruments over the years, some of them electronic, some acoustic and some a combination of both ("electroacoustic.")

Over the weekend, audiences at Old First Concerts in San Francisco got to hear the Quadrachord and the Marimba Lumina, two instruments that create a kaleidoscopic array of sounds and overtones.

The highlight of the concert for me was the duet Glimpsed From Afar which involved Dresher playing the Quadrachord, a narrow, 15-foot-long bench-like structure that resembles a very stretched out xylophone, and the percussionist Joel Davel on the Marimba Lumina, which looks like a regular marimba but with flat, two-dimensional-looking keypads. The sounds that these instruments make range from loud, percussive whacks, to deep, ocean-floor groans to weeping melodic lines. 

I went looking online for information about these two amazing musical inventions and found some interesting descriptions on the Los Angeles Philharmonic's website. (The LA Phil performed Glimpsed from Afar).

Here is what Dresher has to say about the Quadrachord: "The Quadrachord is an instrument invented in collaboration with instrument designer Daniel Schmidt as part of my music theater work Sound Stage. Of all the instruments created for this production, the Quadrachord is to me the most compelling invention and the only one whose sonic attributes have continued to inspire me to explore and develop its compositional potential. The instrument has a total string length of 160 inches (though smaller versions have been built), four strings of differing gauges but of equal length and an electric-bass pickup next to each of the two bridges. It can be plucked like a guitar, bowed like cello, played like a slide guitar, prepared like a piano, and hammered on like a percussion instrument."

And here is what the composer wrote of the Marimba Lumina: "A recent instrument design by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla in collaboration with Joel Davel and Mark Goldstein, the Marimba Lumina is a sophisticated electronic instrument that has more expressive control than a typical electronic keyboard. Modeled somewhat after its acoustic namesake, it is a dynamically sensitive electronic mallet controller. The Marimba Lumina's playing surface includes a traditionally arrayed set of electronic bars. Each bar is made up of two overlapping antennas that receive proximity information from each of the four mallets. This allows the Marimba Lumina to respond to new performance variables such as position along the length of each bar. In addition, each mallet is tuned to a unique frequency, which allows one to program different instrumental responses for each mallet. This all augments the potential for expressive control with easily implemented pitch, volume, and timbre modulation."

these descriptions obviously don't do the instruments justice. You have to be in the room with them, and not only marvel at their construction but also at their sound.


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