Bass Clarinet as a weather vane


Given the description of the ‘winds’ blowing in the last post, I have been giving more thought to spatialisation. The Old Barn is a T shape, as shown in the (badly drawn) picture below:


To give a clear sense of directionality, there will be eight principal loudspeakers located roughly in the positions of the points of the compass, as indicated. Strewn about or hanging from the rafters, will be a ‘forest’ of smaller speakers. Sound will travel through this forest using stereo panning. The four channels SW, W, NW, N will be panned hard left and S, SE, E, NE will be panned hard right. So, to make a journey from N to S will involve panning across from left to right, whereas S to N will be right to left. The complete formula is as follows:

N -> S = left to right
NE -> SW = right to left
E -> W = right to left
SE -> NW = right to left
S -> N = right to left
SW -> NE = left to right
W -> E = left to right
NW -> SE = left to right

In the midst of all this directionality stands the bass clarinet. He will have the instrument on a sling, saxophone style, so that he can turn to face whichever wind is blowing. He will then play off a menu of material for that wind. There will be eight stands, each with a single sheet of music, for this purpose. I suppose the bass clarinet behaves like a weather vane!

I hope the overall effect of all this will be to make it abundantly clear to the audience (who are scattered through the space) which wind is blowing at any given moment. Of course the musical fun will come from the content itself, the interaction with the soloist, and the choreography of the winds as they cross and interact with one another.


About Wind


The idea of Movement 1 is to mimic the way the wind blows through the Clump, the circular wood that tops Kelston Round Hill. We will be recording the “rustle of spring”: the sounds of wind in leaves, birdsong, even passing aeroplanes or human conversation. There will also be a wind instrument: the clarinet.

The main musical feature will be gusts of wind blowing in different directions. This will be achieved by using the four cardinal points of the compass (North, South, East, West) and the four ordinal points that bisect these (North-East etc.) These are called ‘winds’ in compass jargon.

In the Mediterranean, they give names to the winds that blow from each of these points. Each wind has its own character (e.g. the sirocco). English history is much less orderly in its categorisation of winds. There are folk names, such as: ‘dryth’, for a dry northerly; ‘piner’, for a north-easterly, ‘custard’ for an easterly, the delightful ‘cow-quaker’ for a southerly May storm, ‘sea turn’ for a westerly coming off the sea, and ‘cat’s nose’ for a cool north-westerly. A sou’wester is also both a garment and a wind. But these names often come from regions other than the West Country. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder catalogued the winds, as follows: Septentrio (N), Caecias (NE) which he replaced with Aquilo (NNE), Subsolanus (E), Vulturnus (SE), Auster (S), Africus (SW), Favonius (W), Corus (NW). It’s possible that high-born Romans living in Bath would have known these names. But this is really insufficient justification to allow for the winds in the Symphony to be so named. So, names will not feature.

Nevertheless, each wind does have a different character, as everybody knows. These characters affect not just the wind direction and its associated weather fronts, but also the general ‘feel’ and atmosphere for as long as that wind prevails.

Movement 1 will therefore group its sound libraries by wind characteristics. Where there is pitched material, the notes of the Aeolian mode will prevail (Aeolus was the Classical god of wind). The winds will blow across the forest of loudspeakers spread around the Barn. This will be achieved by panning across 4 stereo channels, which will then be output to clusters of speakers as appropriate. The live clarinet will stand in the centre, responding to the winds as they blow. Each gust will contain pre-recorded clarinet sounds, natural sounds and a collection of especially composed sounds evocative of the given wind. These may be represented as follows:

Wind Pitch (Aeolian) Character
N A compressing – stretching
NE E moving forward, propulsion
E B waves, braking
SE F divergent, chaotic
S C endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension
SW G spinning, stationary, obsessive
W D floating, falling, fading away
NW Always unpitched suspending-questioning, wanting to start

The character is evoked using Temporal Semantic Units (TSU) identified by the Laboratoire Musique et Informatique de Marseille. They give the following types:

Morphological characteristics:

  1. duration, which can be time delimited or not)
  2. reiteration (with cycles or not);
  3. number of phases (one or more) and
  4. sound matter (continuous or discontinuous sound).

Kinetic characteristics:

  1. acceleration type (positive or negative)
  2. temporal progression (fast or slow).

Semantic characteristics

  1. process direction (one or more sound parameters moving in the same direction),
  2. movement (motion effects)
  3. sound energy (constant or retained).

There are detailed descriptions of each character, as follows (some from LMIM, some by myself):

Compressing – stretching

Morphological description: Time delimited unit with two contrasting phrases. During the “compressing” phase, the sound matter is discontinuous and erratic. The “stretch out” phase is a globally uniform segment.

Semantic description: First there is a feeling of compression (as if we strongly pressed on an obstacle) then the barrier is suddenly overcome, suppressing all resistance and releasing the power. It is a sudden change from localised energy to scattered energy.

Moving forward, propulsion

 Morphological description: Time delimited unit with three phases. The first phase is quite a sustained fulcrum: a prolonged or homogeneous sound or slow iteration, globally uniform. The following phase is a brief acceleration of intensity, pitch, or any other morphological trait. The third phase is a typical resonance or silence.

Semantic description: We feel the application of a force to a steady state, resulting in an accelerated movement. Projection from a starting point.

Waves, braking

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, made up of the slow repetition of an increasing then decreasing sound motif. The shape of the profile can concern different morphological criteria (mass, dynamics, grain, etc.)

Semantic description: Each cycle conveys the feeling of being pushed forward, and then driven back until the end. We get the impression that we are stagnating through this unit although we feel motion within each cycle.

Divergent, chaotic

No specific description. The title says it all.

Endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, with a linear and usually slow evolution of a sound parameter.

Semantic description: The process must be oriented in a direction (for example, upwards or downwards) and however, it seems to never finish. The sound phenomenon must be long enough to be perceived as a process and not an ephemeral event.

Spinning, stationary, obsessive

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, in which a parameter (pitch, timbre) is driven by a quick cyclic repetition along with a thrust in each cycle, or with a quick and possibly varied repetition of a pulsed element.

Semantic description: We feel constrained by a mechanical process in which we cannot seem to act. We have the feeling of an object spinning on itself or in space.

Floating, falling, fading away

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, in which a sound parameter (pitch, dynamic, etc) floats and then falls away.

Semantic description: We feel sustained for a considerable period of time before drifting away, either falling or fading.

Suspending-questioning, wanting to start

No description required. The title is self-explanatory.