You don’t have a Paetzold?!!!!

It so happens that if you don’t have a Paetzold you won’t be allowed a place amongst “contemporary” players. This just piles up over a multitude of taboos that set barriers in our small recorder world and make it even smaller and more frictional. We tend to forget that what we play is just an instrument that serves music and serves us. At the same time we get on one hand “authentic” players that will never depart from historical copies and on the other hand over enthusiastic players that meet their needs with a plethora of newly developed recorder like instruments. On top of these we have a large original, or assumed, repertoire of five centuries plus the borrowings from other wind, string and, even, keyboard instruments. We can claim to play the historical instrument that has been given the largest number of works by composers of the last 50 years. Makers have a special place in our Sancta Sanctorum; historically informed makers stand on a more conservative side whilst modern makers explore new boundaries and come along with new proposals. We get obvious miscarriages along the way. You feel that when presented an Elody recorder… but can nest a similar Frankenstein out of an historical copy. There are makers and makers 😉

All this may sound as a digression but the central idea I would like to reinforce is that of personal enjoyment and direction towards an end as abstract as personal realization. Why then we need to put obstacles on that way? Who can tell what is wrong from right? I’m not talking about Moeck’s Tuju vs Morgan’s Ganassi. Who can really tell about style?
When asked about the meaning of “authenticity” Anner Byslma said:

This term is used as a weapon by some to exclude fellow musicians, and as a marketing tool by record companies to help sell records, even when the performance is not “authentic” at all. This word actually means whatever one wants it to mean, and is mostly a great way of posturing: “My compromise is the best compromise, and all others are wrong!” Let us not forget that people come to concerts for musical enjoyment, not because they espouse certain musical/political views.

The recorder world seems to be drifting in those waters of musical (political?) views and on occasions it looses anchor with music itself. Why is it almost a sacrilege to play a melodic contemporary piece? A piece that does not use extended techniques and within a comfortable range for the instrument. That could live in peace with works as difficult and arid as any of those written by Brian Ferneyhough for the flute. A missing chapter for composers should be briefed as well. We get serious and thoughtful compositional works that share ground with a large production of a chain of sound effects not even saved by the conceptual explanation (sometimes very colourful and the best part of the opus). Such a small world as ours should aim to openness by means of tolerance and common ground for “pros” as well as amateurs. Lest we forget the word amateur comes from the Latin voice amator (the one who loves). We are all amateurs, or should be for our own sake!

I do have a Paetzold and love some of the possibilities of the instrument apart from those derived mainly from breath noises and effects. But all this is part of the natural world of the recorder. The sound of any recorder could be defined by its very distinctive timbre, and by its more “suggested” presence when net volume is concerned. Nowadays we are an equal part of limitless combinations of instruments and one of the consequences is the search for an enhanced volume version of a recorder. I don’t want to discuss the philosophy of this line of work. I consider it necessary and unstoppable. But why not trying one of the oldest media to make the sound louder: amplification is the obvious answer. It is hardly understandable why some people (players and people attending concerts alike) are up against the use of amplification. Churches, theatres, auditoriums, etc. are all conceived with one objective, to make sound ample (amplify it) and audible to everyone. Some are failures as we all sadly know from direct experience. The point is that we can’t behold the use of amplification as a sinful action that will undermine our real authenticity. Once we accept the use of amplification the rest comes in naturally. And the rest is huge and waiting to play with.

I started to think about the possibilities of altering acoustic parameters via digital amplification. I include every device capable of altering one or more properties of the sound produced by a recorder (extended to any other instrument including the voice). Of course there are plenty of analogic devices but the digital possibilities are available even online. In order to get a real taste of what is possible we have to design a minimum set-up that guaranties high quality sound production. The microphone is of paramount importance. For live performances the best option is the dynamic type, condenser mics tend to give feedback problems and are extremely sensitive, this makes them the ideal option for recording when placed at some distance from the instrument, thus capturing its tone production and surrounding atmosphere. Mics need cables. They should be good quality too and taken care of, as we do with our instruments (and mics). The mixer is the brain of this set-up. We can force down to minimums and do without a mixer but then the chaining of the set-up has to be very well designed and any variations will alter the whole thing. So back to the mixer… I use a Mackie 1220i that provides connectivity through its two FireWire 800 ports if you want or need to use a laptop for your set-up. This will allow the access to a huge (free or demo) variety of apps that will act as effect units altering the acoustic properties of the sound captured by the microphone(s). The good thing about software is that it can emulate hardware quite well, allowing us to try different parameters that will alter as many sound properties as we decide. Here I call to a little reflection upon the idea of “sound properties”. Some of these properties may seem quite obvious but sound is a very slippery thing to be defined and less to be defined in its components. Roughly, I simplified my model of altering sound properties into four main areas:


Timbre is a very elusive concept and an entirely subjective element but is something we can differentiate and alter from subtle inflections to the most savage extremes.

Duration is typically associated with our breath (or bow) capacity and can be drastically altered by effects that changes the presence of the sound for a given time.

Intensity, here will deal not only with net decibels but also with effects that enhance the presence of the original sound. And of course with the possibilities of reversing the natural extinction of a sound using, for instance, a reverse reverb.

Space or Texture is another slippery concept that, in my view, deals with the non-existent physical qualities of sound. Leonardo da Vincí´s definition of music as “The form of the invisible” might shed some light on this concept.

This is my design and I encourage everyone to develop a personal design to meet personal needs. We are mostly dealing with imaginary things that are unique to an individual and sometimes almost impossible to express in words.

Last but not least, software will never replace hardware. You will get the picture of this if you have ever tried a midi wind controller. If I play my Musch Schnitzer tenor and I compare it with any midi wind instrument the later are crap. The same happens with software, once you get into hardware effects units of good quality, the results are most rewarding. I highly recommend the stompbox H-9 by Eventide, a discrete small white machine capable of almost everything at an affordable price and with a very friendly interface that is open to tweaking producing sounds of limitless peculiarities.

Thanks for reading! I’d like to contribute with a divertimento on Frame by frame by King Crimson recorded at home using a Geri Bollinger Tenor, a Küng F Basset and two H-9 Eventide. Hope you enjoy it!


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