Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Flute Books
Multiphonic Sourcebooks
by Robert Dick

Fingerings are available for well over 2,000 multiphonics (count 'em!). You can find them in several basic sourcebooks.

THE OTHER FLUTE: A PERFORMANCE MANUAL OF CONTEMPORARY TECHNIQUES (2nd edition), by Robert Dick, Multiple Breath Music, 1989

THE AVANT-GARDE FLUTIST, by Thomas Howell, University of California Press, 1974

PRESENT DAY FLUTES, by Pierre-Yves Arteaud and Gérard Geay, Editions Jobert, 1980 These books are listed in order of usefulness and accuracy. Yes, I'm aware I put mine first. That's because in the 25 years since its first edition appeared in 1975, more successful music has been created by more composers of more stylistic proclivities than has been created from the other two works combined. By successful, I mean simply that the music works the way the composer intended it to. That the notes written on the page are indeed the notes that sound. I'm also happy to report that the International Conference in New Musical Notation (I believe in 1979 but am not absolutely sure of the date) adopted most of my notations as standard. One of the ongoing problems with contemporary works is the plethora of notations for the same sound and the use of different systems to notate fingerings. Its natural, of course, that unification is a process that takes time -- it took several centuries for standard notation to settle into its form and its going to take a few more decades for the notations of extended techniques to do the same.

The three books above are all "dictionaries" of sound, describing pitch and timbre with varying approaches to notation. It is awkward to write about one's own work and to compare it to others'. But that's the situation and I will give my objective best. Here are some capsule descriptions:

    HOWELL uses a system of 31 tones per octave. This, combined with problems of accuracy in his multiphonic charts make his work sometimes maddening. But he's thought provoking and, for the microtonalist, his 31 tone per octave scale is a excellent resource. Howell's spiky, sometimes defensive sounding style has got a lot of character. In many ways, his book is a time capsule, describing thoughts and concepts from the perspective of the early days multiphonic playing. Problems he mentions, such as how certain multiphonics are difficult to produce and are relatively unstable, have long since been solved. For those interested in how this vital branch of flute playing and composing has evolved, perusing THE AVANT-GARDE FLUTE is a must. Its a dinosaur, to be sure, but a huge and fascinating one.

    ARTAUD and GEAY use a system of semitones, the normal chromatic scale, with little arrows to indicate "a little higher" or "a little lower" than the written pitch. This typifies the vagueness that plagues this book. There just is not enough information. The notations do not come close enough to the sound for the player to be reasonably certain s/he is playing what is asked for, or for the composer to internally hear the sounds so as to be able to create with them. The authors say it best: "To draw up tables of a satisfactory precision would demand much more time and work on our part". Unlike Howell, whose effort and committment were massive, these guys appear to have been thinking about their lunch.

    DICK, like Howell, made a committment to try to define the flute's resources in as complete and accurate a way as possible. I used a quartertone scale as the basic framework since it relates to the chromatic scale we all know and can hear easily. From the quartertone, single and double arrows are used to define pitches that are slightly higher or lower (single arrow) or almost a quartertone higher or lower (double arrow). There are microtones as fine as the thirtysecnd tone (16 steps per half step) given in the "mircotonal segments" chart. My multiphonics charts are considered the most accurate of any out there, and the fingering diagram system I created is by far the easiest to read. It does take up more space than a system using numbers for fingers and/or keys, but it does not require a mental translation to use. The player can look at the diagram and instantly know what to do.

The signal differences between my book and Howell's are:

    A) The notational perspective. I think adapting to the 31 tone system is just too specialized. Using the chromatic scale as a basis and then subdividing it into quartertones and finer intervals enables the musician to relate these pitches to the system we in the West normally hear -- the chromatic scale.

    B) Accuracy. Whatever the notation, the information has to be accurate, and Howell's multiphonic charts are not even close to what actually comes out when his fingerings are played. Considering the amount of work he did, this completely mystifies, but it is the case. Howell's book comes with a little floppy 33r.p.m. record and on it he plays no multiphonics at all. This baffling omission also prevents us from decoding how his personal playing effected the production of multiphonics. I made it a point to have other flutists test the material in THE OTHER FLUTE, so it was not just based on any one person's playing.

    C) A second edition. In the fourteen years between the 1975 and 1989 editions of THE OTHER FLUTE, incredible leaps of knowledge had been made about how multiphonics work. Also, the body of experience accumulated from composers working with the book made clear what needed improvement, what had proved important, and what had proved unimportant. The rapid evolution of electronics made it clear that a chapter on electronic modification of the flute made no sense at all in a reference book. Its a subject for an ongoing series of articles. Thus, making a second edition to update this work was the logical thing to do. Comparing the two editions (the first edition was published by Oxford University Press, New York, 1975) is also an interesting journey into the evolution of contemporary flute playing. While Howell was defensive, I was hopeful. In the 1989 edition, the tone is far more assured. Hope, it seems, backed up with decades of fully committed work, has won the day.

Robert Dick
From the FLUTE list - March 19, 2000

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