Bands & Electronics

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by brassneck, Jun 29, 2005.


Has electronics a part to play in the future of band music?

  1. No Way!

    4 vote(s)
  2. Maybe!

    8 vote(s)
  3. Go For It!

    5 vote(s)
  1. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Occasionally works are written for brass band with electronic tape or with live electronics. Given that electronic technology has progressed beyond reason, how would you feel about being involved in a composition that used live electronic effects or being part of a work that shared keyboard programming/sequencing or synthesised soundscapes? This is one way I believe is a commercially viable future outlet for bands if the music is right!
  2. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    To a certain extent, this kind of thing has existed for a while. Besses were involved in a piece called "Echoes" by Tim Souster in 1990 which, as the title suggests was a piece for brass band and multiple digital delay lines (IIRC they used Yamaha SPX machines at the premiere in Manchester).

    The following is taken from the Tim Souster Archive Website:

    [font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][size=-2][size=-2][size=-2][size=-2]

    Echoes [size=-1](1990)

    [size=-1]Instrumentation: brass band/live electronics
    [size=-1]• Duration: 0:00[/size]

    [size=-1]Echoes is, as far as I am aware, the first piece of music in which brass band has been combined with electronic equipment. I found the spatial layout of the band very suggestive of musical ideas: cornets to the left, basses and horns in the centre, euphoniums and trombones to the right. This scheme is reinforced and extended in my piece by both the scoring and the electronics. The instrumental chords bounce backwards and forwards between the players, but when they are echoed electronically, the spatial distinction between them becomes even more marked. The loudspeakers, positioned on all four corners of the room, convey the opposing sounds throughout the whole listening space. The title Echoes does not just refer to the effects created by the electronic devices used in the piece. It also relates to a dim and distant musical model which, very occasionally, emerges from the mists of time. The reference is of course to 'The Red Flag' or 'O Tannenbaum', perhaps the best-known melody of the British Labour Movement. The intention was not to write any tub-thumping political piece of music, not to propose any pat answers to the problems of today, but rather, simply to remind ourselves of something we should never forget. Copyright Tim Souster 1990

    The link for the site is[/size] [/size][/size][/size][/size][/size][/font][/size][/font]
  3. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I have most of Tim Souster's works on recordings, thanks! (including the Equale Brass Quintet (Nimbus) recording of 'Equalisation'). I must say that his style is part of what I see as the bigger interactive picture! If brass instruments can be midi triggered to induce effects, even better! The electronica music scene in Europe is now at an advanced stage and I would love to see bands sharing a part of this culture. Using surround sound (as the Empire Brass Quintet did in their CD 'Passage') could be an exciting aural experience for performer and audience (live or at home!).
  4. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Surround sound performances would certainly be interesting :D

    The only problem with recording in that kind of format is the relative lack of uptake of playback systems in people's homes. Granted we are getting better at things like that in this country but we've still got a way to go.

    In principle, I think you're absolutely right to want to push the Banding Movement in a new direction. To a certain extent we're stuck on a treadmill and we're not really going anywhere. That said, I love the whole thing - the history and tradition of banding has been very important to me for a long time, and I don't think we should lose sight of it.

    The only thing I'd ask of would be composers is that they write music that has meaning, not just as an exploitation or as a gimmick.
  5. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    IMO this kind of thing as "the future of brass banding" is a load of *******s. As the occasional novelty feature in a concert it might - and I stress might for purely practical reasons - be ok, depending largely on audience appeal (or lack of) and the few "intellectuals" who find this stimulating.

    Adding instruments to a brass band produces a piece which is a brass band piece with a feature. If you see what I mean. Any piece that has to rely on artificial means to succeed is not really acceptable. The artificial insertion of "electronic" or "electric" instruments will always remain just that - artificial. I don't think Peter Graham's "Windows of the World" works for that very reason - the use of a recording of other sounds is just plain ridiculous.

    The addition of electronic effects like those mentioned is just too gimmicky for words. Maybe OK for a film script. Maybe OK as an experiment. Maybe OK for the "Emperor's New Clothes" brigade. It's not really brass bands any more though.
  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    The music would have to be collaborated between the electronic mixers/sequencers and someone in brass bands who can explain our limitations with respect to instrument range and technical ability. Aagaard-Nilsen used live electonics in the middle movement of 'Riffs & Interludes', but new works are very scarce to find. Robin Taylor's album 'Metaeuphosis' is interesting but does sound like solos pasted/layered on a pre-recorded tape! If effects were brought in to make it a play between both types of instrument, it would have been, in my opinion, infinitely better and more enduring. One guy who is at the forefront of using technology with brass is the trombone player John Kenny. It would be interesting if he had to write something for band. He certainly has the skills to do that!

    Mike, I'm not saying that this should be the future of brass bands, but as an experiment in composition and technology it should be considered seriously. John Adams is not shy of admitting that he enjoys exploring his world of music using his home studio set-up. His 'Hoodoo Zephyrs' album is a fine tribute for cross-over music. At home in electronica as well as being respected in the classical genre.
  7. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    I can see where you're coming from Mike, but just to turn Devil's advocate for a moment, put yourself into a different genre of music. Effects in pop music, for example, are used to either enhance a performance or as an integral part of the song. The same could be said of working with electronics and bands, assuming the electronics enhance the work. For example, the recording of the bird in Dove Descending for me is a gimmick (I would say that after the batteries in our ghetto blaster were flat on stage!) and I don't think it adds. Echoes on the other hand is an interesting piece.

    I don't think it was Brassneck's suggestion that these things should become permanent fixtures in bands, but hey, remember the outcry in 1975 when Fireworks introduced all the new stuff to the persecution section? (I don't actually, I was four, but I know all about it ;) )
  8. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I will readily admit to being an old 'fuddy-duddy' where music is concerned. Just so you are aware, my favourite musical period is the late renaissance/early baroque. I consider myself to be a traditionalist - not in the sense of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' but in the sense that 'ill advised tinkering will result in breakage.'

    There has been hardly a decent modern band since ABBA. None of the current rock or pop bands/groups even comes into the same town, let alone the same street for permanence with intelligence, wit and a great deal of charm. Cold Play are boring, witless, droning morons by comparison.

    In considering the brass band, if you start buggering about with its instrumentation, you run the risk of stopping it being a brass band. The phrase includes the addition of electric and electronic instruments (other than as occasional additions to the percussion section, such as vibraphone). This discussion has been caried on at great length elsewhere.

    If you start to add gimmicky electronic effects you run the risk of failure and consequent ridicule. You also do the band movement a great disservice. I can't help but believe that these things are currently there just for novelty value. They are not appropriate, except as novelty items, in the context of brass band music and, IMO, they are not worthy of inclusion in the BB repertoire for more than the fragment of time that they retain their novelty value because of their ephemeral appeal and reliance on 'unusual' means of production. Maybe someone will write a concerto for Theremin and Brass Band, or tape loop and brass band, but at the end of the day, their only value is as novelty items. The Emperor has yet another set of new clothes.
  9. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    You've used the word gimmick in your post - and I was at pains to stress that I'd agree only to augment the instrumentation only for valid musical reasons.

    To draw a parallel with orchestral instrumentation, though, look at Prokofiev's use of saxophones in composition. You don't normally find them in orchestras, but their presence is an integral part of his workand, IMO, enhance it. Granted, they're not electronic but they are an accepted excursion from the norm.

    FWIW I'm a great lover of 'old' brass band music. I'd cite all the Alex Owen stuff, the early Godfrey arrangements for the Open and so on along with Fireworks, Blitz and Contest Music as part of my favourites list. I'm not saying change bands - quite the opposite - I just think there's room for some crossover.

    Just make sure the reason for the augmentation isn't Art for Art's sake.
  10. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    Until we hear it who can say!! I for one am all for new combinations of new technology and existing musical concepts.

    Personally I dont, but who remembers the intrigue the first time feedback was used on an electric guitar (The Beatles I think) and that has now developed into effect pedals bigger than a house!!! Dont hear people complaining about that progression in cultural music so why should they about an old and dated genre like ours?
  11. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Mmmmm! Thinking about the use of 'gimmicks' here! Anything that is used in music that is novel, new or unrecognised can be seen as a gimmick. The antiphonal effects of Gabrieli ... development or gimmick? The 40-part motet of Tallis 'Spem In Alium'? Introduction of new performance notation in musical history? The introduction of new instruments throughout the ages? Even in brass bands, what about Van der Roost's effects using players singing through their instruments in 'Stonehenge'? Something has to be tried and evaluated before it is cast off as a passing gimmick or a serious attempt of development.
  12. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    To take things sideways slightly, getting unusual instruments involved in bands can have unexpected and beneficial side effects.

    In, er, 1973 Besses and their Professional Conductor Ifor James recorded an album entitled Capriccio Brilliant. On that record was a piece for piano and brass band. That's interesting in itself, but what's more interesting is that the soloist was one John McCabe. Later, in 1978, Besses commissioned Images without which there may have been no Salamander or, worse, Cloudcatcher Fells.

    If experimentation like this attracts new talent to write for the medium then I'm all for it - hopefully later they'd write something for standard instrumentation :D
  13. Craigsav83

    Craigsav83 Active Member

    In all honesty, I'm up for that. An ambitious idea maybe, but why not. There are so many things that can be done now with modern techniques, it really is a matter of time....

    Experimentation can be fun and interesting, so why not increase the repetoir in this way?
  14. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    At the RNCM Brass Festival last January, during one of his clinics, James Gourlay did a tuba solo with a prerecorded accompaniment. The accompaniment was only made with sounds from the tuba...just about every sound you could make without denting the bell ;-) it was quite interesting.
  15. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I hesitate to question Souster's assertion - but I would guess that Robert Lennon's "Songs of the Aristos" predates 1990?? Perhaps someone from the Leyland Band, who I think premiered the piece, could enlighten us?
  16. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    ... this wasn't another of Tim Souster's works called 'Heavy Reductions (1977) for tuba, voice and tape' was it? One guy does it for real on a cut-down electric upright bass with a live, loop system of electronic effects ... name is Eberhard Weber. To see him live is breathtaking!

    soundclips here of this unique, amazing musician ...

    post-edit ... 2 tuba players who are actively working in this experimental field are Øystein Baadsvik and Jon Sass. Well worth gathering their opinions and soundclips to listen to them and their music!
  17. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    If anyone wants to explore the Tim Souster works mentioned above, the Doyen recording is listed on at £4.99 - a real bargain.

    Although I personally would not say that every work using electronics is a success, I think it is definitely a valid area to explore, and some of the sampling and echo efects can be very striking. As for the idea of incorporating recordings of real sounds in music it certainly isn't a new idea, and has been used amongst others by Respighi, Ketelby and Varese.
  18. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I don't see a problem with experimenting with such things, if no-one experimented with anything nothing new would ever be seen. Some of it works (the beginning of The Gael with keyboard is excellent), and some of it doesn't (I agree the blackbird in Dove Descending was a bit gimmicky, but the rest of the piece is fantastic).
    One of the problems I can see is balance of the band with the amplification, needs some care. Used carefully and subtly it could add a lot.
  19. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    And you might also have mentioned Oren Marshall, who was presenting music for the electric tuba, I would guess, at least ten years ago. As well as that, Clarence Adoo has had a new electronic instrument built for him. It seems only a matter of time before some enterprising band commissions a work for band and Clarence............
  20. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    ..but hardly a new idea. Ottorino Respighi scored his Pines of Rome to include a gramophone record (what's that??!) of a nightingale - and that was in 1924.

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