The Famulus has recently published an audio journal on the theme of ‘everyday magic’, to which I’ve contributed a recording of Ten Meditative Fragments [pdf], played on treble recorder with effects.

Ten Meditative Fragments (2007)

Ten Meditative Fragments (2007)

Here’s the accompanying note:

The music of Ten Meditative Fragments was written in 2007 using chance procedures to compose ten musical fragments, which could then be freely interpreted as an improvisation on a monophonic instrument. While I have played the piece privately countless times over the past few years, it was The Famulus’ call for contributions that compelled me to record a version. 

Where is the ‘everyday magic’ here? To me it comes from the process of being able to combine disparate materials into a cohesive whole; to enter a state in which connections can be made between the seemingly disconnected atoms that comprise the piece and in which they appear to make sense. I feel this is akin to the special experience of looking out onto a landscape and being overtaken by the feeling of numinous unity that it expresses. If that’s not a magical feeling, I don’t know what is.

Playing and recording this piece has prompted me to think about starting a new Pneumatic Consort album and what it is I love about listening to (and composing, improvising and otherwise making) ‘new’ recorder music. I hope you’ll indulge me as I run through some what I think are some of the ‘greatest hits’.

While the recorder is most often associated with early music and education, the instrument has an often unappreciated role in more contemporary and experimental music.

In the 1960s the two great recorder virtuosi Frans Bruggen and Michael Vetter both commissioned works from a number of leading contemporary composers. To me two of the most interesting recorder works are the graphic scores associated with Michael Vetter. Sylvano Bussotti, theatrical composer and master musical draughtsman wrote RARA for Vetter in 1966. It’s a graphic score with some fairly precise instructions for interpretation, along with – in typical Bussotti style – instructions for a mime and their costume integrated into it. Vetter produced his own notated transcription of the piece, declaring it a true collaboration between composer and performer. Although Vetter’s version doesn’t seem to be readily available (- though it was released on an LP: the flip side to a recorder version of Stockhausen’s Spiral no less!), there is an extract on YouTube interpreted by Daniele Caibis, a tutor at the University of Rome:

Obviously inspired by RARA, Vetter himself wrote his own graphic score, the impressive Rezitative for amplified recorder (1967):

Michael Vetter – Rezitative (1967), image from

There is a spectacular video of Rezitative being performed by Emmanuel Comte on French television in 1978, accompanied in his interpretation by a troupe of black-clad school children:

I’ve recently become interested in some of the later repertoire for recorder and tape/fixed media, which the vague direction that I feel the new Pneumatic Consort material might be heading. Particularly beautiful is East Wind (1981) for amplified recorder and quadrophonic soundtrack by Barry Truax.

… and I’ve (naturally) been enjoying Benjamin Dwyer’s Crow (1999), for amplified recorder and tape, inspired, of course, by the imagery of the Ted Hughes cycle of poems.

I’ve not mentioned the pieces composed for Bruggen, but the most famous is probably Louis Andriessen’s Sweet (1964), a piece in which the performer is taken to breaking-point by increasingly demanding writing, culminating in an ‘interruption’ of the performer’s choosing. In this 1988 recording by Walter van Hauwe it’s an extremely odd piece of music that sounds to me like it might have been recycled from recordings of the piece itself:

Finally, a palette-cleansing piece of early music/obligatory John Dowland… here’s a recording of Bruggen playing van Eyck’s variations on Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavan.