Saturday, February 17, 2024

"Premier Hitters" for Contrabass Sarrusophone

Contrabass Sarrusophone

"Premier Hitters" for Contrabass Sarrusophone emerges as an ontological puzzle, challenging the very fabric of musical and material relationships. Crafted with a nodal notation system that pivots around a technique dubbed “extroflection,” the piece serves as a manifesto against the crystallization of music into a finite, digestible message.

Herein lies the paradox: the more the piece unfolds, the more it wraps itself into a Gordian knot of infinite interactions, forever suspending the possibility of a singular interpretation.

The performer might see in its complexity a reflection of our own entanglements with the Real, an attempt to articulate the inarticulable space between the Symbolic and the Imaginary. The notational system of the piece, focusing on extroflection, is not merely a technical innovation; it is a subversive act, a refusal to conform to the symbolic order of traditional music notation and its inherent limitations. By opting for this system, I invite us into a realm where the musical score becomes a visual sculpture, a tangible manifestation of the forever elusive, yet undeniably present.

The material relationships demonstrated within the score speak to a deeper, more profound contemplation of our existence within a nexus of natural and built environments. It is here that the piece ventures beyond the realm of music into the philosophical, engaging with the ontological question of how we coexist with our surroundings. This contemplation is not passive; it demands active engagement from the interpreter, a temporal investment that mirrors the time-based actions required to perform the piece. The score, in this sense, becomes a map of potentialities, a series of suspended states that resist the closure of interpretation, inviting both performer and audience into a state of reinforced reflection.

Yet, it is the double entendre at the heart of "Premier Hitters" that encapsulates its most profound commentary. On one level, the title suggests a celebration of mastery, of being at the forefront, the premier hitters in the game of life. But on another, it hints at the Sisyphean nature of our efforts, the realization that, despite our central role in our personal narratives, we are but specks in the vast expanse of the universe. This realization does not lead to nihilism but rather to a liberating acceptance of our place in the great scheme of things, a cosmic joke that we are in on.

One might argue that "Premier Hitters" embodies the quintessential act of subversion, challenging us to confront the fundamental antagonisms of our existence. The piece does not offer answers but rather complicates the questions, forcing us into a confrontation with the Real. In its refusal to crystallize into a finite message, the composition acts as a mirror, reflecting our own desires, fears, and the infinite complexity of the human condition.

"Premier Hitters" finds musical meaning by spotlighting the instrument itself. Both score and philosophy eschew the quest for absolute truths; they display rather than declare. The floating, unresolved figures mirror the concept of “family resemblances”—the overlapping commonalities that connect disparate ideas and objects across time.

"Premier Hitters," as contemplative passages allow resetting of perspective. Through reinforced reflection upon one’s situatedeness within multiply-entangled environments, personal ontology interlinks with materials. The visual-sculptural score aesthetic enacts this enmeshment; sound and symbol entwine.

About the Contrabass Sarrusophone:

The contrabass sarrusophone is the largest and deepest sounding member of the sarrusophone family of double reed brass instruments designed in the mid-19th century by French instrument inventor Pierre-Louis Gautrot. Its unusual design combines loud projecting qualities of a saxophone with the rich, nasal tones of an oboe. Yet despite its novelty, the instrument remains obscure even among brass players. This article examines the history, anatomy, and performance practice of the deep-voiced contrabass sarrusophone.

The name “sarrusophone” derives from the French army bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813-1876) who envisioned and collaborated with Gautrot on early designs in the 1850s. Their aim was to streamline the orchestral wind section and fill gaps in tone quality between high woodwinds and low brass. Initial sarrusophone models were patented in 1856, with the contrabass range expanding downwards in the 1870s. Prominent Continental composers like Gounod and D'Indy wrote parts for the new instruments, but they failed to supplant traditional sections and periodic revivals of interest have not secured a permanent orchestral seat for sarrusophones.

Visually akin to an oversized saxophone, contrabass sarrusophones stand around 7 feet in height with a long curved metal body, a conical bore, and a flared bell. The mouthpiece and double reed closely resemble those of a bassoon or contrabassoon. Keywork extends down much of the instrument with up to 25 tone holes manipulated via metal pistons or modern needle spring keys. Materials consist primarily of brass, treated wood, nickel silver, and bronze. Professional models are hand crafted for smooth technical facility across the extended range of three and a half octaves from notated Bb1 to F4.

Due to its weight and size, the contrabass must be supported by a floor peg or metal stand played in a seated position. Skilled performers utilize refined embouchure control, breath support, and fingering dexterity to shape nuanced timbres from brawny to delicate. The tonal palette ranges from reedy woodwind textures to powerful buzzing tones to warm undercurrents blending with tuba and string bass sections.

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