I love the idea of this blog dedicated to the investigation of timbre!

The Dalmatian Effect

Edgard_VareseThe notion of timbre is frequently elusive. This is particularly the case for pieces in which melody or pitched material plays a large part. When listening to music, our ear naturally follows the melody, and we’re less inclined to focus on what is producing that melody.  But in an all-percussion work, there is no melody. There is hardly any pitch. This forces the listener to concentrate on the subtle differences in sound between the various percussion instruments in order to ascertain how the work was organized.

Ionisaion, composed byVaresearound 1930, uses thirteen percussionists and three dozen different percussion instruments. These range from bass drums to castanets to sirens, and Varese organizes them based on what they are made of (primarily metal, skin, and wood). If you don’t know what to listen for in this piece, and you’re not a percussionist, it can be hard to decipher exactly what’s…

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