Recorders in Borderland
The Recorder and World Music in Australia 1

'Spirit of the Plains', Sydney Long (1871-1955), Queensland Art Gallery

Nick Horn

". . . the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet
-- Werner Heisenberg, qtd. on sleeve notes to Greg Dikmans and Anne Norman Breath of Creation: Flutes of 2 Worlds.

"Folk music - part of our tradition, of our cultural heritage. Its roots lie buried in the distant past; with its instruments it produces sounds full of yearning, of strength and sweet poetry, and yet with fresh breath it is constantly renewed in the here and now."
-- Conrad Steinmann, sleeve notes to Pneuma.

A new recorder music is being heard in Australia: music on borderlines, mixing traditions, exploring foreign idioms, adapting old techniques and appropriating new ones. Zana Clarke (with Peter Biffin on Tar-hu & Deboosh) is discovering new forms of improvisation through the blending of Middle Eastern and Asian traditions; Greg Dikmans (with Anne Norman on shakuhachi) brings together early and traditional music using a variety of "flutes"; Rodney Waterman (with Doug de Vries on guitar) has gone Latin. These surprising collaborations, involving three of Australia’s leading performers on recorder, are indicative of a number of exciting tendencies in the world of the recorder and the recorder’s place in the larger musical world.

World music

The recorder is establishing a territory within the realm of "World Music". What is "World Music"? It is, at least in part, a marketing category employed by a recording industry desperate for novelty; it can mean simply "traditional" or folk music from anywhere in the world. It can also, however, serve the useful purpose of describing such surprising stylistic juxtapositions as when the Hilliard Ensemble’s performances of early renaissance motets are deployed as an accompaniment for saxophonist Jan Garbareck’s meditative jazz improvisations (on the CD Officium). 2

If there is any coherent concept connecting the vast array of different performers whose work is categorised as "World Music" it is the very fact of collaboration; instruments, performers and musical traditions from hitherto disparate realms (geographical and cultural) are mixed in all kinds of different ways. It is in this sense that the term might be ascribed to the recorder collaborations mentioned above, and others like them. Before returning to these, it will be useful to recall the extent to which the "native" tradition of the recorder has itself been a mixed tradition, particularly since revived earlier this century.

Recorder music in the 20th century (memories of Recorder ‘90)

The recorder’s credentials for entry into the mix-and-match world of World Music are better than might be expected: despite its modern reputation as having been an instrument of upper class culture, this is not the full story. As David Bellugi says:

The recorder has a close relationship to certain folk and ethnic instruments whose music stems from an oral tradition: indeed, much of Early Music either re-elaborates aspects of popular culture or becomes synonymous with it. (Landscapes, sleeve notes).

In the 20th century, the recorder has more than ever had to find its place between musical traditions. It has had no choice, with the loss of any native classical tradition after the mid-18th century and the rise of the modern orchestra. 3

The early music revival movement that has brought the recorder back into the modern "classical" scene has always involved, even if despite itself, a mixing of performance traditions: an attempt to explore past musical and performing traditions in a present-day context. Robert Ehrlich highlights the synthetic nature of modern early music recorder performance:

Even if we never play modern works our technique is inevitably modern because our attempts at ‘authenticity’ are wild shots in the dark. . . We insist on playing music from more than one era and more than one country, and seek to find appropriate styles for everything. Despite lip-service to Hotteterre and Ganassi, our attempts at authenticity are in fact about as authentic as the drip-dry, easy-care, velcro-fastened polyester costumes for a television documentary about the Sun King. (Ehrlich (1990) 2) 4

What about recorder music composed this century? Walter van Hauwe has noted that "there is more modern recorder music than old recorder music" (qtd. Ehrlich (1990) 1); and Ehrlich’s judgment that "much of [modern recorder music] is better than the general run of original pre-classical music" (Ehrlich (1990) 1) is certainly sustainable.

When the recorder comes to play this modern repertoire there is always an element of synthesis over and above the blending of styles and traditions that characterises all the music of the second half of this century. In fact, the training of the modern professional recorder player equips her better than most other instrumentalists to bridge different performing traditions, since the acquisition of technique is always (partly) an exercise in practical historical research (as undertaken by any serious performer, this is always more than "lip service to Hotteterre and Ganassi", pace Ehrlich). Recorder recitals too, often blend the old and the new in intriguing ways, exploiting the 150-year gap in the history of recorder music to obtain interesting musical juxtapositions.

Two of my most treasured musical experiences involve performances that explore this borderland (in different ways), both during Recorder ‘90 in Canberra: Walter van Hauwe’s performance at old Parliament House, and Conrad Steinmann’s program for the same event at St. Andrew’s Church just around the corner.

During van Hauwe’s concert (much of it confronting the audience with the extremes of late modernism), there was a spell-binding moment as he eased from a Hotteterre Prelude into a rendition of Charlie Parker’s meditative be-bop "Ballade". You just didn’t know where one finished and the other began. After it was over you had to double-check your program to be sure of what you had heard - van Hauwe had slipped back into Hotteterre without missing a beat. It was a beautifully ambiguous, transient experience, epitomising the capacity of the recorder to float between traditions.

If van Hauwe flirts with the mixture of the old and the new (such teasing goes back to his Sour Cream days), Conrad Steinmann might almost be said to transcend the notion of "mixture". The extended improvisation based on Machaut’s "Le Lay de la Rose" at Steinmann’s Recorder ‘90 concert quietly defied, or evaded, musical boundaries: the effect was not so much to experience the mixing of genres but to be taken into a sound world where musical categories didn’t matter any more. 5

Another experience at Recorder ‘90 illustrates a further dimension to the recorder’s capacity to move between traditions. Robert Ehrlich’s forthright lecture on the modern professional recorder player - complete with pin-ups of Frans Brüggen - emphasised the novelty of the modern notion of specialisation on the recorder (the pair of articles by Ehrlich cited in this article are based on this lecture). Coupled with the difficulties - even in the UK, more so in Australia–of finding a place in the musical mainstream, the recorder player must struggle to establish a repertoire. Ehrlich argued for an aggressive approach to the appropriation of repertoire from elsewhere; this was demonstrated in performance by a very effective adaptation for alto recorder of Debussy’s solo flute work "Syrinx".6

Recent collaborations

The appeal of World Music for the recorder player is stated succinctly by Rodney Waterman:

I haven’t deliberately sought to set myself in the "World Music" idiom, and I haven’t come to it because there is no money in baroque and early music for professional recorder players. I come to it more out of the spirit of wanting to explore the "soul" of this simple/complex wooden-tube-block-flute. Improvisation, Letting Go, Free Spirit, Melodiousness - these are words that come to mind in this venture - and I feel like the trek has only just begun. (personal communication, 24/7/98).

The "simple/complex" synthesis Waterman mentions is poetically epitomised in the title track to Waterman’s collaboration with Melbourne guitarist Doug de Vries, Agua e Vinho : "Water and Wine", a composition by Egberto Gismonti (see Waterman’s track notes on the CD). The CD is an eclectic mix of jazz, folk and regional Brazilian, Spanish renaissance, Catalan traditional and Australian original music. Its sole gesture towards the recorder’s early music repertoire is a performance of Ortiz’s first two recercadas, but even these find there place here (apart from the Spanish reference) for predominantly textural rather than programmatic reasons.

One of Waterman and de Vries’ notable achievements on this CD is to have adapted the combination of recorder and guitar so successfully to the predominantly Brazilian (or Brazilian-influenced) repertoire. An indication of their success is that although most of the compositions are written-out, a spontaneity characterises the performances throughout; moreover, there are a number of lively improvised passages in any case. Notable too are the compositions by Waterman ("Song of Reconciliation", "Zana", "Ade") and de Vries ("Chorinho Toccatina"). The inclusion of performer-composed works (and the use of improvisation and free embellishment) is also a feature of the other collaborations discussed in this article - indicative of an intention to take their music in a more personal direction than is allowed by existing ethnic traditions or written-out compositions.

One of Waterman’s principal instruments on the CD is the voice flute, a recorder most closely resembling the modern tenor in pitch range, but with little music composed specifically for it. It is employed widely these days in the early music sphere for the appropriation of baroque flute repertoire (as advocated by Ehrlich (1991). 7 Here its combination of flexibility and lower sonority is well suited for an encounter with the guitar.

Two of Waterman’s compositions are of especial interest. Each is a tribute to a precursor in the recorder-fusion business. The first is "Ade", an exuberant tribute to well-known Australian jazz-man Ade Monsbourgh’s adaptation of the recorder to that idiom. 8 A racy jazz feel is conveyed with a Latin flavour borrowed from the Brazilian 4-string cavaquinho played by de Vries (crossing more boundaries, Waterman notes on the sleeve that the piece was originally composed on a 10-course renaissance lute).

A similar instrumental synthesis is acknowledged in Waterman’s performance of "Zana" for Ganassi recorder. It is named for Zana Clarke, who is attributed by the composer in the sleeve notes with having "helped to transform the ‘Ganassi’ treble recorder in g’ from the exclusive realm of period renaissance and early baroque repertoire to becoming a vital living and breathing contemporary musical instrument". 9

As Waterman’s tribute indicates, Zana Clarke has certainly been doing very different things with the Ganassi recorder than had been done before (in Australia, at least). With Cantigas, Clarke used the instrument to great effect well out of its historical range to develop this group’s blend of Middle-Eastern (and occasionally far-Eastern) traditional sounds with medieval instrumental music. 10

In her collaboration with Peter Biffin in the duo Nardoo, Clarke has distanced herself rather more radically than Waterman from her early music "roots". Nardoo’s self-titled first CD blends the sound of the Ganassi instrument with 2 instruments that are "fusions" in themselves - Biffin’s creations, the "Tar-hoo" and the "Deboosh". 11 All the music is self-composed, and much is improvised, or has significant improvised elements; the overall effect is "an intriguing blend of Turkish, Japanese, Indian, jazz, Medieval and contemporary influences" (Dikmans, review of Nardoo 28). The result has less clear traditional provenances than in Agua e Vinho; there is a more determined attempt to synthesise a variety of traditions.

Clarke’s recently-released solo CD "Dreams Inside the Air Tunnel" is more adventurous, incorporating a variety of advanced recorder techniques in a search for new means of expression. Judging from advance cuts of the forthcoming second Nardoo CD Waiting by the Sea, she and Biffin are working together with still greater freedom. Biffin has some interesting remarks to make on the subject of improvisation "between" traditions:

For musicians such as Zana and myself, who felt a connection with each other's playing but had no shared tradition in improvising, the only alternative was to create a [vocabulary and structure] of our own. This relied on a high degree of familiarity with each other’s playing. As an example, the piece ‘Waiting by the Sea’ [from Nardoo’s forthcoming CD] has a harmonic component, but there are no ‘charts’ to direct chord changes as there are in jazz (the chords have no fixed sequence or order). Neither is there any rhythmic cycle defining the length of phrases and how long before the tune comes back as there is in Indian music. There is some other system in place guiding the music such that we end up at the same point at the same time, and this system relies more on intuition and rapport than on tradition. (personal communication, 3/8/98)

Similarly, Biffin’s sleeve notes to Nardoo indicate a conscious sense of displacement of original traditions (arising from what he romantically terms the "folk soul"), and an attempt to deal with such a notion of a folk music inevitably alienated from its roots. In this he echoes the sentiments of Conrad Steinmann quoted at the head of this article. Steinmann - surely one of the most gifted living recorder players - has demonstrated on Melpo and Pneuma a deep engagement with the question of the relationship of the recorder and similar end-blown flutes to ancient musical tradition.

On Melpo, Steinmann moves from the relatively straightforward performance of folk tunes from an 18th century collection to a series of experiments with the music of Machaut (mentioned above) and van Eyck that attempt to deal with the sense of displacement referred to by Biffin. His treatment of van Eyck’s variations on Amarilli mia bella involves actually singing Caccini’s song into the recorder, while the van Eyck variations on Slaep o zoete slaep are dubbed over each other. From there, a series of improvisations and a performance of a number of contemporary compositions mark out a route into avant-garde practice from the recorder’s "traditional" early music.

With Pneuma, Steinmann simultaneously moves backwards to fragments of ancient Greek music (played on the Aulos) and forwards to ever more mystical avant-garde improvisations and experiments, touching ground on the way with medieval music from the 14th century.

A key aspect of Steinmann’s musical journey is the concern with the recorder and other flutes as modifiers, or transmogrifiers, of the human breath: this is perhaps perceived as the mystical essence bringing the ancient and modern together onto a contemporary plane. Greg Dikmans and Anne Norman, on their CD Breath of Creation: Flutes of two worlds take up this element of Steinmann’s work, bringing together the recorder and baroque flute with their Japanese counterpart, the shakuhachi. The list of works on the sleeve indicates the breadth of this collaboration: "folk melodies from Japan, Ireland and England; European art music; Zen meditations; 20th-century compositions; Collaborative improvisations".

Dikmans’ and Norman’s program is carefully designed to make the most of the collaboration: "straight" performances from each of their respective "home" traditions are juxtaposed with collaborations and improvisations, and with contemporary works for recorder illustrating the affinity between the recorder and shakuhachi ("Music for a bird" (Linde); "Spaces" (Norman)). 12 In this sense, the collaboration is less apparently spontaneous than those discussed earlier, but its systematic nature indicates the many possibilities open in the exploration of common terrritories such as this.

Conclusion: from the concert hall - to the folk festival - to Recorder 2000

The artists mentioned here exemplify a growing trend to expand the musical world of the recorder through collaboration and synthesis with other instruments and traditions. Such music has found a ready outlet in performances of folk music, particularly at festivals. This is perhaps the most populous audience (in terms of numbers) for Waterman (with de Vries), Clarke (with Cantigas and Nardoo) and Cogan (with the Habibis). In addition, Maya Ward with Lothlorien and Matthew Ridley with Pastance (which brings together medieval and renaissance music with English folk) are enjoying notable success in this context. Other recorder players who have explored this territory are Jo Dudley with Fresh Air (whose performances included medieval music from Turkey and Macedonia) and Chris Burgess with Zingara (whose repertoire covered music from the Balkans, Greece and Asia Minor as well as anglo/celtic folk). 13

I am not so familiar with the international scene, but it would be surprising if this Australian trend were not reflected in some way overseas. 14 David Bellugi, based in Florence, Italy, is notably engaged in pushing the limits of the recorder’s territory on the CD Landscapes, which employs modern digital and multiple over-dubbing recording techniques to build a unique sound-world for "music from 3 centuries" including music from Renaissance France, Spain and Hungary, Roumanian folk dances by Bartok, klezmer dances and a contemporary work by Leo Brouwer.

If further confirmation of this trend were required, the program for Recorder 2000, the national Australian recorder festival, supplies it. Subtitled "The Call of the Four Winds", this is to take place in Armidale NSW in January 2000. Its objectives are indicative of the nature of the space opening for the recorder on the World Music stage:

[The festival] aims to explore the recorder with a variety of activities to enhance its profile and performance possibilities. The festival will also include other woodwind such as the Japanese flute (Shakuhachi), the South American flutes (Quena and Panpipes), the Indian flute (Bansuri) and the Whistle, giving participants an opportunity to specialise or integrate the many similar techniques employed by those instruments" (Orpheus Music). 1

When I started to research this article, I thought perhaps that this "world music" trend in the Australian recorder world was a reaction against the deplorable lack of encouragement in Australia for the study, teaching and performance of early music. What I have found, however, is a re-invigoration of the recorder and its music through its encounters with hitherto foreign tradititions and instruments. The music on the border is every bit as exciting as the music in the countries on either side!

Works and recordings cited


1 The assistance and encouragement of a number of people in the preparation of this article is gratefully acknowledged. Peter Biffin, Robyn Mellor and Rodney Waterman all read a preliminary draft and supplied salutary criticism. Rodney Waterman filled in a number of gaps in my knowledge. Peter Biffin and Zana Clarke kindly provided advance cuts from Nardoo's forthcoming CD. This article was written for publication in the Australian journal Recorder and Early Music, and the encouragement and advice of the editor, Greg Dikmans, is also most appreciated. Responsibility for accuracy and for any comment rests, of course, with the author.

2 The eclectic programming of the popular ABC Radio National nightly program "The Planet", and of most folk festivals in Australia these days, might itself be said to constitute a "World Music" performance in a structural sense.

3 The notion of a "native" or organic tradition for any music is, of course, theoretically suspect: musical traditions can never be neatly confined to geographical, historical or analytical limits, and are always infringing on others' territory. See sleeve notes by Steinmann (Pneuma) and Biffin (Nardoo).

4 For fully reasoned accounts of the intransigent philosophical and practical difficulties facing the notion of "authenticity" see the essays in Kenyon.

5 A version is recorded on Melpo .

6 Such advocacy of appropriation in the early music world is not without controversy. Rodney Waterman has drawn my attention to the account in The Recorder in the Seventeenth Century (Stimu, 1993) of Barthold Kuijken's argument with David Lasocki on almost precisely this point: the appropriation of (baroque) flute music by the recorder.

7 See Waterman "Recorders Relatively Speaking" on the adaptation of music written for differently pitched instruments for performance on the voice flute (and vice versa).

8 Recorder in Ragtime. See Waterman "Recorders . . . and all that jazz", which discusses this recording as well as Keith Jarret's Spirits. (Keith Jarret, playing harpsichord, has also collaborated with Michala Petri in recordings of music by Handel and JS Bach). If these represent incursions into recorder performance by jazz artists, the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet (in their faultlessly smooth adaptation of the recorder consort format to the performance of jazz standards on the CD Extra Time) and Evelyn Nallen's "The Respectable Groove" come from the other direction.

9 Racheal Cogan's unique use of Ganassi recorders to perform Greek traditional music as a member of the HaBiBis (sic) (a Melbourne group) deserves mention as well. Cogan's recorder effortlessly takes over the role of the Greek clarino (a type of clarinet); the improvisatory freedom of her performances within this idiom is little short of remarkable. The HaBiBis have issued 2 CDs: Four Warriors and Intoxication. This performer's initial foray into "World Music" was as Chris Burgess' replacement in the Melbourne group Zingara in 1989.

10 Clarke also pioneered the use of the voice flute in this context. The adaptation of middle-eastern traditional music (percussion patterns and improvisation techniques) to medieval western music is not new, of course: it was pioneered in the 60s and 70s by Thomas Binkley and the Studio der frühen Musik and (in Australia) by Winsome Evans' Renaissance Players.

11 Peter Biffin's talents as an instrument-maker, performer on a variety of fretted and bowed instruments, and (as here) developer and player of original instruments, themselves constitute an adventure in living on the musical margins worthy of more serious treatment than can be accorded here. See Atherton 171-74.

12 "Spaces" finds a place in a distinct tradition of avant-garde works in which the recorder appropriates shakuhachi technique starting with Hans-Martin Linde's "Music for a Bird", continuing with the now-classic trio of works by Japanese composers, "Black Intention" (Muki Ishi), "Meditation" (Ryohei Hirose) and "Fragmente" (Makoto Shinohara) and reaching Australia with Ros Bandt's own "Meditation", Waterman's "Leviathan" and Clarke's "Fragment Longing" (alluding, perhaps, to Shinohara's work; different versions are recorded on both Nardoo and Dreams Inside the Air Tunnel). Waterman has also in recent times performed with shakuhachi master Riley Lee.

13 The "folk/jazz/blues/gipsy" band, Jugularity, a regular at folk festivals, has Ernie Gruner (occasionally) on recorder (Greatest Hats. Kaleidoscope Music. CD) ("Recorded recorders").

14 Recorded Recorders, for example, lists Richard Harvey on recorder with the English folk band Gryphon and various American recorder performances with a folk flavour; in addition, the recorder seems to have encountered the New Age with Wu Minchung's Perceiving the Wind for recorder and synthesiser (Elite-Crossover EL 5100).

15 For further information about the festival, contact Orpheus Music, PO Box 1363 Armidale NSW 2350 Australia. It is no surprise, given this program, that Orpheus Music is Zana Clarke's entrepeneurial persona.

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