Sunday, January 18, 2009

Balinese Twins

My sister returned from Bali today, and as happens before, she brought a bamboo flute as a souvenir, and I already have an exactly the same model in my collection. So here they are, the Balinese twins

Most of these flutes are of tourist's quality. They do looks good but sounds awful. Well, I'm not talking about the sound quality as for traditional flutes, people takes breathyness and the lack of projection as a thing of beauty. But their intonation is so terrible that they can't play any comprehendsible tune.

From all 6, only the 4th and the 5th flute from the left has reasonable intonation. Still, their badly shaped flageolet and embouchure holes limit their overblowing capabilities. For the 1st two, their aspect ratio is just ridiculous, there is no way you can get correct intonation out of that, but somehow the Balinese are very fond of those fat flutes, and you can readily find them in their gamellan ensamble. Off course, I prefer the slender Sundanese flute supermodel.

The best one, not surprisingly the model similar to that played by many profesional balinese flutist, is the 4th. This is a very simple, small and lightly-decorated flute, but plays really well. It produces a very good pentatonic scale, allowing me to give an attempt to reproduce their music, with all the circular breathing extravaganza. And here is the sound recording of it:

Suling Bali.mp3

2008 Christmas Concert

That's me, with the oboe. Behind me is Giovanni, the cellist. I got this picture from the Christmas 2008 Concert that I did with my old high school friend, Ronny.

I haven't seen him for years, but somehow we worked together on this project. He turned out to be the conductor, a very good one, for his church choir at GKIM Gloria.

Somehow he managed to found me, and asked me to create the orchestral arangement for his church's Christmas concert. I happened to share the arrangement project with my former trumpet instructor, Mr Jodi.

It still amazes me up to this day, how Ronny managed to build such a solid choir from a mere 300-strong congregation. It looks like 1 out of 5 members of the church has joined the choir. Amazing feat, some says it is a miracle, although I'm not that kind of religious person.

Friday, January 16, 2009

She sells sea shells

I found this particular kind of sea shells, the one that has a naturally shaped embouchure hole. Take a look at the picture, it looks like a flute's lip plate. Using a weird embouchure similar to the Egyptian Ney, they can readily make a whistle-like sound.

Lipping technique gives each a range of about major third between the lowest and the highest note. So I purchased a pair of these, the biggest they have and the smallest (the one in the foreground is actually the smaller one, but appears larger because of perspective). Together, they give a range of approximately a fifth apart.

As usual, here is the sound sample:

Twin Shells.mp3

Flute Collection

Today, the display rack for holding my flute collection has finally finished. It can't hold them all, but it is a good display nevertheless. Some of my frequently used instruments are not on display, as it would be bad for it if most of the space is empty when I take them with me. Consequently, the broken ones, with cracks or ridiculously placed fingerholes, are on display. But off course, most of them are very good instruments capable of delivering a professional performance. The display, in all of its glory:

Jaw Harps

On the very same trip where he brought back the Cambodian Khloy, my friend also found the legendary vietnamese jaw harp, or Ken La in the local language. Made with brass, this might be the stradivarius of the jaw harp world, producing a sound so loud that it doesn't really need to be put into one's mouth to be audible.

I put this Ken La head to head against the local (for me, local means Sundanese) jaw harp, known as Karinding, which is made from bambo. I recorded both with the same setting, but I have to play the ken la slightly further from the mic as it drives my mic of the scale on this setting. Of course, bamboo produces a much sweeter sound, and it is much safer to put into one's mouth! However, in the jaw harp world (which is a very quiet instrument), loudness is everything, so a lot of player are willing to risk their tongue and lips to play the metal jaw harp.

Listen to the Karinding here:

and to the Ken La:
Ken La.mp3

The craftmanship is quite extraordinary fur such a simple instrument, and it comes with a very nice, decorated carrying case. You can see from the 1st picture the side by side comparison of the vietnamese Ken La and the Indonesian (Sundanese) Karinding, with 100 Rupiah and US Quarter for scale. The 2nd picture shows the brass tongue of the Ken La.

Cambodian Khloy

A friend of mine did a trip around South East Asia, and found this cute little flute in Cambodia. The Khloy, as how locals called it, is a recorder-type instrument. It is curious that the construction of flageolet is fundamentally the same with the European counterpart, with a block of wood inserted into the tube (as opposed to the leaf-ring construction found in Indonesia).

The bamboo itself is very small, with very thin wall. In fact the bore is the smallest among my collection. It has 7 finger holes, but the last one does not seem to give much effect to the pitch. The sound is very bright, but not as piercing as one would expect from such a small flute.

It is decorated with pyrography technique. The pyrography is quite coarse, to be honest, but it does gives the required aura for this traditional instrument. But the most interesting part of this piece is the casing it comes with, as you can see from the picture.

I don't know any Cambodian music, but the flute apparently gives certain kinds of music naturally. Although equiped with flageolet, it allows some flexibility to the emboucure, unlike the rigid European recorder. And it takes some experiments to produce its best sound. Here is the recording of the Khloy, without any prior knowledge of the music it was made for. Enjoy.


From Toraja With Love

This is a flute specimen I obtained from Tana Toraja, Sulawesi. It looks like an ordinary bamboo traverse flute with 6 fingerholes, but with very nice and colorful finishing touch. The bamboo itself is very thin,thus producing its particular sound. I'm not sure how it is supposed to be played, but I think this traditional Toraja melody is always good on any flute. Listen to its sound here.

Toraja Flute.mp3


This is an instrument I created last year, made from a sea urchin shell. I applied thick internal lacquer to the shell as naturally, the sea urchin shell is very porous and not suitable for a wind instrument. After sealing the pores completely, I shaped the embouchure hole, and drill 4 finger holes in it following John Taylor's ocarina design.

With this scheme, the instrument, pitched in concert C, is capable of producing 1 fully chromatic octave. However, with the open, flute style embouchure hole (as opposed to the flageolet ocarina style embouchure hole), lipping technique can bring the low notes of this instrument all the way to G below the treble staff.

Sound sample is here: