Monday, 17 April 2017

Music and Science Fiction

A few weeks ago, on a trip to Oxford, I visited the Bates Collection of musical instruments. Not just an ordinary museum, this was special. Because you get to play some of the instruments. Brilliant! This is how museums should be. What’s more, the curator doesn’t just sit behind a desk waiting to sell T-shirts, pencils and rubbers, he tells you about the exhibits – things you never realised you didn’t know. A fantastic visit and highly recommended if you're in or around Oxford.

So, anyway, I tried a couple of crumhorns, a serpentine and an ancient flute. They were all much harder to play than I expected because of the finger stretches. I hadn't realised how much modern instruments have been developed to help keep the fingers close together so you can cover the tone holes. These old instruments seemed to require some kind of genetic modification for the player to enable him to splay his fingers enough to make any kind of air tight seal. And some of them had more tone holes than fingers. How is that meant to work?

So enough of the ancient blowing instruments. One other instrument that caught my eye was a theremin.
Whoa! What's that? I can have a go at a theremin? I’ve always wanted to try a theremin.

If you’re wondering what a theremin is, go and watch an old fifties #sciencefiction film. Doesn’t matter which one, most had theremin’s in the soundtrack. It’s the instrument that makes the wobbly woo-woo sounds. It’s played by waving your hands in the air. The left hand controls volume, the right hand controls pitch. I should have recorded my laughable attempts at controlling the beast. Maybe it was just as well that I didn’t. It’s very hard.

So that takes me to the Easter weekend and #Eastercon2017.

Having “mastered” the art of theremin playing I was excited to find that the Eastercon programe had a musical treat in store: a concert by Thomas Bloch and Pauline Haas.
Thomas Bloch is a virtuoso on that other venerable #scifi instrument, the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument like a monophonic synth, that lets the performer move the keyboard around to bend the notes.

Thomas Bloch was accompanied by Pauline Haas on harp, and together they gave us a night of genre film and TV music to feature, not only the ondes Martenot, but two other instruments with similar haunting woo-woo sounds, the glass harmonica and the cristal Baschet.
Centre is the glass harmonica. The thing on the left looking 
like something NASA would build is the cristal Baschet
The ondes Martenot is the keyboard left of the harp.

We even had a sneak preview of the music from the forthcoming film Blade Runner 2049, and yes we were warned, the film is pre-release so the music might change a little between now and when we get to see it on the screen.

It was a fascinating evening. I loved seeing how these sounds are produced, and was as much mesmerised by the musical mechanics as by the haunting music itself. My phone photos don’t do justice to the evening, which featured amazing light and smoke effects by the Eastercon tech guys (who did a fabulous job all weekend).

The concert was my finale to Eastercon for this year. I had to cut the weekend short and dash off straight after the concert, blasting north on the M6 until the early hours. I fell into bed and lay there happy and content, still hearing the woo-woo sounds as I tried to sleep.

I need to give you a flavour, so here's a bit of Thomas Bloch on the cristal Baschet, that I found on You Tube.

1 comment:

tonyon said...

3d bioprinting = Immortality = go to stars