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Quartertonic multiphonics

Example 1-3: Spectral

The French composer Philippe Boivin uses quartertonic multiphonics in the fifth movement Spectral of his piece Cinq algorithmes pour contrebasse seule (1991). A bowing technique described as “spectral phase difference” by Jean-Pierre Robert (Modes of playing the doublebass, 1995, page 42) is employed throughout the movement. This technique gives the impression of hearing two consecutive attacks for each bow shift in a rapid flautando movement, thus reinforcing the harmonic spectrum of the open strings. The multiphonics is meant to expand the harmonic spectrum, creating even richer overtone sounds.

Ex. 1. Philippe Boivin: Spectral, bar 10-17

Ex. 2. Philippe Boivin: From the performance instructions to Cinq algorithmes pour contrebasse seule

Generally, a fast bow and light finger pressure will help to produce the wanted effects. The strings are all tuned to D during a short and improvised prelude, and Boivin stresses the importance of the player’s voice in bringing out clear harmonics in the colouring of the vocals which blend in with the instrument’s sounds.

Ex. 3. Philippe Boivin: Spectral, bar 35-36

The multiphonic sounds are often played in combination with ordinary harmonics or multiphonics on adjacent strings. The second and third string is tuned in octaves, thus reinforcing the tonal harmonic spectrum. The sound is very open and free, assisted by the resonance of the open strings.

Example 4: oibbinadocS

Playing simultaneously on adjacent strings can dramatically transform the multiphonic sounds. In my own composition oibbinadocS (2004), a quartertonic multiphonics on the A-string is played in combination with a natural harmonic trill on the D-string. The effect is very much the same as in the similar examples from semitonic multiphonics; a stable chord coloured by the interweaving roll of overtones.

Ex. 4. Håkon Thelin: oibbinadocS

The technical challenge in this particular example is to keep the first finger steady on the precise point of the multiphonics on the string while the second and fourth finger do a fast trill on the higher string (this involves a rather big stretch for the fingers). At the same time, the bow must be positioned in a way that both the multiphonics and the harmonics in the trill speak out clearly. This demands a bow position close to the bridge, and the position that works best, in my experience, is around the 18th harmonic partial.

Example 5: Foxfire Zwei

In the transcription of Foxfire Zwei (1993/2007), I used a multiphonics that has similar sound qualities as the quartertonic multiphonics, which is, however, not included in the chart. The finger is positioned close to the nut and the indicated bow position is poco sul tasto, a lower position than for most quartertonic multiphonics. An airy oscillation between adjacent harmonics and the fundamental is the wanted effect, aided by the gradual change of left hand pressure. The bow position (poco sul tasto) brings out a deep, rumbling fundamental sound on top of which the high harmonics can mingle.

Ex. 5. Helmut Oehring: Foxfire Zwei (arr. Håkon Thelin)

Example 6: Thrust

A similar multiphonics to the one displayed in example 5 appears in Kimmo Hakola’s Thrust (1989), where the finger position is very close to the nut (slightly above the open string). Here again the effect is an oscillation between adjacent harmonics and the fundamental. Contrary to the previous example, the expression here is strong, almost wild, with an intense mingle of high and low frequencies. I would suggest the bow position(s) to remain between ordinario and molto sul ponticello.

Ex. 6. Kimmo Hakola: Thrust, page 8, rubato [andante]

Example 7: Sonata for double bass

Only a few instances of quartertonic multiphonics appear in Michael Liebman’s Sonata for double bass (2001). Liebman uses the technique of gradual transformation as an input to the multiphonic sound; coming from a single flageolet in a quartertone finger position, with a very light bow pressure (L.pr.), the gradually intensified pressure (N.pr.) carefully transform the flageolet sound into a chord effect. These occurrences are shown in examples 7a and 7b. In example 7b, the transformation from a flageolet into a chord effect happens towards the middle of the system (the accidentals applying to the whole system).

Ex. 7a. Michael Liebman: Legato Sonore, page 1, third system



Ex. 7b. Michael Liebman: Legato Sonore, page 3, first system