A Convergence of Disciplines
In my last article in Flute Focus, I highlighted some of the extended techniques in contemporary classical music from the 1970s that used tongue clicks, pops, and other speech sounds in novel ways. If we look at jazz and improvised music, beginning a little earlier in the 1960s, not only is there a truckload of amazing flute playing to hear, but we also begin to see some very distinct personalities who paved the way for much of the beatboxing and wild rhythmic flute playing that is happening right now.
Many of the flute players that I'll discuss in this article combined elements of some very different musical camps to find new ways of playing. They expanded the instrument's timbral palette and pushed ever more into rhythmic accompaniment patterns on the flute.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935 – 1977)
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a jazz musician who performed on recorder, various percussion, saxophones and flute.
On Kirk's albums, his flute playing frequently features singing and playing simultaneously, with the addition of grunting, screaming and singing lyrics into the flute, rapid tonguing, and vocal harmonising and glissandi concurrent with flute sound (listen here and here)1. His recordings are some of the earliest to feature these types of "dirty" or "rough" sounds on the concert flute and set a precedent for experimenting and widening the flute's timbral palette2.
On the Reeds and Deeds album from 1963, Kirk is also heard quoting the tune of the nursery rhyme "This Old Man" using key slaps during track 6, "This Is Always" (this one is a little harder to find on YouTube but Amazon seems to have it)3. The use of key slaps in this recording shows jazz musicians using extended techniques that had resided almost exclusively in the sphere of classical composition up to this point. This phenomenon of borrowing styles of music, passing techniques and timbres back and forth, and often adding something more along the way, has significantly led the development of the flute's timbral palette throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries.
Ian Anderson (1947)
Ian Anderson, front man of the prog rock band Jethro Tull, adopted the flute as a rock music instrument and set a precedent for innovative (and outlandish) flute playing.
Ian Clarke cites Anderson as having "highly influenced my flute playing,"4 and Greg Pattillo, similarly, views him as a "big flute influence."5 On Project Trio's Brooklyn album, Pattillo performs a cover of Jethro Tull's Bourée (an arrangement of the Bourée from Bach's Suite in E Minor, BWV 996).
Alongside his roles as vocalist and guitarist, Anderson has performed on flute with Jethro Tull since the band's first album in 19686.
His employment of extended techniques, electronic delay, amplification and novel uses of the voice (e.g. snorts, grunts and shouts during flute solos) built on those of earlier jazz flutists, such as Roland Kirk. Anderson's flute playing has continued to have a significant impression on those seeking to extend the flute's timbral possibilities.
Beatboxing per se was not part of Anderson's technique (it wasn't really conceived of and certainly hadn't reached English shores when he was initially performing on flute in the 1970s). It is evident, however, in the "Flute solo improvisation" track (very similar to this video) on the Bursting Out album, that he employs many techniques that would later form the basis of flute-beatboxing's foundations: "ch" articulations, flutter tongue as an accent or punctuation, singing whilst playing, spit tongue, audible shallow breathing between flute notes (similar to a technique that Greg Pattillo terms "shuffle breathing"7) and vocal punctuations - snorts, grunts, shouts, etc. - between flute notes.8
Robert Dick (1950)
"Hendrix proved through his medium, the electric guitar, that limits to technique are in the imagination, not in the instrument or in the tradition. If you could find, dream, of a way, think of a way, imagine a sound, you will find a way to play it. And it makes me very happy that the multiphonic language, extended techniques and all, have reached a point now where we can really go and play things in given styles, as well as form new and original styles to keep growth of the flute repertoire going."9
Robert Dick, whilst not integrating beatboxing and flute playing, has actively sought to "enable the flute to participate in musical innovations not only of the 'classical' avant-garde, but also of jazz and rock."10 He states that "guitar players are endlessly inventing new sounds and new tone qualities," and asks, "why can't the flute have this much range?"11
In his effort to expand the role of the flute in performance, Dick's jazz and rock recordings (check them out here) demonstrate the flute imitating an array of electric guitar sounds and effects by exploring extended techniques such as those documented in The Other Flute, including multiphonics, Aeolian or airy sound, jet whistles, tongue rams, etc.12
On his album, Jazz Standards on Mars, with the Soldier String Quartet (videos here), Dick performs a cover of Jimmy Hendrix's Machine Gun (thanks again to YouTube) where the role of electric guitar is assumed by the flute.13 Hard, airy attacks appear in the opening of the track, imitating a repeated palm-muted strumming of the guitar.
In further efforts to expand the flute's possibilities, Dick has invented the Glissando Headjoint®, a sliding headjoint mechanism that allows the flutist to bend the pitch of a note "seamlessly into its neighbours."14 The invention "does for the flute what the 'whammy bar' does for the electric guitar" and provides the possibility of "a flexible, liquid approach to pitch."15 Angus McPherson has covered the Glissando Headjoint for Flute Focus in great detail here.
Robert Dick has contributed to the advancement of extended flute technique by exploring distinctive elements of electric guitar playing (and rock music generally) and applying them to the flute. Whilst Dick's innovations have not been specifically based on developing beatboxing or drum sounds on the flute, his innovations have had a phenomenal influence on flutists and composers.
Ian Clarke (1964)
English flutist-composer, Ian Clarke is no exception to the numbers influenced by Robert Dick. His solo flute compositions draw on popular music styles, particularly "European pop and rock culture" and the music of, and extended playing techniques furthered by, Robert Dick.16
In Clarke's Zoom Tube (see Ian's killer recording here), we see one of the earliest overt links between flute music containing extended techniques and the intentional imitation of drum sounds. "When the human voice is used to groove, an array of percussive vocalizations are employed to imitate a drum kit or used as interjections to further rhythmic suggestion. Therefore note bending, an array of articulations and the voice ... feature [in Zoom Tube]."17
Clarke also, like Dick, draws on the sounds of the electric guitar in his flute compositions: "Amongst other things I wanted the flute to groove, much as a rhythm guitarist might, so chords (multiphonics) and damping techniques were necessary."18 After hearing Stockhausen's Xi (here's a pretty cool video of it featuring Rogier de Pijper), Clarke "explored the use of quartertones and breathy sounds," and wanting "other worldly sounds," he also investigated "how to incorporate tone colours similar to South American flute playing."19 Clarke recognizes the influence of "rhythm and blues," and states that he "was listening to a lot of Bobby McFerrin at the time" of writing Zoom Tube.20
"I remember the producers kept asking me to experiment with creating different or unique sounds on the flute. They kept saying that I was playing the flute 'too pretty.' So, I began experimenting with trying to make my instrument sound like the others' instruments in the band, the guitar, the synthesizers. I discovered a number of new, interesting timbres capable of being produced on the flute."21
It is evident that, at this point, flutists were becoming increasingly aware of the merits of using speech sounds and percussive articulations, especially in a solo context. With compositions such as Zoom Tube, "representing the imitation of a guitar riff interspersed with a percussive drum kit," becoming increasingly popular amongst flutists, it is apparent that the sounds and playing style Clarke used in the piece, similar to those used in beatboxing, were likely to be developed further by other flutists.22
This list of flute innovators is by no means exhaustive. There are surely a thousand other amazing composers and performers that have done wild things with the flute. Write to us in the comments section below and tell us about your favourite twentieth-century flute innovator. Who else has shaped the rhythmic and timbral additions to the flute sound during the latter twentieth-century?
Next month, we'll take a look at some more ways that YOU can get your beatbox flute on, so stay tuned!
This article is adapted from portions of Shaun's Masters research paper - "Beatbox Flute: An historical account, performance manual and notational guide". Sydney: University of Sydney, 2011. http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/record=b4081295~S4.
1. See tracks 10 "Three for the Festival" and 11 "You Did It, You Did It" on Rahsaan Roland Kirk, We Free Kings (Mercury Records MG 20679, 1961); See track 7 "Reeds and Deeds" on Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Reeds and Deeds (Mercury 20800, 1963)
2. Kirk, Reeds and Deeds.
4. S. L Monier, "Three Works For Flute By Ian Clarke: An Analysis And Performance Guide" (D.M.A. Diss., Lincoln, NE: The University of Nebraska, 2010), 81
5. Greg Pattillo, "Beatbox Flute," Flute Focus, October 2009, 5
6. Jethro Tull, This Was (London: Island Records, 1968)
7. See for further explanation of this technique: Shaun Barlow, "Beatbox Flute: An historical account, performance manual and notational guide" (Sydney: University of Sydney, 2011), 47, http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/record=b4081295~S4
8. Jethro Tull, Bursting Out, 33 rpm (Los Angeles: Chrysalis CH2-1201, 1978), http://lccn.loc.gov/92778690
9. Robert Dick, Flying Lessons II, instructional cassette (New York: Multiple Breath Music Co., 1987); Quoted in S. R Carlson, "The Flute Etudes of John Heiss, Robert Dick and Harvey Sollberger: Interpretive Analysis and Pedagogical Implications" (Houston, Texas: School of Music, University of Houston, 1996)
10. N. Toff, The Development of the Modern Flute (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 215
11. Ardal Powell, The Flute (New York: Yale University Press, 2002), 273
12. Robert Dick, The Other Flute: A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques, 2nd ed. (New York: Multiple Breath Music Company, 1989)
13. Robert Dick and Soldier String Quartet, Jazz standards on Mars (Munich: Enja, 1997)
14. Robert Dick, "The Robert Dick Glissando Headjoint", n.d., http://www.glissando.biz/, (accessed May 30, 2011)
15. Morwenna Collett, "Robert Dick- Flute as you don't normally hear it, Part 4," Flute Focus, 2009, http://www.flutefocus.com/67-robert-dick-flute.html, (accessed October 17, 2010)
16. Monier, "Three Works For Flute By Ian Clarke," 4
17. Ibid., 24 cited as "Ian Clarke, Personal interview, 23 March 2007"
19. Ibid., 82
21. Ibid., 81
22. Ibid., 43