Archive for February 2008

Bassoon crook gadget

February 16, 2008

bassoonboost.jpgMy friend Geoff has a section on his website devoted to his Latest Bit of Kit (LBoK).  One of these is the BASSOON BOOST – an apparently very simple idea:  you remove the cork from the end of your crook (= bocal, for readers in the US) where it fits into the top of the bassoon, and replace it with a tight-fitting bit of plastic.

My first reaction was sceptical – it seemed like re-inventing the wheel, or rather re-inventing waxed string, which was what provided an airtight joint in the old days (and was on my old lamented Heckel crook when I first got it).

My pro and semi-pro bassoonist friends were similarly unconvinced, and also expressed an understandable unwillingness to start taking a knife to the cork on their prized crooks!

However, Geoff plucked up his courage and took the plunge, Stanley knife in hand.  His comments are very interesting:

As far as the bassoon boost goes, yes, I have tried it. I’ve attached them to two of my crooks and they make a definite improvement. It’s quite hard to describe, but the “feel” of the notes is more solid. My first bassoon teacher used to describe how you might “aim” at a note and quite often the arrow goes in at the top or the bottom of an imaginary target circle, just squeezing into the gold, but actually you want it to hit dead centre. With the boost on, hitting the dead centre appears easier. Plus, no more cork or cotton to worry about!

As the cork on my favourite Soulsby F6 No. 2 is in need of attention (having somewhat overdone the ‘dampen and heat with a match’ trick to try and expand the cork a bit, it now has a black hole in it! – oops) – so I might just try the Boost and see what happens.

I’ll let you know…

On another tack, have a look at Geoff’s other amazing new toy – the Akai wind synth.

[I can’t seem to persuade WordPress to upload the YouTube video of it, but it’s here…]


picture from – thanks!

Nikolai Demidenko at Blackheath

February 10, 2008

demidenko.jpgThe Burghers of Blackheath did themselves proud this morning – so many tickets sold for Nikolai Demidenko’s Blackheath Sunday recital that they had to move the gig downstairs into the Big Hall. Or was that just a pretext to hire in a big clangy Steinway (I guess) and leave the lovely little Bösendorfer sulking upstairs?

(There’s something about Demidenko’s appearance – short, hunched, bear-like, little beard, businesslike, unsmiling but not humourless – that reminded me of someone. I can’t quite think who it is: Malcolm Lowry? Arnold Dolmetsch? Peter Warlock? John Ogdon?)

I am forever grateful to the Powers that Be for setting Beethoven’s so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2, on our O-level syllabus a hundred years ago – so I know it well, or so I thought. Nick Breckenfield’s fascinating programme note dismissed the ‘moonlight’ tag, but revealed that the first movement is a meditation on the music for the death of the Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a fact which I certainly had not come across before. This makes sense of the Sonata’s subtitle – ‘quasi una fantasia’: meaning not ‘an apology for not being in the sort of sonata form you’re used to’, but ‘like an improvisation’ on an idea by Mozart. An illuminating insight into Beethoven’s creative processes.

A friendly Burgher of Blackheath (who shall be nameless) was absent, as she’d been to a previous recital by Demidenko and said she couldn’t stand the way he played – he ‘bashed the hell out of Schubert’. In the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The sound was dry, too loud, and broken up by little hesitations before barlines or even beats – the opposite of the constant flow of triplets the music surely needs. I guess (I couldn’t see his feet) that Demidenko was using hardly any pedal – in contradiction of Beethoven’s instruction to play ‘without dampers’, i.e. with the pedal down all the time (which admittedly wouldn’t work on a resonant modern piano, producing an impossibly muddy effect). Not pleasant.

Liszt called the tiny (more…)

Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia

February 8, 2008

At last – with grateful thanks to Santa Claus – here is the book I have been waiting for! –  an intelligent, informed, detailed but also imaginative and perceptive book about music and the brain, from the author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Uncle Tungsten and many another thought-provoking work.  Previous attempts to tackle the subject for the general reader have always seemed to me to be calamitously uninformed musically, and/or insufficiently technical or detailed scientifically  (and the more specialist scientific reports had not come my way).  Pace Dr Sacks, Anthony Storr‘s Music and the Mind (1992) was a great disappointment to me (having eagerly looked forward to it) – too much vague romantic waffling and not enough hard knowledge of what is actually going on in music.

Oliver Sacks approaches the subject from a deep professional knowledge and experience of neurology, plus a keen amateur interest in music and, as always, a probing imagination, an enquiring mind, and an openness to the ‘unscientific’ realms of emotions, personal life histories, irrational thought processes and associations, fantasies and dreams. 

The criticism sometimes directed at his other books – that he finds poetic and philosophical insights in the case histories of what are actually seriously dysfunctional, unhappy and sick patients – is less applicable here, since in most cases music is not only a boon and a comfort to his patients/case histories, but may be the only thing that keeps them functioning at all.

He writes fascinating chapters on topics including:

• Sudden musicophilia (following a stroke or injury)
• Catchy tunes and ‘earworms’
• Musical hallucinations

• Faulty music – amusia, dyhsarmonia
• Absolute pitch
• Musical savants
• Synaesthesia

• Music and amnesia (the case of Clive Wearing, who suffered near total memory loss – short and long term – following an infection, but still has his music)
• Aphasia and music therapy
• Tourette’s syndrome and music
• Musician’s dystonia – the sudden or progressive inability to play one’s instrument

• Musical dreams
• Music and emotion
• Music and depression
• The hypermusical abilities of people with Williams Syndrome
• Dementia and music therapy

Dr Sacks occasionally (more…)