Alto Recorder and Whirlie

This is part 4 of 12 in the series 10 Weeks - 10 Sounds

Alto Recorder and Whirlie
Alto Recorder and Whirlie
Of all the ten challenges, this is the one I have been expecting to cause the most difficulty, as it is all about wind sounds, with little opportunity for contrast. This could easily have resulted in just being a wailing set of different notes, destined to set teeth grinding. So, what was the result?
The whirlie is simply a flexible plastic tube I bought for 50p from a gadget shop. Its original fluorescent orange colour has faded in the Viennese sun from sitting on a window ledge over the summer, but the sound is unaffected. For such a basic item it still manages to be able to produce four notes, depending on the speed at which it is spun. As you cannot just instantly change the rate, it is impossible to play anything staccato with the whirlie and it takes some practice to be able to maintain the notes without them slipping up or down into the next one. It does have a slightly haunting sound with plenty of natural movement, but recording that characteristic swirling is more challenging. Rather than set up a single mic or a pair that might result in a lot of level fluctuation, I decided to try and record with a dynamic mic close the end being held, with the condenser mic at a bit of a distance to pick up the movement at the spinning end.
I now have both alto and descant recorders, the alto being the newcomer (a gift from K’s mum – thanks Renate!). The sound of the alto is mellow and woody, but the descant has not been used very much by me because it can be quite harsh and piercing. The challenge was only to use the alto, however, so the descant remained on the shelf for this session.

The first piece is a short folky tune using the recorder for the melody, a gentle drone set up with the whirlie and some percussion using the end of the tube tapped with the palm of my hand.

The second tune is rather more free-form, with the whirlie to the foreground, filling the stereo field while the recorder takes a more textural role, being highly mangled by a range of effects. Some additional percussion sounds come from running a fingernail down the side of the whirlie.

More in this series<< Kalimba and Celtic FluteBeatPad and Mouth Organ >>

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