Piano, Ocarina & Rainstick
The piano is certainly the least unusual of all the instruments used in this set of challenges. We have a digital piano (a Yamaha Arius), which can technically also produce string, organ and choir sounds, but I wanted to try and keep to the spirit of the challenge, so limited myself to only the piano sound. The pieces are all based around the piano as the central instrument, most being based on a set of improvisations and then edited together.
I have never even tried playing an ocarina before this year, when I received one as a Christmas gift. It is a ten-hole ocarina in C, produced by the Ocarinamusikhaus where you can a museum, workshop and a shop full of ocarinas of all varieties, from tiny piccolo-size to huge contrabass instruments. Mine sits somewhere in the middle of the range and has a pleasant tone at the low end of its scale, though it gets a little shrill towards the top. It is certainly easier to play than some of the other wind instruments in my collection, though it seems to better suit short, staccato notes rather than slower pieces, as the pitch can wobble around a bit. As a result, on most of the pieces I recorded, the ocarina parts only really worked on the more up-tempo tracks, so does not appear on all of them.
The rainstick was picked up in our local Spar for a couple of euros, part of some strange ethnic craft sale that has never been repeated. Originally an Aztec instrument used for summoning the rain, they are made from hollowed-out cactus, embedded with thorns inside and filled with beans or stones that would bounce off the thorns when the instrument is turned on its end, making a sound similar to rain. My version is made from bamboo, with matchstick-sized slivers of wood in place of thorns. I have no idea what is inside, though it sounds more like rice than anything else. For these pieces, as well as using the rain effect, the stick doubled as a shaker for a more rhythmic sound. And yes, it has now started raining.
The first track is a short homage to the most famous ocarina solo in rock music and its creator, Reg Presley, who passed away earlier this month. The rainstick is used as a shaker, the piano plays a riff based on a minor version of the ‘Wild Thing’ chord pattern, whilst the ocarina is used for a melody line which uses the same four notes as are used in the Troggs’ solo, though certainly not in the same order.
Next comes an improvised piano piece that centres around a simple repeated two-note interval, with occasional rainstick percussion in the faster, more rhythmic sections. For the slower parts, a heavily-processed rainstick sits low in the mix, providing a swelling atmospheric backdrop.
This is a fairly long piece, recorded as a single improvisation and not edited in any way. It slips between very sparse, simple melodic lines and dense, aggressive clusters of dissonance. The rainstick has again been mangled through a chain of processors and underpins certain sections of the piece with a ringing cymbal-like sound.
Here is a shorter piece in a pentatonic scale with two gentle counter-melodies twisting around each other as the rainstick trickles through in the background.
Finally, we finish off with a melancholy melody on solo piano that sits within mostly minor chords, all improvised with no editing.