The Minden Duo uses glass bottles for many of their compositions, all sizes and shapes of bottles can be used each producing a unique timbre. Carla plays most of the bass jugs because of her training as a horn player: “I find the best one gallon cider jugs in Canada are supplied by “Triple Jim’s”. The cider is a bit on the sweet side, but the bottle itself has the best taper in the neck, and the opening at the top is not too wide. This makes for a better, more focused tone. I find some cider jugs have an excessively wide mouth and neck making them very difficult to create a clean sound and requiring huge amounts of air, only to produce an overly diffused tone. Exceptional lung power is already a basic requirement to play even the most optimum one gallon jug if you want to have even the slightest amount of sustain. And I don’t mean that one needs to emulate the sustain of a piano. We want a bottle to sound like a bottle. But do take care not to make life overly difficult by playing an inferior jug.”
It’s the longest day of the year today which was the working title for a piece we composed many years ago on the longest day of the year. The song opens with a plaintive melody heard on blown glass bottles and the twangy acoustic of repetitive plucked old guitar strings (a musical invention – “string box ” by Dewi Minden as a gift to her father when she was twelve) then the easy voice of Carla Hallett singing an elegiac ode to the natural world. The sounds of tuned glass milk bottles and cider jugs played by Andrea and Dewi Minden provide the quirky textured ground of this dark environmental song. The piece was lovingly recorded at Vancouver’s historic Mushroom studios with engineer Simon Garber and released as “Alone Together”in 1992 on the album “Long Journey Home” by the Robert Minden Ensemble.
We are now working on the last composition of the song cycle. It will be a quiet mix of piano, understated vocals, spoken word and musical saw…perhaps with the addition of a repeated struck metal bowl tuned with water. The found sounds that orchestrate much of this recording are being selected for their particular timbre and presence. They are unlike any other sound with their certain rough edges. When we record found sounds the goal is not the electronic manipulation of the sound. We record them to sound like what they are: physical, tangible sounds with substance.
Another recording session: different room, different sounds. This time at The Farm Studios (once Vancouver’s Little Mountain Studio). The room was smaller and less resonant than our first session and for some of our sounds, especially clay flowerpots, this allowed for a more distinct recording, the sounds of the pots more precise than if they were in a more reverberant setting. The placing of PZM mics on the table between the pots proved to be the best way to capture the special sound of struck clay. Completed another two songs. Gathering momentum.
Now we’re orchestrating a song that features the music box sounds of the toy piano. I’m playing on a 3 octave keyboard which activates little hammers that strike metal rods, and the accompanying noise of the mechanics is so wonderful, and strangely out of tune, (hell to sing against,) but the mysterious intonation is just so right for this song.
Robert is playing a melodica – a curious hybrid between a keyboard and a harmonica. He blows through a tube while his fingers play the little keyboard. It’s almost like an accordion but there are no bellows and the tone is controlled by his breath. The song plays with the ideas that children’s toys can suggest. To this we will add the soaring sound of the carpenter’s hand saw, vacuum cleaner hose vocals, tuned glass bottles and a touch of French horn.
The song was inspired by an unlikely meeting, at just the right time, with a comedienne from Chicago, named Poppy, in the waiting room of an almost empty train station in Saskatoon in the middle of the night.
There is the strong desire to simplify; to begin with almost raw, acoustic sound and see where it leads. It’s not orderly or even predictable but by immersing oneself in, for example, sounds of rubbed or bowed metal surfaces, and waterphones, the sounds themselves begin to suggest new ways of proceeding and sometimes the outline of composition. Surprise becomes one of the windows of creativity.