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The Multiphonic Possibilities of Cello Strings: from Theoretical Investigation to Musical Practice

SNF BRIDGE: Proof of Concept

In this project, we investigate cello multiphonics and create a smartphone application to present the results to performers and composers. The aim of this research is to significantly contribute to the theory behind cello multiphonics and address the current gaps in physical and psychoacoustical understanding of the technique. The smartphone application will constitute a bridge between theory and practice and enable the results to be applied musically by performers and composers.

Multiphonics on all instruments have been an important area of interest for many influential composers since the mid-20th century, and string multiphonics, especially on the cello and double bass, are being increasingly used, not least since the former’s inclusion in the publication www.cellomap.com, a resource developed at the Hochschule für Musik FHNW’s research department.

To contextualise this work, it is valuable to look at the research model for woodwind multiphonics: the development of woodwind multiphonics has followed a clear and productive path, from early use in jazz in the 1950s to musical and acoustical investigation, and the provision of excellent resources for musicians (extensive fingering charts now exist for most woodwind instruments, a notable example being The Techniques of Saxophone Playing (Bärenreiter, 2011), by Marcus Weiss and Giorgio Netti, the product of a research project at the Hochschule für Musik FHNW). As a result, woodwind multiphonics have become established in performance and compositional practice across musical genres.

Research into string multiphonics lags behind the woodwind model, and consequently their musical use is restricted. This project undertakes the work that is urgently needed to understand multiphonics on the cello so that they can be as creatively important as they have been for woodwind instruments. Key research areas are: the pitch content of multiphonics (including setting a meaningful upper boundary of influential pitch and determining the significance of various ‘noises’ and non-harmonic pitch content) and the influence that playing parameters have on timbre, loudness and tuning. An algorithm that determines multiphonic components, devised by Caspar Johannes Walter, composition professor at the Hochschule für Musik FHNW, constitutes an important basis for this work.

This will be the first smartphone application for multiphonics on any instrument and we predict an opening in the market for such resources. This project aims to establish a new model for performance practice resources and change the way that contemporary instrumental technique is learned by musicians of all abilities and backgrounds.

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