Work: ‘Sharpen the Battle Claws’
Artist: David Hirschfelder
Track from the album: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’ Hoole (Water Tower Music, 2010)a. Describe two ways in which performers use articulation to create character in this excerpt.
Performer use vibrato to create character. Sometimes the vibrato is used sparingly. In the introduction there is limited vibrato in the strings. This helps create a serene character. As the character becomes more menacing vibrato is used on long held notes in the string section. The vibrato increases in speed and intensity changing to an insistent trill further increasing the menacing character.
During the unison vocal and string section vibrato is used to warm the sound and give it more depth. Both string and voice use a fairly wide, relaxed vibrato. In a large ensemble this effect is amplified. The warm, relaxed, wide vibrato removes the menacing quality to the sound. It gives the tone colour a more reverberant quality and helps create the a more peaceful, less threatening mood.
Ringing decay – used in the dulcimer-like instrument. Helps create a wash of sound. When this wash of sound is more overpowering – when it is used by the gong, cymbals and bass drum – these thicken the texture. The ringing decays overlap each other creating a confusion of sound which enhances the menacing character of the second section.
Ringing decay is also used as a transitional device. It helps blend sections together. The use of a gong and cymbal just before a section changes creates a bridging sound. While other melodic and rhythmic material changes on another level, the ringing decay smooths the progression from one section to another. This also carries over the menacing character for a short time to a the more peaceful section.
b. Describe how the performers create balance between the musical parts/lines in this excerpt.
Performers create balance through the use of similar tone colours:
The string section uses warm, resonant tone colours near the end of the excerpt. This is achieved by using a similar range and register, using instruments of the same family and similar use of vibrato = balance between all parts.
Contrasting Tone Colours:
The use of spiccato, off the string playing of the dulcimer-like instrument with harsh, scratchy tone colours comes to the front of the mix through contrast with warm mellow vocal tone colours.
In the ‘cluster chord’ section the mellow, reverberant string tone colours blend well and are thus balanced. Once percussion – cymbals with brushes with a bright, ringing tone colour and gong – throbbing, pulsating, are added, the balance is more biased towards the brighter more clear tone colours which bring these to the foreground.
Harmonic overtones are clearly discernible near the start of the piece as they are significantly higher than the accompanying instruments. However, these are back in the balance as the dynamics of these are significantly quieter to the vocal lines.
During this initial vocal section all dynamics are of a similar level, mp. The use of a louder dynamic through the use of trills, more nasal, harsh tone colour and higher pitch brings the violins forward in the mix.
The voice are initially forward in the mix as there are few instruments playing. Once they play with other instruments they are less prominent due to thicker texture. The become on equal par to the string section and are used like a string instrument. They only use an ‘ah’ sound rather than lyrics and play in rhythmic, if not always melodic, unison with the strings.