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Tuning and Timb(e[r)e]

I have been pretty busy lately working on some new models of the Electric Medusa and continuing work on the realisation of a musically interesting Harmonic Opendidge (the basic ideas of which I have already discussed in an earlier blog entry). More news about both of these soon once I have resolved a few technical issues. Also coming up is a gathering of didgeridoo players on the 5th of December here in North-East Italy and close to the beautiful and spectacular ex-fortress (designed by Leonardo da Vinci) of Palmanova. During the afternoon I will also give a workshop on the opendidge, from the acoustics to construction and tuning, and the evening during the concert will play a few pieces that I have composed specifically for the Electric Medusa.

I will now turn to the next few questions of Dubravko Lapaine, that are once again addressing some of the first questions that I had faced in developing this instrument and which are part of the surprising things that I found after discovering the basic idea.

The questions are the following:
2. Can you tune it to any scale? At least theoretically..
3. How much can you change timber, and in what spectrum is change the strongest? Can you “emulate” different materials of classical didge by changing timbre?
4. How much does material of EM affect the sound – and in reference to “normal” didge?

Three questions about tuning, timbre and effect of materials on the sound.

Tuning: In principle with enough finger holes you can tune to any scale. In practice this is limited by the number of fingers that we have on our hands. With a three tube model and
three finger holes you have eight possible combinations and the lowest note for each finger combination together can form part of a scale. These can be tuned to correspond to major or minor and various other scales. I plan to make available here a simple computer program that helps calculate the various finger hole placements and tube lengths needed to attain a given tuning but I would like to pretty it up and test it a little more first.

Timbre: The timbre of a given note is related to the proportion of the different resonant frequencies present in the sound spectrum when that note is played. The opendidge has
a unique characteristic that distinguishes it from all reed instruments due to the fact that the playing position is never precisely at the point of greatest air pressure variation. The result of this is that different frequencies can be excited in different proportions, depending upon the precise playing position.

A simple example is a tube 2 metres long (for example..). If we place the mouthpiece half way along the tube we can only excite the odd-harmonics of the tube in this
case producing in the spectrum of the fundamental (about an E2) other frequencies at
B3, G#4 etc… If instead we place the mouthpiece one third of the way along the tube at about 66 cm, then we produce the fundamental (E2) the octave E3. After this we miss the
third harmonic at B5 and then produce E4 and G#4. Clearly then by further shifting the mouthpiece one can create other timbres. In addition for an instrument like the Electric Medusa with three or more tubes there are more options for timbre and even the possibility of having a single instrument that produces two or three different timbres.

In principle one could, with some calculation, find combinations of tube lengths that would produce a desired timbre but I prefer to think of these timbric changes as a feature of the opendidge and provide us with a huge extension of the timbres possible with a didgeridoo.

Timber (or materials): It is certainly true that the material from which the Electric Medusa is constructed will have some influence on the sound produced, but this will not be significantly different from the way in which different materials influence the sound of a didgeridoo. Depending on the elasticity and sonic absorption of the material some frequencies may be accentuated or attenuated. I hope to be able to say more about this once I have started making instruments from some different materials. If anyone has already done so and has some comments to make please do so:)

Back soon with some more news and info.

Categories: Opendidge
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