Liza Lim – Microbiome (2020)
for bass clarinet
Carl Rosman, bass clarinet
Janet Sinica, video
Jan Böyng, editing
Hendrik Manook, recording producer/editing
As most musicians will tell you from bitter experience, it is generally a mistake to start a practice session with a quick look at Twitter. But there are exceptions.
May 2020 was close enough to the beginning of the First Wave that I was still able to muster some practice motivation despite watching the concerts fall like dominoes far into the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future. I was, though, not quite motivated enough not to peek at Twitter first, and what should I see but this…
Liza and I had been discussing a bass clarinet solo on and off for a quarter of a century or so—but somehow it had never come to fruition, with our collaborative activities instead taking place inside her larger-scale pieces for ELISION or Ensemble Musikfabrik. When she tweeted that there seemed to be “a great bass clarinet solo or 10” in Chris Watson’s recordings of humpback whales from the Caribbean (www.bbc.co.uk), my curiosity was piqued.
This was in any case a period in 2020 in which, for obvious reasons, I was making quite a bit of audio material for composers. So when a few days after Liza’s tweet I sat down to record some bass clarinet sounds for Monty Adkins, I warmed up by…improvising along with some whales. As it happened, their sounds strongly suggested a specific area of clarinet technique which has long been of particular interest to me. (Since you ask: the overblowing possibilities available from combining ‘basset note’ fingerings (the ‘extra’ notes available on those clarinets which are built with an extended low range to the C below the clarinet’s normal low E) with the register key: the notes are not overblown in normal practice, so they are not tuned by the instrument builders, so this combination can give rise to microtones and multiphonics which are entirely idiomatic to the clarinets in question.)
Not long after, I had sent Liza some notation to go with the sounds:
And not long after that, Microbiome was complete, after a few more such exchanges and some video calls; I premiered it in an ELISION Ensemble concert in Berlin in September 2020 and made this recording on my return to Köln a few days later.
On re-reading her tweet I’ve just seen that she mentions “a great bass clarinet solo or 10”.
Excellent, nine to go.