Benjamin Koepler

00’05:   (Eleni) I would like you to tell me about a little bit about yourself, the instrument… Yourself, the instrument that you play normally, how did you choose Chromelodeon and a little bit of presentation and the instrument, how did you… How do you play Partch repertoire, what was new in the new pieces?

00’58:   Hello, my name is Benjamin, Benjamin Koepler, I’m a pianist, we are two pianists in the Ensemble Musikfabrik, I’m one of the pianists and from the Partch instruments actually I chose the Gourd Tree, with [gourd gongs], that was the instrument I wanted to play / wow / and / and why? / because I liked the sound / okay / we… the… before the instruments were rebuilt here in Cologne there was the ability to listen to all the instruments on a webpage where the projects [mains] were exposed? Kind of a virtual exposition of the instruments. As photos and sounds and I liked this instrument a lot so I apply for it, to play. And for practical reasons, because the chromelodeon is a, a keyboard instrument, we chose that the pianists are also going to play the major parts of the chromelodeon and stuff. What was the next question?

02’10:   (Eleni) just tell me about the instrument.

02’11:   About the instrument, yeah. So the chromelodeon is a, actually an harmonium, is it played the same way like an harmonium but Harry Partch changed the, inside the instrument the intonation of the, how is it call in English? Of the […] Of the, in German it’s the […], the tense / okay / of the things which produce the sound… so and he adapted to his 43 tons scale. So you have this kind of a keyboard and the [central] pitch of his tuning system is the G and the G is the here, the key with the most colors and the… It’s a D key and one octave higher is an A. So I… in between we have other, other pictures. (he plays) So this is an octave. (he plays) So much further apart than an usual keyboard where this would be an octave (he plays) So. That’s how you are… How the octave is divided, so, which means that the range of this instrument is not very big. (he plays) So the highest pitch is here. (he plays) And the lowest is here. It’s not even two octaves, if you want to go further, then you have to choose other registers. For example (he plays) each register is an octave higher and then we have a piccolo register, which is two octaves higher than the usual A register. (04‘06) And there are two chromelodeons, the chromelodeon one and the chromelodeon two, and the chromelodeon one has a special feature, the sub-bass register, so the very low pitches [plays very low pitches] but this, there you don’t have fixes to the 43 pitches of this scale, but it’s more or less chromatic from C to C [plays deep scale]. These ones, they need a lot of air, you have to pump a lot on the pedals. Yah, what else… This one has also the six-five, this is a register mix combination [plays], so it plays from a note the usual octave of the harmonium, but here the pitches are apart only a minor third. [plays] So instead of playing with two hands, [plays] you can play it with one hand, [plays] and have the other hand do other things. (05’43) Yah and, here as also other harmoniums have, you can modify a little bit the dynamic [plays]. So like this it’s a little bit softer and more closed sound – and this is a more open sound. There is a wooden – how do you call it – a wooden bar or something, which opens up. Yeah and then for playing, for the technique, it’s not a very big change actually, because the […] and the usual pitches, you read how to move the fingers and […] to get used to that you will have another result from the pitches than from a normal [piano] keyboard.

06’41:   (Question) And does it help to read the performance or do you need also the sound […] the ratios that far.

06’52:   In some pieces, it helps to know a little bit of what the sounding result will be, but not so much with the ratios, but then it’s better to have a transcription in normal pitch with quartertone and eighth-tone notation. Because with the ratios it’s far too complicated to get an idea… At least for me. I mean, if you have studied it decades and you get so familiar with the ratios, then probably you understand it. For me, it’s not so easy, with the ratios. Yah, from my experience, if I play it, I don’t know, three, four, five times and I have the notation, I know how to move my fingers and I listen to the result and actually it’s enough. Yeah because it’s my main instrument. I play also the electric guitar, there I use quite a lot of transcriptions, because I’m not so familiar with the techniques on the instruments and there it’s very helpful to see all the shape of the melody. So because it has a connection with the, with the Plexiglas above, which I’m moving on the string. So, then I know, I go an octave and I know on the movement. Yeah, so technically, this is actually quite an easy Instrument, for a pianist. (08’20) It’s not a big deal.

08’24:   (Question) Do you think that it works well? Does it have a decent […] on part with a normal harmonium, or how is the sound quality?

08’34:   The sound quality is nice and when I play the instrument, I have a feeling, that it’s not a very strong sound. And that I don’t have so much possibilities in doing variations with, especially with dynamics. Because sometimes, it writes piano and forte and I have the feeling, I want to do more, but when I listen outside, so when my colleague’s playing and I listen outside or I listen on the colleagues, then I have the feeling, that it sticks very well out of the ensemble of the Partch instruments, because the other ones are plucked instruments, or are stroke instruments, percussion instruments, and this is one of the rare instruments, which has a long sound. So although it doesn’t feel very loud on the place where you’re sitting and playing, it sticks very much out of the ensemble context. Because of the sustained long sound, so I think that that works with the whole universe of the Partch instruments, it works very well.

09’40:   (Question) Did you play the original one?

09’43:   Yah, we worked with the […] exhibition in the United Stated and I had the possibility to play it. / And does it sound the same? / Yeah… More or less the same but I had the feeling that the original was from itself a more powerful instrument, that it sounded louder. But it might be an illusion, because it depends on the place where you put it, if it’s in front of wall, if it’s a big room or a small room… I had the impression, that it was quite a strong instrument.

10’23:   (Question) Can you tell me a little bit about the new commission-composition, do the composers use the chromelodeon and[…], did you like to…

10’35:   The new compositions, I, I have to remember… I think the piece of Caspar Johannes Walter, he was using the chromelodeon, he did lots of notation really with the actual pictures which are sounding, that was re very clear. I think I played more the adapted guitar in new pieces. Ah, we had the […], there I was playing a lot of chromelodeon. Was good.

11’17:   (Question) Nothing special? / AH YES, good. Hehe, no, you know, we hat that piece of Simon Steen-Andersen, and he used a special effect, so that you pedal a lot with the air and then you use the low keys but only so that the tongue is open a little bit so that you get a very airy or noisy sound. So just before opening the, what’s it [demonstrated], yeah you have to come much closer with the microphone because you get a sound like ‘tshukutshukutshukutshuku…’. Can you here it on your place? Probably you have to come here. [*comes here*] So first he’s using only the air sound, [air sound], and then you start opening [deep hum] (12’30). So this is a special effect, very soft, but we have a microphone here, and uhm it’s protected very powerful so that you can hear the effect. And then he put also a side drum and the pitch is doing uhm, wie heißt das – mit den Schnarrsaiten – ‘drrrrrrr’, it’s uhm, das regt die Schnarrsaiten an und dann ähm bekommt man so verschiedene Rhythmen. In the other compositions I don’t remember very special use. There was one piece, chamber music piece, it was a duo for flute and chromelodeon and the composer used a lot the adjacent keys and they were very close pitches so they get a different phasation [plays] For example ‘weuweuweuweu..’, very slow one, [plays] ‘wauwauwauwau..’ so this is faster, depends how close the two pitches are to each other. [plays examples] even faster, slower again, ‘wauwauwauwau..’, so they’re almost the same, faster again. It’s very clear audible, no? ‘ducducduc…’ (14’30). Ja. Things I remember.

14’39:   (Question) Do you or can you improve […] for the instrument or you think it’s working perfectly well according to the construction?

14’50:   I’m not an instrument constructor, so I cannot do the improvements. I would suggest to someone who is able to build harmoniums, to have a bigger range in dynamics, that’s what I’m missing musically. With other harmoniums, you have a lot more registers of different colors. So if you need to have a strong sound, you just put the flute and the cello, all these different registers back on the organ so you can superimpose them so it’s getting louder. Here you have always one register for an octave because of the pitches – so that’s limiting a little bit the instrument. But it’s a very good reference also for tuning, when you want to tune the instruments, most of the musicians, they come to the chromelodeon, because there, the pitches are fixe. (15’58)

16’00:   (Question) Could we move to the gourd tree […] and could you tell me, like, did you have experience in Partches music and instruments before the project, or…?

16’10:   No. No no, I’ve never played, actually almost never listened to Partches music, uhm, but nevertheless I had already couple of experience playing percussion instruments. Because I played lots of pieces there on the piano, where I had to play percussion instruments like [?] or Kutales [?] or cymbals or… So for this, the movement to have a stick in the hand and to hit a percussion instrument, this was something I was used to before. Yah, I would say. More than 20 years already. Which doesn’t mean I am a percussionist and I have a very good technique, but I know some basics more or less. Yah and this instrument has twelve bells – they are like Japanese temple gong bells – I think they’re called ‘Rin’, so and he, Partch put them together with the pumpkin hole and so this works as a resonator, it makes the sound more strong. (17’28) And he chose – I think you have also the [plays bell] seventh tone, the G, it’s the lowest one [plays harmonium] yah, so you have the […] here [plays] more or less here and [plays] here. So this is just a little but out of tune, the middle register. From here [plays scale], you can more or less recognize a G-major scale, but of course it’s not a G-major, because it consists of other pitches. [plays] So this is the perfect fifth, [plays] so this is more or less recognizable, this tetrachord, the first one, [plays] I think they are more out of tune. And the other bells, they have [plays] a major forth [plays] minor third, and another minor third. So, I, one of these two pitches here added later – first it was only eleven bells, and then, either this one or that one, I don’t remember, which one he added later, but it ‘s written in the book. Yah, and these ones, where you can play either with this [plays] stick, or with these ones. So this is from wood and leather around [plays] so and then a different [plays] different rates of hardness of the stick. Soft and hard ones. [plays] So this one’s harder as the bell sound and from further, lower bells, you would take bigger ones. [plays] (19’38) You have, and then there are two additional gongs which are called the ‘Gourd Gongs’ and they sound like this: You play them either here, like that, on the side [plays] or down at the edge [plays]. They are two different pitches. Also here [plays] it’s to hard [plays], or on the edge [plays] […] (20’25). Yah and uhm, Partch uses it many times that you hit one bell and you let it hear for a long time, because it is so resonant. [plays different bells] for example, things like this, in that tempo. But sometimes also a little bit faster than this. Small melodies. [plays] For example. Things like that. Sometimes there’s so much sound, then later I have to dampen the instruments so that the others can also

21’05:   (Question) Can you play the upper part, or it doesn’t make any sense? / This one?! / Yes. / Ah. I don’t do it because I think they are quite fragile and it would be [plays] but, yah it’s very soft, you listen something ‘whoowoopoopoo’ because the resonator has the same pitchline like the bell. Yah, this one got broken in one transport, so, here’s also a little harm. I think in the concert I will not use it because […] more powerful and then you’re destroying the instrument. What is special on this, is that it’s not only a musical instrument, but it’s also designed as an object of art, of plastic art, so because he originally found, it was a tree he found in the nature and then he took it and then from the, how it was curved, it fitted perfectly for his instruments. The original instrument in the States, the bells are quite smaller, really a lot smaller. So they are more about this size and really not that large compared to this one.

22’49:   (Question) Do you use any extended techniques, like for example bowing? / The bowing, yah, there were pieces, where it was used, but it was other musicians, who played it. But then there are these two […] not enough colophonium on the bow. Maybe [Dirk?] can show you a little bit, how this works. [tries anyways]. Yah I think it needs colophonium. / I think I do have… Maybe not here. Downstairs. Ehm, ah, there are some bows there. / Other bows? Aha. / And I do have this… / But it’s possible, I saw it. I saw it in the concerts. [inaudible dialogue, laughter] As long as it is… As long as it is very sticky, it works. [applies colophonium] [scratches bells, screeching sound] here it comes! (24’44) It would sound like this. [more screeching] Yah. For a string player, it’s easier to do that. But it’s possible to get a sound. Maybe it’s quite fragile and you cannot compose like very virtuous and rhythmic things. / The biggest, do you think it works? / The big one, why not. [tries the big one] Mh. [Resonance starts building] Yah it’s quite nice because there are speaking different overtones. It’s not only the fundamental [plays]. Yah the bigger they are, the richer is the spectrum.

27’22:   (Question) Can you do me a favor, can you try to […] hit for example two that are close and then try to bring them together to see if there are any difference in size / Yah / For example ten eleven / These two? / Yes. [plays] / What about these two, because I think they are quite close from pitch, the three and the four [plays]. I mean it has already in itself, it has a [plays]. You should come with the microphone there. Here it sounds really nice. / Ok / [nice, vibrating sound] did you hear it? I start listening it when I’m here. [more vibrations] (29’20) It has a buzz. Because they are in an octave, but very close. / Maybe these two, the eight to seven and nine to seven? / Nine to seven? Ok. / Or this one. If we turn to, I don’t know, like this, maybe there are inferences. [plays] This one? Here? [different tones are played] / I think there is one vibration which is not when you hit them individually. Ah ja, ‘whoowoowooo’ [strikes tone] it’s a ‘dickedickedicke’, this is a fast one [plays] I think it’s more clear with the / Yes with the bigger ones. / Because they’re much closer or maybe with the, maybe these two [strikes deep tones, much vibration] Yah, I guess the frequencies have to be really very close. (31’37)

31’41:   [a new person enters] Just to know, because […] fifteen minutes from the [?]-session. Is this, kind of rescheduled? / (Eleni) I think we are pretty much done, so thank you very much. /Yeah, you’re welcome.