Sunday, March 22, 2009

Let's begin!

Welcome students and visitors of
"From Mud to Music"!

My name is Alberto J. Almarza and I will be teaching this very fun class, starting on Tuesday, March 31, from 1pm till 4pm at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

This class is a very hands-on, 8 session intensive, and yet it is setup as a very relaxing and meditative experience. We will be constructing actual functional musical instruments out of clay!

Among the constructions, we will focus on whistles, ocarinas and flutes of many shapes and sizes. Once we have covered the basics, I want for us to experiment creating multi-tone whistles, odd-shaped resonators and a number of variations departing from the basic forms. We will also be constructing a variation of the Nigerian Udu drum, made entirely of ceramic to create amazing whooping sounds and clicks.

I learned many of the techniques for whistle making directly from renowned flutist and ceramicist Susan Rawcliffe. She not only provided me with the basic tools to begin experimentation, but she has continued to inspire me and many others greatly. Check out her amazing work:
Since this is a very hands-on class, this blog will primarily serve the purpose of sharing ideas, comments and questions. I will be updating it regularly. We cannot do the practical work here in the blog, and so I want to use it as a source of inspiration and dialog. So let's start with the fun stuff....

This is a part of the collection of handmade flutes, whistles and resonators I have made in the past 4 years. Some of these are simple, traditional designs, but most of them are explorations, manipulations and combinations of the basics. Some have two flutes combined into one, or even four in one; some have several monotone whistles attached to one flute. I have also been experimenting with a very complex pre-columbian design called "Gamitadera" which makes wind=like sounds, as well as wheep-like noises. They are very fun and powerful, but difficult to make. More advanced students may get a chance to give these a try.
One of the basic principles we will be working with is how to create the appropriate design of a functional mouthpiece. Understanding the basic physical qualities that generate air-based sound (aerophones) will allow for the students to implement any imagined idea into a musical instrument. Here is a sketch of the basic arrangement that "splits" an air-flow into sounds:

Here is something else I'd like to share with you...

These are three in a collection of 20 flutes I made in 2008. I was very excited about these, more from a ceramicist standpoint than anything else. They sound pretty good too, but the big accomplishment was this:
All 20 of these flutes are made from local clay I gathered here in Pittsburgh, and I processed and worked the clay till it was usable. Not only that, but the collection is "glazed" (maybe I should just say decorated..) using household and natural materials. Among the materials I used for the decoration are: salt, sand, ashes, baking soda, found glass, rust, even toothpaste!
You might think I am crazy, but part of my idea was that many times as artists we don't even know where our materials come from, and so I wanted to become very aquainted with and close to the materials I use. In the process, I also learned extensively about traditional ceramic techniques and materials. My original idea for the class "From Mud to Music" was to actually embarque on this enire journey with students. The title was meant to literally convey that we would be visiting clay sites and gathering mud from scratch, to later convert it into finished musical instruments. This task would be too involved, however, and for now the task of making a sound out of a lump of mud (whether it is pre-prepared or not) is difficult enough!