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Making ‘melodica experiments’

by Pia Rose Scattergood

‘melodica experiments’ is a collection of text scores inspired by four basic elements of matter, made in collaboration with Efe Yüksel.

#1 to soak

Pour a cup of water from a jug
Take a sip
Play the watery brush stroke
Place the melodica under water, allowing the keys to be fully submerged
Remove and play the watery brush stroke once more

I was absolutely fascinated to learn that Efe’s experimental melodica practice extends to willingly dunking his instrument under water. When I think of water, I am weightless, comfortably bobbing along in the sea on Christmas Day, an annual tradition that me and my family have fulfilled almost every year – except for last – no matter where we are in the world. To think of the same fate for my flute, however – somewhat horrifying and definitely taboo. 

In our initial meeting, Efe introduced me to his piece MELODİKA! which culminates in a still moment of melodica submersion at the piece’s closing section. It transported me to a watery world of flourishes, cluster chords and combination tones, where water has the capacity to randomly alter the intonation of each key without extensive harm, provided there is a sufficient drainage process of approximately twenty minutes I am told. And so, I began to pen experimental takes on the elements water, air, fire and earth, starting with some watery strokes of paint for Efe to explore here. For some, the resultant graphic may bring about moments of calm, while others may find it more tumultuous. The differences between playing pre- and post- soak are subtle, and I have a particular fondness for the sounds of water dripping into and back out of Efe’s cup in his performance.

#2 to (de)compress

Remove the pipe from the melodica
Replace with an inflated balloon 
Compress keys 
Balloon deflates 

Efe received his melodica as a gift one New Year’s Eve and so the use of the balloon as an alternate air supply for his instrument in ‘to (de)compress’ is a homage to that particular celebratory scene. My textual invitation is very open, and I think Efe’s performance perfectly captures the sensation of releasing a full balloon in the wind and watching it whizz off in a chaotic tizz until all of a sudden, an empty sack drops to the ground.

#3 to scorch 

(To be performed at candlelight)

Take an old physical extract of music you like to play
Lightly scorch the paper with a flame 
Make some ashy holes
Play what remains

‘to scorch’ was loosely inspired by a lecture Amber Priestley gave at Guildhall in March and her lively discussion of The Humument by Tom Phillips, a treated Victorian novel of which every page is extraordinarily drawn, painted or collaged over. I very much like how the process of physically covering up and deconstructing text be it musical or otherwise, with materials such as crayons or paint can uncover new meanings and new ways of making, and so I was drawn to reinventing musical texts via a series of scattered ashy holes, catching the flames at the exact moment before the paper is completely engulfed. 

I have long been fascinated by the symbolic use of flames elsewhere in other compositional experiments, for example in Annea Lockwood’s Piano Transplants and the piano burning activities of the Fluxus movement before them, though I acknowledge asking Efe to set fire to his melodica might have been a step too far … In this performance, Efe plays his scorched score of a traditional Turkish folk song, Üsküdar’a gider iken.

(NB: Always scorch outdoors and beware of naked flames …!)

#4 to (im)plant

Take your melodica and scorched score to a windy, watery, earthy spot
Scatter the score amongst the leaves
Assign musical values to the letters ‘E-A-R-T-H’
Slowly begin to play ‘A-R-T’ and add ‘E-H’
Freely alternate
Repeat process and leave for a friend to piece back together

A little while ago, I made a graphic score which contained a musical cryptogram of the word ‘earth’ and instructed the performer to slowly subtract the letters that make up ‘art’ from the density of sound over time. Like most, I could not imagine a world without art in all its forms and so that score was to some extent a creative response to the lack of support for creative freelancers over the course of a really tough year. This time around, the textual instruction invites the performer to do the opposite, starting with ‘art’ and adding letters to make ‘earth’. The sentiment is the same, but the invitation is somewhat more optimistic. 

I didn’t want to waste the remains of the scorched score so Efe and I discussed the possibility of planting/implanting it. As we were unsure of whether the ink on the page contained toxic ingredients, I instructed for the score to be scattered amongst the leaves and left for a friend to reassemble, but the use of environmentally friendly materials may permit a future performer to permanently plant or compost the score in said earthy spot. 

With special thanks to Efe Yüksel and his melodica, and to Joanna Ward and Harry Harrison for facilitating this fun series of projects. 

Watch all four melodica experiments here:

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