October 24, 2016

Abstract Cries of Murderous Birds: the Trautonium

I had a good time yesterday listening to the trautonium played by Peter Pichler at the Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung. At moments it go so loud and shrill that some people in the audience had to hold their hands on their ears. That’s the sonic power of this pre-synthesizer: its sound is dissonant, it has a great pitch-slide, and you can hit full volume with only a short depression of the finger. One knob in particular seemed to be Pichler’s favourite and he explained later it was the one that can turn a sound from soft to sharp. The trautonium was created in Berlin in 1929 as an instrument that creates a new sound that doesn’t imitate anything. Abstract music, so to say. 

Accompanying a film of Alfred Ehrhardt’s Korallen - Skulpturen der Meere, 1964, it was the sound that made the corals look like aliens. Now I also know why The Birds of Hitchcock freaked me out - the whole sound track was created by the trautonium. Hitchock wanted an electronic, cold, unnatural sound for his horror movie and came upon Oskar Sala playing the trautonium in Berlin. Picher gave us a bit of The Birds at the end of his concert. It is the sound track of the trautonium: abstract cries of murderous birds. Yet the sound of screaming birds wasn’t longer used for the seventh and last attack in the movie. Hitchcock explained: “What I wanted to get in that attack is as if the birds were telling Melanie, ‘Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.’”

No comments:

Post a Comment