In August 2010 I was asking several composers to write a piece for udderbot, often adding a twist to make the request personal and interesting. I requested Mark Enslin, longtime teacher at SDaS, student of Ben Johnston, John Zorn, and Herbert Brün, collaborator, composer and playwright, to write a piece for udderbot as part of a one-man band.
Hard as I had tried, I did not anticipate the corporeal onslaught that followed. By October, Enslin had produced a piece for 17 instruments—udderbot, trombone, umbrella, tambourine, hi hat, bass drum, guiro, cymbal between the knees, flipper, plastic jug, police whistle, train whistle, harmonica, candy wrapper, finger cymbals, poem, 52-tube tubulon, and a poem by Indigo Crespighi previously used for Safety Nets I of 17 Tone Piano Project fame. That performance, I garnered an applause simply in the act of walking onstage. I didn’t get very far; the tubulon was especially heavy, and all the rehearsal time had gone to constructing the outfit.
By January, Enslin had completed a color-coded score made in Microsoft Word—avoidance of standard notation programs is thematic in his work—and I set to work learning the off-kilter melodies and decoding the complex rhythms, even making a guide track. By my estimation, performing this piece is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. I don’t feel I have yet done it justice, yet I know that many of Mark’s pieces are foolproof in this peculiar way; no matter the impossibility of the score, the theatre of the attempt always fascinates.
The performance here is from a festival of Enslin’s work in September 2011. It is about the best I have managed to do…but I am far from finished with Safety Nets II.
So-called hit single from “An Udderbot Xmas” (unfinished, 2007). Jacob Barton on udderbots, vocals, gong (that’s all there is!).
Amateuroso music video created Xmas 2010 by JAB+TES3+Leaves of Grass.
STEREO FIELDAGE: use headphones or decent speakers to honor your attentiveness.
TUNING NOTE: This piece is tuned to an 11-note subset of 19 equal divisions of the octave, a “kleismic” chain of minor thirds.
METRIC NOTE: As drawn poorly on the pavement, the udderbot drum machine moves *smoothly* from a 16-beat pattern to a 17-beat pattern by way of 11 (nexus at 2:05), using the same kind of process used to generate the tuning, but applied to rhythm. Credit due to Erv Wilson and others.
I have been selected as a finalist to participate in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra composed of people selected by video audition from all over the world who will gather in Sydney, Australia under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas.
As an udderbot player, I was ineligible for a spot in the symphony proper, but was eligible for the Improvisation category, open to any instrument. I think my audition turned out…well! What makes it a real contender is the yet-unrealized novelty & potential of the udderbot itself.
This week folks can vote for their favorite auditions in each category. Go to http://goo.gl/InLwu to vote for mine & view all the excellent finalist videos.
UPdate: There is also now a Facebook event for this message.
Champaign-Urbana, July 30, 2010—Multi-instrumentalist and composer Jacob Barton is happy to present his first full-length concert featuring the “udderbot”, a unique slide woodwind instrument invented in 2005.
A joint project of OddMusic-UC and UnTwelve, the concert will feature adaptations of pre-existing music and new music commissioned especially for the occasion. Sixteen composers, half of them Champaign-Urbana residents, participated in the commissioning project.
The recital will take place at 8 PM on Friday, August 20, 2010, at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. Admission is a $10-15 sliding scale, with no one turned away for lack of funds. RSVPing is encouraged.
Made of a glass bottle, a rubber glove, and water, the udderbot’s quirky appearance and unassuming timbre make it a “friendly” instrument; however, with a range greater than the concert flute’s, the udderbot is no mere novelty. The recital will feature music for solo udderbot player; udderbot with electronics; chamber music with traditional instruments; and multiple udderbots. The udderbot will substitute for its electronic predecessor, the theremin, for the oldest piece on this recital, Martinu’s “Fantasie” from 1944. A majority of the music being performed is “microtonal”, i.e. using notes and intervals that fall “between the keys” of the piano (but are no trouble at all for the udderbot).
Jacob Barton, the udderbot’s chief advocate and only known virtuoso, grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, where his musical hunger led him to learn piano, saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, and musical saw. He studied composition at Rice University, where he received a BMI Student Composer Award for “Xenharmonic Variations on a Theme by Mozart”. His passion for instrument building led serendipitously to the collaborative invention and development of the udderbot, which continues even today. Since 2005, Jacob has played the udderbot in traditional bands, children’s concerts, experimental music venues, theater productions, New York City subway stations, and humanitarian clowning missions in Ecuador.
The recital is a joint presentation between UnTwelve, a Midwest-based organization dedicated to exploring the musical frontiers beyond the 12-note system, and OddMusic-UC, a new compositional co-op and musical instrument library out of the UC-IMC. OddMusic-UC aims to increase everyone’s access to unusual musical experiences, offering radio programs, performances, and instrument making workshops. The udderbot can be built in under an hour using materials available at a hardware store; even so, learning the udderbot takes significantly more time and effort. Jacob will be leading an all-ages udderbot marching band with OddMusic-UC this fall.