Rehearsals with Ensemble Dal Niente are a serious place, but not without fits of absurdity and laughter. So it is, rehearsing a piece like Aaron Einbond’s Post-Paleontology that a rehearsal can go directly from mining the depths of our instruments’ sonic possibilities to pure glee. The first time our percussionist, Greg, succeeded in placing a sheet of bubble wrap over Alejandro’s contrabass clarinet in just the right way to make it flutter with the most subtle of vibrations I had to jump up and run around the room. Here are some words from the composer about this beautifully fragile piece, so full of surprising musical characters and mirages:
“Post-Paleontology grew from a distant source: an earlier work featuring a collaboration of Ensemble Recherche and the Freiburger Baroque Orchestra, fusing the most up-to-date performance techniques on modern instruments with historically-informed performance practice on early instruments. The Baroque flute, viola da gamba, Baroque lute, and harpsichord included in the earlier work served as both a sonic inspiration and an impetus for the title. A flashback to my childhood in New York reveals a resemblance between the darkened display cases of the musical instrument section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the yellowing typewritten placards accompanying the fossils at the American Museum of Natural History.
But perhaps modern instruments are no less fossils themselves: the performers of the pioneering Ensemble Dal Niente nevertheless play a violin from 1840, a piano and contrabass clarinet designed at the turn of the 20th century, a folk guitar from the last half-century, and percussion instruments from diverse times and places around the world. I sought to bring out these anachronisms by asking the performers to act on their instruments with an assortment of objects ranging from Styrofoam to an electric milk frother.”
In re-imagining the work for Dal Niente, only the ghosts of the Baroque instruments remain, along with the instruments from the recent past. The new work focuses on the contrabass clarinet, a species of dinosaur itself, whose curved metal tube resembles the crest of the extinct Parasaurolophus. Recent paleontological research suggests that the crest was an air chamber used for the dinosaur’s mating call. Could it have sounded something like a screaming contrabass clarinet?