Bebung I


An Instrument in Dialogue with the Circumstances of its Construction | 8'30"

An Instrument in Dialogue with the Circumstances of its Construction is the first in an album of pieces for my newly built electroacoustic clavichord under the collective title, BEBUNG.

This composition marks the end of phase I of this project, which was supported by a grant from Arts Council Ireland, 2022-23.

clavichord by nicholas brown 2023

Electroacoustic Clavichord by Nicholas Brown © N.G. Brown 2023

Programme notes

As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, my sonic landscape subsumed the chirping of cassette-based software piped to my Commodore 64 and rattling of a dot-matrix printer.

It’s easy to anthropomorphize an electro-mechanical printer as it decodes instructions. It seems human-like, wistfully bleating its racket-song with apparent intention while it fulfils someone else’s bidding.

The main aim in designing and building my electroacoustic clavichord was to investigate how musical creativity might be negotiated via an instrument that embeds a 21st-century physical computing system in a 15th-century technology (Arnaut de Zwolle’s clavichord plans, in particular).

Still image from Bebung I by Nicholas Brown

BEBUNG I is the start of an album of compositions written especially for this instrument. It focuses on a fundamental aspect of the instrument’s physical production––its 3D-printed keys.

The musical material derives from a sound recording of a 3D printer as it winds out twenty-five, polylactic acid key levers.

This recording was transcribed into standard musical notation using a sine-wave model from ‘Ears’––the recent addition to the Bach family of computer-aided composition in Max.

The frequent shifts between performance moods derive from my continuing interest in the compositions of C.P.E. Bach, specifically his restless and beguiling Trio Sonata in C minor, ‘Sanguineus and Melancholicus’.

This dialogic nature of the piece is aided by machine learning functionality from IRCAM (Dicy2). And FluCoMa software is combined with a TRILL 2D-touch sensor from the Bela maker platform, installed to the side of the keyboard.

My intention is to create a computer-assisted performance-situation that derives from the phenomenology of the instrument’s construction yet produces a contest of sorts, between wetware and hardware, between a human and a digital-mechanical machine.

Nicholas Brown · Sketch for Bebung I (September 2023)

Technical Requirements

Screenshot of the Max patch for Bebung I by Nicholas Brown

Max patch for Bebung I by Nicholas Brown
  • ‣ Eight full-range loudspeakers surrounding performance area. Alternative, four-channel version (FL, FR, RL, RR at corners of performance space).
  • ‣ Small table and piano stool in center of performance space for clavichordist
  • ‣ Seating for audience 'in the round' preferred
  • ‣ TRS cabling and 3 x 240VAC power outlets to table