Arnold Dreyblatt
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Musical Activities
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Musical Instruments
Historical Development
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Tuning System
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Musical Activities
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Among the second generation of New York minimal composers, Arnold Dreyblatt has developed a unigue and original approach to composition and performance. He has invented a set of new and original instruments, performance techniques, and a system of tuning. Working closely with various ensembles and in theatrical and installation projects - he creates a music with exciting rhythms and rich textures - an exploration of the potential inherent in the natural overtone series. The musicians who have performed with Dreyblatt generally come from vastly varied musical backgrounds and interests. In common is a sensitivity for an approach to music making, sonority and hearing which Dreyblatt has been developing together with musicians over the last twenty-five years. In his former Orchestra, all the members contribute to this music with their own ideas and performance techniques, gradually forming an individual musical role within the ensemble dynamic. Just as this music essentially exists only in performance, so the combined acoustic effect results from a sum which is greater than its parts.

Arnold Dreyblatt's compostions involve a re-thinking of sound making tools. Modified and newly created acoustic instruments are utilized for specific timbral effect and perform in an unusual tuning system. Traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments accentuate the rhythmic character of the music.

Arnold Dreyblatt was born in New York City in 1953. He has been based in Europe since 1984 and is presently living in Berlin. Dreyblatt studied Film and Video Art at the State University of New York at Buffalo (M.A. from the Institute for Media Studies) with Woody and Steina Vasulka and later Music Composition with Pauline Oliveros (1974), La Monte Young (1974-76) and with Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan University where he received an M.A. in Music Composition in 1982
From 1979-1997 he was director and composer for his music ensemble, The Orchestra of Excited Strings. Tthe ensemble performed extensively in the United States from 1979-83 and recorded an LP for India Navigation Records in 1982 entitled, Nodal Excitation (IN 3024). In 1984, Dreyblatt moved his base of operations to Berlin where he formed a new ensemble while composer-in-residence at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. This ensemble has performed throughout East and West Europe as well as in the States at numerous festivals, museums, galleries and other music venues. An LP entitled, "Propellers in Love" was issued by Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 1985. This recording was reissued by Hat Art Records in 1986 on compact disc along with newly recorded material. In composing a performance opera entitled, Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933 Dreyblatt formed a new ensemble in 1991. The ensemble also recorded a number of pieces in New York with clarinettist Andy Statman which appeared on A Haymish Groove, issued by Extra Platte, Vienna, 1992. In 1995 recordings by the ensemble were released by Zaddik Records (produced by John Zorn) under the title Animal Magnetism.

In 1998, his first recording, Nodal Excitation was re-mastered by Jim O’Rourke and was released by his Dexter’s Cigar label. Also in 1998, Table of the Elements Records released a compilation of Solo and Ensemble pieces entitled, The Sound of One-String. In 2000, the Bang On A Can All-Stars recorded a version of Dreyblatt’s Escalator for their new CD on Cantaloupe Records. A complete CD entitled The Adding Machine, also involving musicians from the Bang On A Can All-Stars, was issued by Cantaloupe in 2002.

In 1991 Dreyblatt composed Who’s Who in Central & East Europe 1933 which was a co-production between Inventionen ‘91/DAAD, Berlin and Wiener Fest Wochen, Vienna. He has received commissions from among others: „Ars Electronica“, Linz (1988), Oeyvaer Desk, Den Haag (1989), Prime Foundation, Groningen (1989), DAAD- Inventionen ‘91, Berlin (1990), Werkstaat Berlin, 1991, Podewil/US Arts Festival, Berlin (1993), Bang in A Can All-stars Ensemble, New York (1996), Saarlandischer Rundfunk (2002) and Akademie der Kunste Berlin (2003).

He has been a guest composer at STEIM, Amsterdam; Het Apollohuis, Eindhoven; Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin and has received numerous Grants and Stipendiums including: Creative Artist Public Service Program, New York (1979-80); Overbrook Foundation, New York (1983-85); Luftbrückendank Stiftung, Berlin (1985); Philip Morris Art Prize (1991); Kunstfonds e.V., Bonn (1992), Kulturfonds e.V., Berlin (1995), Foundation for Creative Performance Arts, N.Y.C. (1998) and Förderpreis, Akademie der Kunste, Berlin (2000).

In recent years, Dreyblatt has been increasingly involved in integrating archival and biographical texts with his sound work in performance and installation. In 1997 he disbanded The Orchestra of Excited Strings, which had been performing continuously in New York and then in Europe since 1979. He began a period of commissioned compositions on the one hand, and occasional solo and smaller group projects. He has worked with the Bang On A Can All-Stars in New York and in 2000 founded a new Orchestra with the assistance of Evan Zyporyn and David Weinstein. Dreyblatt recently composed a String Quartet for the Pellegrini Quartet in Freiburg (2003), and for the Crash Ensemble (2005). He has recently been touring with a solo performance of Nodal Excitation (1979) along with a new laptop composition entitled Calcualations.

Musical Instruments
Historical Development
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1977 Monochord
One-string isntrument according to instructions in Intervals, Scales and Temperaments by Lloyd and Hugh Boyle. The book calls for a Instrument Development:

1977 Monochord
One-string isntrument according to instructions in Intervals, Scales and Temperaments by Lloyd and Hugh Boyle. The book calls for a 'piece of wood' greater than fifty inches long with a string of extremely thin wire (.008 inches) anchored at one end with a screw and at the other with a zither tuning pin. The wire passes through two steel 'angle piece' bridges between which is fastened a metre stick. The vibrations of this wire are made audible by a medical stethoscope which is attached to the wood with tape. Through experimetation with this “first” instrument” Dreybaltt claims to have gained an understanding not only the construction of all string instruments but also the relations between such basic concepts as frequency, pitch, tension, length, division and multiplication.

1978: Multiple Monochord
Twenty strings of thin steel wire which was composed of ten monochords (the strings were in pairs), each with its own calibrated meter stick, and angle piece bridge; along its length were grooves at the nodal points to keep hanging 'nodal locators' in position. The strings were all tuned to the same pitch, and the nodal locators isolated a different overtone on each stick. Choruses of overtones were sounded as the strings were plucked. Dreyblatt constructed various sounding boards at one end of the instrument, abandoning the traditional spruce for sheet metal to emphasize the 'metallic' quality of the harmonics

1978-79: Excited Strings Bass
“I became attracted to the instrument for its large resonating box and the long speaking length of its strings, which make possible the production of the higher overtones. I attached some of the piano wire which I had recently ordered to restring the miniature piano. The unwound wire raised the fundamental a number of octaves and made possible the production of extremely high upper overtones. The thinner diameter of this relatively long string (42 inches) enabled the wire to vibrate in the shorter and shorter lengths representing the higher vibrational modes. I began working with the bow, striking and bowing in isolated attacks upon this one string, moving closer and farther away from the bridge. I marked the nodal points on the finger board and occasionally isolated overtones with the fingers of my left hand. In the spring of 1979 I was approached to perform at a downtown performance festival on Warren St. in May. I developed a repertoire of isolated percussive and bowed attacks, and these evolved into a continuous rhythmic technique in which I could excite chords of overtones above the fundamental. This technique is a combination of bowing and striking, in which a short portion of the bow is brought into contact with the string in a forward and backward motion. If the striking aspect is emphasized, the inharmonic nature of the attack overwhelms the sound and little resonance is excited. If a long section of bow hair is brought into contact with the string, the resulting sound is lacking in resonance. In daily practice over a two month period, I gradually learned to make fine adjustments, bringing specific harmonics in and out of the foreground, as times touching a nodal point with my left hand. The instrument is amplified with contact piezo microphones in performance.”
From program notes: “The vibrational characteristics of music wire with consideration of the location and influence to the nodal regions. The integrity of a fundamental vibration is maintained for each string; all movement of pitch occurs in the overtone structure. A shorter speaking length is never created through "stopping" or "fretting" technique. Harmonic (partial) vibrations are coaxed and occasionally isolated.”

1979 Extended Excited Strings Bass
The neck of the Bass was extended eleven inches since higher overtones are capable of being generated from longer strings. Dreyblatt experimented additionally with twelve sympathetic strings from a pinblock on the neck through the underside of the bridge. “These strings were removed when I learned that the resonance created by my performance technique overwhelmed the acoustic power that sympathetic wire of this type could provide”. The combination of the two basses formed the basic fundament within the ensemble music until 1987.
1980 Root Excited Strings Bass
was created to supply the root pitches of each of the families. Ten strings in doubble courses would be tuned to 1/3/5/7/11. I completly rebuilt the body of the bass, and ran a 1/2" threaded steel rod through the body to reinforce the neck. “I sensed that the presence of these root pitches tended to confuse the perception of the fundamental. As the root pitch became stronger, the relationships between the families and the original fundamental was blurred. Except for a short section with three basses, this new bass was put aside until further experimentation could be carried out. Experimentation with this bass confirmed my suspicions about the importanceof maintaining the acoustic presence of the fundamental pitch. All tonal resources are inherent in the choice of a permanent fundamental.”

1980: The Long Zither With Magnetic String Drivers
“This intrument utilized magnetic string drivers called "E-Bows", which were commercially made for electric guitars. I purchased six of the original devices from their designer in California, and designed a string intrument for their use. I found that when the wire is magnetically excited, a harmonic node may be touched by a finger and the wire will remain in that vibrational mode, sustaining that harmonic even when the finger is removed. I designed an instrument which had six long strings with six "E-Bows" spring mounted on sliding tracks beneath each string. The strings would all be tuned to the same fundamental pitch and a different overtone would be sustained on each string. In practice, however, the "E-Bows" were unstable in sustaining high frequencies. The instrument was rebuilt a number of times, and used in performance, before joining a number of other unusable prototype instruments in storage for use at a later date.”

1980 - 2000 Hurdy-Gurdy.
Various Hurdy-Gurdy’s have been used in the ensembles throughout the last twenty years. Piezo pickup amplifications has been added, and experiments have been made with traditional instruments produced in the Balkans. The tangents are adjustable allowing fine-tuning and the resultant string drone is rich in overtone content and blends well with the string basses.

1980 Portative Pipe Organ
“In 1980 Harold Westover, of Walpole, New Hampshire, invited me to design and build a portable pipe organ at his workshop. I began work on this instrument in January of 1981 and it was finished just in time for performances by the ensemble in May. Under Westover's direction, I designed an organ with mechanical pin action and an electric blower for an air supply. It had forty-seven pipes - two full octaves of the twenty-pitch scale and the six root pitches of each family in a third lower octave. During the of 1981, six krummhorn-type reeds replaced the six wood pipes which originally had constituted the lower octave. A new keyboard was designed for this instrument, compressing the twenty-note octave into a normal handreach for twelve notes and incorporating raised appendages in a pattern which visually suggest the tonal families and their locations in my tonal system. The organ comes apart for transport and all its keys are capable of being locked down in the 'on' position. The organ can be heard on the recording of Nodal Excitation.

1978 Miniature Princess Pianoforte
A piano with an abbreviated upright action, 41 keys, one string per key, with a range of 31/2 octaves. “It seemed the perfect instrument to begin tuning experiments. I attempted a variety of tunings, but it soon became apparent that restricting would be necessary. In March of 1978 I began drawing up plans for tuning a selection of transposed pitches condensed from the harmonic series into the span of an octave on the piano. Robert Bielecki, a friend and engineer, suppled me with a computer program in order to prepare a restringing scale with minimum inhamonicity and utilizing unwound piano wire. Since the wide felt hammers dampen many of the higher harmonics, I removed the hammerfelt from all the hammers. I snipped the dampers off so that the wires would resonate sympathetically. I found that the thick steel wires, when hit by the pointed hard wood hammers, supplied an unusually rich and piercing timbre. In 1990 this instrument was turned into a “Cimbalom” or hammered dulcimer” and was re-strung with two strings per note and was played with hard hand-held hammers.

1985 Gardon
In Transsylvannia Dreyblatt observed Gypsies performing on a 'gardon'- (a cello-like instrument) with a percussive technique not unlike my own performance technique on the contrabass. I adapted a cello with thick gut strings as a type of gardon, played with a drum stick by my percussionist as a tuned drum. The instrument can be heard on “Propellers In Love”.

1990 Basque String Drum
Adapted from an acoustic guitar which was fitted with steel “snares” for each string and which is percussively played on with a bamboo stick and is amplified by a piezo microphone. The instrument is inspired by the historical Basque String Drum.

1990 Modified Electric Guitar
This instrument is an electric was modified with built-in magnetic driver-sustainers for each string which are controllable for level of sustain and harmonic resonance. Additionally, the guitar was fitted with new frets have been installed in the just intonation scale of my music. The instrument can be heard on “Animal Magnetism”.

1987-93 Dynamic Processing System
“In 1987 I was commissioned by Ars Electronica to create a sound and visual work. For the sound component I built a small piano, using a primitive plastic toy piano action and building a wood frame. I had some high-band range magnetic pickups especially wound for the instrument. I worked with a sustaniac guitar sustain system, in which an extra transducer mounted on the head stock, and the signal is fed back (through body vibration vibrating the strings) back to the pickups, re-amplified through a foot pedal. I routed this guitar through a stereo pitch shifter, in which the pitches of my scale were programmed. Both the piano and the guitar was run though noise gates, in which the key (drive) signal was derived from recordings I had made from malfunctioning escalators on the Rue Ansbach in Brussels. By experimenting with different threshold settings, a polyrhythmic effect was achieved. I performed on this system at Ars Electronic in Linz, and later at Het Apollohuis in Holland. In Liege I met the percussionist-composer-sound installation artist Pierre Berthet, with whom I've collaborated for many years. We began a project together entitled, "End Correction", which toured in 1988. I developed my "Dynamic Processing System" further and purchased a Drawmer M-500 in which I could store threshold settings as programs. I added various devices to the system, including a Peter Drake designed "Talk Box" with which I could modify the overtones of the electric guitar signal by using my mouth as a resonating cavity; a midi mixing system and a complicated foot pedal system which controlled all variables and switched all devices for each musical sections, including even chord changes. This system enabled me the utilize midi and digital technology without giving up the acoustic amplified string sonorities which formed the core of my music from the beginning. This system was later ‘re-scored’ for my ensemble, and a set of new ‘hawaiian style’ electric guitars were developed in the early 1990’s.”.

Traditional Instruments which have been performed my music in my own and in other ensembles:
French Horn
Skin and Synthetic Head Drums
Metal Percussion
Acoustic Guitar
Acoustic Bass
Electric Fretless Bass
Tenor, Soprano and Sopranino Saxophone
Irish (Wood) and Metal Flute

Tuning System

The Dreyblatt Tuning System is calculated from the third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh overtones and their multiples in the following pattern:

1 3 5 7 9 11
3 9 15 21 27 33
5 15 25 35 45 55
7 21 35 49 63 77
9 27 45 63 81 99
11 33 55 77 99 121

These mathematically related overtones are heard as tonal relationships when they are transposed and sounded above a fundamental tone. In this process of transposition from their position in the natural overtone series, these tones fall (unequally) in the span of one octave in the following order:

1, 33, 35, 9 77, 5, 81, 21, 11,45, 3, 49, 99, 25, 27, 55, 7, 15, 121, 63, (2)

These tones are performed in "just intonation' based on a fundamental tone of "F".

Note Freq. Partial Cents
F 349.2 1 0
F# 360.11 33 -47
G 381.93 35 -45
G# 392.85 9 +4
G# 420.13 77 +20
A 436.5 5 -14
A 441.95 81 +8
A# 458.32 21 -29
B 480.15 11 -49
B 491.06 45 -10
C 523.8 3 +2
C 534.71 49 +38
C# 540.16 99 -45
C# 545.62 25 -28
D 589.27 27 +6
D 600.18 55 +37
D# 611.1 7 -31
E 654.75 15 -12
E 660.20 121 +2
F 687.48 63 -27

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