Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Sarah Watts, 30 November, DINA

243 1546525419

Hosted by SONA, a Sheffield-based group who work to support women in learning and experimenting with sound, Unpeeled is a series of live events showcasing women in electronic music. Hosted at DINA, the fourth event in the series was a performance by bass clarinettist Sarah Watts.

Watts performed solo clarinet with pre-prepared electronic accompaniment, beginning her performance on the monstrous contrabass clarinet. Aptly nicknamed 'The Beast', it sits two octaves below standard tuning. 'Weighed Down By Light' was the first of three pieces played that were composed for her. It explored the timbre of the contrabass, with an accompaniment created from heavily treated and arranged recordings of herself playing previously.

[Watts] made impressive rhythmic use of the clarinet keys

Watts travelled up the instrument's register, bringing high reedy tones before dropping to deep guttural bass, utilising the instruments resonant sounds. She also made impressive rhythmic use of the clarinet keys, using key clicks to punctuate the piece like a snare drum. Moving to the bass clarinet she then performed 'Black Arrow', an early piece written for her that made even heavier use of extended techniques such as trills, slap tongue - a technique that produces a percussive, marimba-type sound - and high glissandi, which invoked Judy Dunaway's Balloon Music.

Between each performance Watts explained the ideas behind each composition, followed by a further Q&A session. Watts closed with 'Her Sisters' Notebook', a more conventionally melodic piece in ten movements. She played over a multitrack recording of herself playing nine other parts, a practice influenced by Steve Reich's 'Electric Counterpoint'. Advancing through intensely rhythmic passages, rich jazzy cluster chords and contrapuntal movements, she then cut to a section consisting entirely of multiphonics, in which she was able to create chords by emphasising a harmonic above the note she was playing.

Jack Buckley

Next article in issue 130

More Music

More Music