Composers Anecdotes
Very Quiet Screeching Allowed

Perrtu Happanen

Perrtu Happanen

We were looking at a score by the Finnish composer Perrtu Haapanen and found his performance directions very interesting for his 2014 work Compulsion Island, commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. His instructions for the strings are very specific in terms of how sound is to be deadened (damping), is to be altered (scratch tones), and is to be played at the top of one’s hearing (squeak). In addition, there are directions for bow usages – when to use the bow in a circle and when as a windshield wiper and when not to use it at all.

Performance Instructions


­ – Damp the strings completely with whole palm (in the middle of the string), so that no pitches are detected.

Scratch tones:
­ – Scratch tones are indicated with square note heads.
­ – Scratch tones on normal staff: pitch recognisable.
­ – Scratch tones with 1-line staff: avoid any recognizable pitch, only noise, strings always damped (see “damping”).

* H-scratch tone (horizontal scratch tone):
­ – horizontal bow movement (“normal” bow direction).

* V-scratch tone (vertical scratch tone):
­ – vertical bow movement (ie. move the bow lengthwise of a string, between sul tasto and sul ponticello).
­ – Favor playing at the very frog whenever possible, especially short notes should be at the frog as much as possible.
­ – Black line above the notes indicates keeping bow tightly on the strings, sometimes over the rests.
­ – Dashed cresc./dim. : increasing/decreasing bow pressure.

­ – Very high screeching squeak (“multiphonic”) ad lib:
­ – No leger lines are marked, notes are to be performed as high as possible.
­ – Bow extremely close to the stopping finger, bow hairs almost touching the finger.
­ – Heavy bow pressure (scratch tone), fast bow at the beginning.
­ – Lighten the pressure of the finger immediately after the attack (indicated by diamond shaped note head) and let the bow pace slow down.
­ – Find a suitable pressure and positions for the stopping finger and adequate bow pressure changes.

Windscreen wiper:
­ – Move the bow on strings between st and sp like a windscreen wiper.

Circular bowing:
­ – Move the bow circularly (elliptically) on the string, quiet squeaks may occur.

R.h. slap on the fingerboard:
­ – Right hand slap on the fingerboard (on strings, without the bow), dampening the strings and producing a short rattling attack.
­ – if there’s no possibility to put the bow aside, use the left hand (as fast as possible).

In addition to those instructions, there are others directing the location of the bow.

sul tasto – play with the boy near or over the fingerboard)
sul ponticello – play close to or on the bridge
molto sul tasto – play VERY far up the fingerboard, even close to your fingers
molto sul ponticello – almost on the bridge
on the bridge – on the bridge, no pitch, very quiet screeching allowed.

For the brass, their air usage is prescribed, as well as its colour:

Woodwinds & Brasses:

– Air tones, no recognizable pitch.
– Colour of the air stream is indicated as follows:
– “f” / “sh” / “s”
– H.V. : “half-valve” (concerns only horns, trumpets & tuba), one or more valves and blow against that resistance.
– allow air leakage through the corners of the mouthpiece, if needed.

And, on top of all that, the pitches are also to be moved by microtones off the normal pitch to other places: 1/4 sharp, 3/4 sharp, 1/4 flat, 3/4 flat

As the work starts, the brass are simply blowing air through their horns and the percussionist is performing on the whip and slide whistle (not at the same time). It’s an interesting work and knowing the directions makes you rethink some of the sounds and how they were made.

Full performance

Part of the score

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