NCH Kevin Barry Room
Who, you might be tempted to ask, are the Rynhart Speakers, who made their debut in an Irish Composers Collective concert at the NCH Kevin Barry Room on Tuesday? That, however, would not be the right question. They’re a what, not a who. Composer Dylan Rynhart has updated the Leslie speakers, the loudspeakers that give the Hammond organ its special tremolo effects, and brought them into the digital age. The Leslie speakers distribute higher frequencies through a rotatable horn, mounted on top of the speaker cabinet. Actually, what’s mounted there is a pair of horns, but the second one is included only for physical balance during rotation.
The rotation of the horns in a Leslie speaker can be set to medium, fast, or off. Rynhart has made the speed infinitely variable within its working range, and is also able to reverse the direction of the spin.
The Hammond organ tremolo is the result of what’s known as the Doppler effect, familiar from the fall in pitch of ambulance sirens when they pass you by. But tremolo is not what interests Rynhart the most. The spinning horns also spatialise the sound by sending it off in different directions to be reflected or absorbed by whatever it encounters. It’s the spatialisation that’s been firing him up, so much so, that he’s not bothered at all with the low-frequency aspect of the Leslie speakers, and he uses a separate, unmodulated sub-woofer in his setup.
The Rynhart Speakers are presented in a four-unit layout, in which the spinning of all four speakers – placed not at the corners of a listening area, but at the sides – can actually be kept in synch (or not, if that’s what a composer wants).
Well, then. What does it all sound like? Before Tuesday’s concert at the NCH Kevin Barry Room, Rynhart made a short presentation. The impression in rapidly moving music or in speech was of fragmentation and blurring. The familiar Hammond organ effects came most obviously into play when the sound was more constant. The spatialisation was, well, hit and miss.
Rynhart opened and closed Tuesday's programme with works of his own. Components is an edit of separate performances of a piece that calls on players to improvise, with all of the performances piled on top of each other – a good opportunity to sample the speakers' effects on individual lines. Spin Cycle comes from the Fuzzy Logic Ensemble's Mouthpiecealbum, and provided the opportunity to hear the spinning speakers transforming co-ordinated, jazzy ensemble writing and voice.
It was useful to have such clear reference points from the speakers’ developer at either end of the programme. A number of the evening’s pieces were drone compositions, Piaras Hoban’s newmorningwintervlight getting heavy and dirty and detailed, Francis Heery’s Glean clearly concerned with stasis, and offering an almost dimensional shift as the horns began to rotate slowly, and Adam McCartney’s Troposphere-AMDG bringing the sound of a “dilapidated” pipe organ into the electronic domain for slow transformations.
Three other works were performed on conventional speakers, Matthew Whiteside’s Youth tantalisingly blended not always readily decipherable recorded speech with the sounds of what might have been a fan or a gentle vacuum cleaner. Ian McDonnell’s Spear Fragment was a recorded improvisation, playing with sine tones and taped scratching sounds, and espousing a sense of narrative that most of the other works seemed to shun. And David E McCarthy’s Performance VII offered a sonic assault with punitively loud drum-kit effects synched to strobe lighting – the composer provided a health warning, and himself chose to exit the room before the performance.
As to the Rynhart Speakers? Are they an important development, or just a tool waiting for a task? Time alone will tell.