for string quartet and live electronics















Nick Didkovsky










Commissioned for Sirius String Quartet with a supporting grant from Meet the Composer

for string quartet and live electronics


Composed by Nick Didkovsky for Sirius String Quartet




               TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING is a composition for string quartet and live electronics.  Foot pedals are used to create harmonic glissandi.  Talkboxes are used to modulate the sound of the string quartet with vowels mouthed by the performers.  The harmonic and timbral complexity of the piece evolves over the course of the piece, rising steadily and then falling, while the density of the vowel activity steadily increases from beginning to end.


Technical Requirements


The following equipment is required for each member of the string quartet:

1.      Banshee Talkbox, by Rocktron

2.      DigiTech XP100 Whammy-Wah Pedal

3.      Contact Microphone, attached to instrument

4.      High quality condenser mic (like Lavalier), attached to instrument

5.      Vocal microphone (highly directional is best)


A stereo PA system with an 8 channel mixing board and 4 separate monitor mixes is required to mix the piece.




Signal path


Mixing Comments

The mixing board receives two signals from each stringed instrument: a clean signal from the condenser mic attached to the instrument, and a processed signal arriving via the vocal mic.  These signal pairs should be mixed evenly.  Each of 8 total signals should be panned to a slightly different position in the stereo field.




Comments on Notation


               Each performer reads three staves.  The top staff specifies vocals.  The middle staff is traditionally notated for stringed instruments.  The bottom staff notates the Whammy Pedal glisses.

               The vocals are notated on a one-line staff, specifying the rhythms of the vowels mouthed by the performer.  The performer does not actually speak the indicated vowels, but mouths them mutely, so that the sound of the instrument arriving through the tube is “vowelized” by the shape of the mouth.  Extension lines between vowels have been omitted from the score.  A vowel is always sustained until a new vowel is notated.

               The Whammy Pedal setting shall be factory preset #21, which harmonizes an octave down (8vb) in the heel position, and an octave up (8va) in the toe position.   The Whammy Pedal sweeps the full range of this effect from heel position to toe position, with unison roughly in the middle position.

               The notation divides the full pedal sweep from heel to toe into 7 positions, where 1 is the heel position, 7 is the toe position, 4 is the middle position, and the remaining values subdivide these.  Pedal positions are notated on the lines of the staff, with position 1 (heel) notated one ledger line below the staff, and position 7 (toe) notated one ledger line above the staff.  The middle pedal position falls on the middle line of the staff.  The remaining staff lines correspond to the subdivisions between these positions.



Fig 1 Whammy Pedal positions are notated on the lines of the staff



               Pedal notation always specifies a smooth glissando, with the originating position tied out to show the overall duration, and the destination position breaking the run of ties.  The pedal movement between originating and final position is continuous! For example, a full sweep from heel to toe, starting on the downbeat of a measure and ending on beat 4 ½ is shown below.


Fig 2 A pedal gliss beginning on beat 1 and terminating on beat 4 ½

Pedal movement is smooth and continuous over this duration





Composer’s Comments

               Talkboxes were popularized in the 70's by guitarists such as Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, and David Gilmour.  Popularized as a guitar effect, the talkbox enabled the performer to make a guitar "talk".  The sound of the guitar (or any electronic instrument) is piped through a vinyl tube terminating in the performer's mouth, where the sound is modulated by the resonances of the mouth.

               TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING was conceived during a conversation with my friend Mark Stewart, while we were on tour with the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet.  We conjured an image of all four guitarists performing with talkboxes, and imagined that the sonic possibilities would be staggering.  The guitar quartet never realized this idea (we never proposed it), but when I mentioned it to Ron Lawrence of Sirius String Quartet, he became very excited by the thought of his string quartet playing through four talkboxes.  So began the collaboration that culminated in this piece.

               The composition process leading up to the final version of TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING required the development of a number of new software technologies.  In 1997,  Phil Burk and I began work on the creation of the Java Music Specification Language, which is a software framework for experiments in music composition.  JMSL was chosen as the central technology for this new piece because JMSL was already a very powerful tool when the work began, yet I knew that the demands of the piece would push JMSL further.   JMSL was missing some key features, such as the facility to work with common music notation.  Driven by the need to model and notate the new talkbox piece, I created new JMSL modules, such as JScore (JMSL's common music notation package), and Transcribe (JMSL's music transcription package).  Together with Burk's software synthesis software JSyn, I was able to create computer sketches of the work, hearing the sounds of sampled stringed instruments filtered through virtual talkboxes, and harmonized by virtual Whammy Pedals.  Note that while JMSL and JSyn were essential tools in the modeling, sketching, and composition of TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING, the live performance of the work is completely detached from these technologies.



Thanks to James Forrest for designing the JSyn vowel filters used in the software modeling phase of this piece.  Thanks to David Birchfield, Phil Burk, James Forrest, Larry Polansky, and Robert Marsanyi for their insights on harmonic complexity, specifically the ranking of 12-tet intervals from least to most dissonant, and for listening so deeply and providing such extensive and insightful comments on the work in progress.

Thanks also to David Cowells at Rocktron Artist Relations, Bruce Holt at DigiTech Artists Relations, and Charles Ames (as always) for details on the Myhill Distribution and its implementation.


TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING was supported by a grant from Meet The Composer’s  Commissioning Music/USA program.   Commissioning Music/USA is made possible with support from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and The Target Foundation.  This composer thanks MTC for making the piece possible.



Nick Didkovsky/Punos Music, 118 East 93rd Street, Apt 9C, NY NY 10128

tel (212) 369-1733 , fax (212) 996-4214



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TUBE MOUTH BOW STRING copyright 2002 Nick Didkovsky / Punos Music (BMI)