Robert Dick’s big bad flute

Flutists drawn to the instrument’s floating high pitch also want to get down, according to Robert Dick, world master of the contrabass flute and extended flute techniques. He demonstrated this truism Monday at Dixon Place (NYC) with an improv titled “Fumarole,” after the undersea vents for volcanic gasses that support unique ecosystems and lifeforms. It sounded like little else I’ve ever heard.

Dick blurs the line between contemporary classical music and jazz beyond jazz; he’s called on for diverse conventional concert situations, but has also invented a flute with a sliding headjoint so he can play the blues. He explained that his title “Fumarole” came from his four year old son who, upon hearing the contrabass flute (pitched two octaves below a standard concert flute, in the key of C), remarked with wonder, “You can get a lot of worms with that.” At moments during Dick’s approximately 15 minute, highly amplified solo it did conjure a sound suggesting a fistful of squiggling invertebrates, but using circular breathing, key manipulations without breath, multiphonics (two or more tones at once, via overblowing or humming while blowing), slap-tonguing and some undisclosed personal skills, the flutist also evoke whales, howling winds, chugging diesels, the roaring drone of motors, something like hollow log drums and also exceeding soft, tender low tones.
His flow was organic, evidently directed by his own impulses rather than preset plan, and the affect was rather hallucinatory. If I’d closed my eyes I wouldn’t have know what the sound source was — it wouldn’t have occured to me that a silver tube as thick as my forearm, balanced on a peg to the floor and rising over Dick’s head, bent like the top of an “A” and with a raised mouthpiece produced these kinds of airs. I don’t know how many people respond to this music. I may be at the very tip of a long tail, due to my interests in unusual instruments (flutes especially) and unimagined music, in a niche with hardly any other listeners and not many more musicians. But such are the results of exploration. Dick ought to play duets with Evan Parker, the brilliant British saxophonist who has mastered similar techniques and has as rapacious a drive to expand on what he’s already done. Maybe they’ve already jammed. Anyway, I found this video clip of Dick doing his contrabass flute thang last December, in reference to the Iranian green movement. It’s recorded a bit more reverberantly than I’d like, but still: he unearths a lot of worms.
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