A Note from the Performer

The creation of this catalog is born out of an inherently troubled situation, a veritable chicken-and-egg paradox: tubists are rarely, if ever, trained in a sort of standardized set of extended techniques (or even, to a degree, in the extremities of “standard” techniques); and composers are unable to fall back on a codified collection of techniques and notations for use in new music (and New Music). Without this system of standardization, composers are caught between two extremes: write music for a specific tubist and that tubist’s tendencies and notational wishes, or write music that will potentially prove so far removed from the individual performer’s phenomenological understanding of the instrument as to be unplayable or unworthy of attention. The tubist is presented a similar situation: build a personalized collection of techniques and communicate those to the individual composer, or learn the techniques and their notations specific to the composer or his or her school upon undertaking each individual piece of music.

This catalog is thus a call for standardization, or at least the beginning of that process, in the sense that it seeks a standardized set of techniques that tubists might reasonably be expected to learn and perform and a set of notations that are both clearly legible and also phenomenologically appropriate. It should be made clear, though, that portions of this catalog also represent a resistance to a certain standardization—namely, the form that implies the mechanistic role of the performer. By this, I mean to say, rather bluntly, that I implore the composer not to treat this catalog as a collection of absolute facts.

I make no attempt to hide my preference for an intimate composer-performer relationship, to the point where it often becomes one of performer-composer. This is not an insignificant quibble; rather, it calls into question the balance of power and primacy inherent in such an arrangement. The most rewarding of these relationships of which I have been a part have gone so far as to blur the lines of the composer/performer divide, whereby the process truly becomes one of social collaboration. It is still the composer who composes and the performer who performs, naturally, but I believe that the performer should have a certain degree of influence over the final content of the piece. Similarly, and this position seems more or less common practice at this point, the composer should be able to bring the performer into a place of discomfort and unfamiliarity, such that a new performance technique or practice might be developed. At all times, however, the process should be one of mutual engagement.

We present, then, what is essentially a document of our mutual engagement in the process of composition. The information contained herein is inherently personal. The catalog collects the sounds that I thought to produce on my tuba, those that Brian thought to write for, and of course those born from the discomfort of finding ourselves in unexplored musical territory. It is by no means meant to be exhaustive or authoritative. Instead, it represents a jumping off point in the effort to establish the tuba as an integral part of contemporary musical practice.

— Jonathan Piper (2008)