the edge of the world
Experimental Music Catalogue
experimental music since 1969

the edge of the world

Of interest to EMC fans and bass clarinet fanatics everywhere is a CD by Ian Mitchell, the edge of the world, released on Black Box Music [BBM1052]. This CD, the first British CD consisting entirely of bass clarinet music, features premiere recordings of works by Cornelius Cardew, Christopher Hobbs, Dave Smith, and John White, as well as a new version of the title track by the late Barney Childs. Played by bass clarinet virtuoso Mitchell, accompanied by Christopher Hobbs on keyboards, this CD is an important addition to the library of the experimental music lover.

Gordon Lewin, in The Clarinet & Saxophone Society Magazine(Winter 2000), writes:

This CD of contemporary music for bass clarinet by British composers is the answer to any questions you might have had about the possibilities and capabilites of the instrument in the hands of an exceptional performer. Played here by Ian Mitchell it not only reaches the outer edges of imagination, but takes you even further.

The final track The Edge of the World, a piece running almost nine minutes, has an organ combined with electric keyboard as accompaniment, much of it confined to sepulchral chords while the soloist runs through the alphabet of invention, reaching places to which most players rarely aspire. Without having seen the score it is impossible to know how much is detailed in the notation and how much is improvisatory. Diving from birdlike twittering in altissimo to atabbing bass notes, utilising ascending and descending glissandi, growls, split octave multiphonics and quite mind-boggling swoops in the high register, one is tempted to wonder if the music direction is simply "freak out!"

Three of the works are for solo instrument and three have keyboard accompaniment. John White's A Little Souvenir from Costa Mijas is couched in question and answer terms, with almost gamelan-type keyboard interjections until the two players finally join together for the coda.

Christopher Hobbs Why Not? is a two-minute piece which acts as an unaccompanied showcase, illustrating the range and versatility of performer and instrument. His Seventeen One-Minute Pieces for bass clarinet and Casio keyboard MT750 exhibits electronic sounds in all their diversity when combined with the solo instrument.

Dave Smith's 11--minute Off Peak Single From Symi is another workout for bass clarinet. The dual melodic line and accompaniment are all provided by the soloist, rather in the tradition of the old trumpet variations on Carnival of venice, but this time wearing the mantle of 21st-century technical and harmonic investigation.

The opening track, Cornelius Cardew's Mountains, is a truly monumental work dating from 1977. Taking just on 12 minutes it uses the Gigue from Bach's Partita No. 6 as a springboard for a set of variations. Ian Mitchell drives a riveting account both in detail and musical coherence. This 59-minute CD is brimming over with adventures and explorations for an instrument not normally subjected to this sort of musical vivisection.

The American clarinettist David Keberle described some of the high points in a letter to Ian Mitchell:

Listened to some of your B Cl Cd on the plane and this afternoon got to listen to it again from beginning to end. VERY Impressive from your impeccable technique and beautiful sound to the musicality of your phrasing and interpretation. The Cardew is stunning. A masterpiece for the B Cl. I love the opening of the second section with the counterpoint on the sustained note, colour fingerings and your vibrato - a magical moment. Those register leaps are hard enough on a soprano cl but you pull them off so well on the bass near the end! BRAVO. Also enjoy the Freaking Out harmonics section in the Childs. The Hobbs 17 pieces are delightful and witty. I love the way he uses all of those canned sounds that we all know so well. I think I even heard some Beachboy voicings which must be the California influence.

Tim Payne, in the BBC Music Magazine ( wrote of this CD:

These pieces, five of which here receive their world premiere recordings, were composed between 1977 and 1988 and provide an enormously important contribution to the repertoire of the bass clarinet. They cover a huge range of musical styles and employ virtually every conceivable playing technique resulting in a collection which is both challenging and appealing. The constantly changing sound-worlds ensure that the listener remains engaged throughout, thereby avoiding the familiar tendency for such recitals to be purely cerebral rather than entertaining. The stylistic extremes here are represented by Chris Hobbs's delightful diatonic miniatures at one end of the spectrum and the ferociously complex avant-garde music of Barney Childs's The Edge of the World, coincidentally both heavily jazz-influenced but diametrically opposed in every other respect. Hobbs's Seventeen One-Minute Pieces deliberately features a now outdated synthesizer whose rather crude sounds are central to its 'period charm', while Childs's piece, scored for bass clarinet and organ, includes sections of free improvisation which exploit the altissimi register of the bass clarinet to startlingly dramatic effect. Ian Mitchell's playing is outstanding, combining control and beauty of tone with apparently effortless disregard of the fearsome technical demands. This should be essential listening for all enthusiasts.

You can get this fantastic CD direct from the artist for

£10 p&p

(UK add 65p; rest of the world add £1.20, payment in advance in sterling only).


Send cheques payable to Ian Mitchell

137 Upland Road, East Dulwich, London SE22 0DF UK


Check out Black Box for more information or write to Ian Mitchell.