Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Wish I had the bends

So there's this device called the harmonica. In its most familiar instantiation it has a row of ten holes, each of which contains two reeds. By blowing or drawing (this being the preferred term over "sucking," for obvious reasons) through each channel, a note is produced. On the most common type, pitched in C, for instance, blowing on hole 4 gives you a C, whereas drawing gives you a D. Simple enough.

The complication is that it is actually possible to produce notes in between these two values (a C# on hole 4, for example), using a technique known as "bending." As far as I can figure out, this must be achieved by modifying the vocal tract configuration such that its resonance frequency overrides the natural inclination of the reed in question and causes it to vibrate at a different frequency. Or something. This must not be quite right, though, because it's only possible to bend in one direction -- on hole 4, for instance, one can only bend on the draw -- so the bend is always from high to low. Some accounts suggest that the two reeds are actually working in concert to produce the modified tone, though I have no idea how this could be the case, since the resultant sound is clearly that of a single reed.

I swear that I have been modifying my vocal tract to the full extent possible without creative use of a scalpel, but my tones remain woefully even. Not even the slightest wobble have I obtained, try though I might. I fear that this is one of those techniques that can only be achieved by achieving the technique, and once one reaches this stage it becomes so obvious that it's hard to imagine not being able to do it. Like rolling one's Rs, perhaps?

In any event: I am frustrated.

My final thought before adjourning for the evening is that I am feeling very sick to my stomach after eating too much ice cream at Fentons at Amelia's birthday party. After years of consideration, I have reached the conclusion that about a half cup is the maximum amount of ice cream that I can actually enjoy, which is difficult at the aforementioned creamery because their portions are measured by the bucketful. Hooboy.

2 comments:

Amelia said...

A: Have you considered asking one of the crazy musicians you know advice on the "bending" skill you seek? Or checked out websites? This one seems particularly helpful, what with the animated gifs and all:

http://www.harmonicaclub.com/common/note_bending_for_harmonica.htm

B: wtf - I ate way more crap than you did today... and even *I* am not sick.

Josh said...

Black magic, that's what it is. The physics of the thing makes sense, but all I can seem to do is shift the F2.

Speaking of magic, maybe it's your Bay Area origins which have built up the necessary Fentons antibodies that protect you from queasiness. I don't know how Nate survived that enormous skyscraper of a sundae.