The Lab

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Arnold Dreyblatt: Nodal Excitation / Spin Ensemble

Nodal Excitation, 1979
Spin Ensemble, 2011

Notes from Arnold Dreyblatt on Nodal Excitation:

"In the spring of 1979 I was approached to perform at a downtown performance festival in New York. I had been developing a prepared double bass prepared with unwound music wire, in order to excite the higher overtones.

Over time, I worked on a repertoire of isolated percussive and bowed attacks, and these evolved into a continuous rhythmic technique in which I could excite chords of overtones above the fundamental. This technique is a combination of bowing and striking, in which a short portion of the bow is brought into contact with the string in a forward and backward motion. If the striking aspect is emphasized, the inharmonic nature of the attack overwhelms the sound and little resonance is excited. If a long section of bow hair is brought into contact with the string, the resulting sound is lacking in resonance. This composition is performed as a solo work, and is often the introduction to his ensemble compositions performed by the Orchestra of Excited Strings.

"The performance is a careful consideration of the location and influence of the acoustic Nodal Regions as identified on #12 and #11 unwound Music Wire stretched on a double bass (40.5" speaking length). The integrity of a fundamental vibration is maintained for both strings at all times; all movement of pitch occurs in the overtone structure. A shorter speaking length is never created through "stopping" or "fretting" techniques. Rather, harmonic, partial vibrations are calculated, coaxed, and are occasionally isolated at the nodes of the string."

– From program notes, 1979. "Nodal Excitation (Solo)" has also been performed by Bassist Robert Black in a number of U.S. tours and by Arnold Dreyblatt internationally since 1979.

Spin Ensemble:

In Spin Ensemble (2011), Arnold Dreyblatt has created a palette of acoustic signals and patterns derived from a recording project involving a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner (specifically the "Siemens Magnetom Symphony Maestro Class") in the Martin-Luther-Hospital in Berlin. Dreyblatt understands this device as a giant Tesla coil, in which the alignment and resonances of a powerful magnetic field are gradually altered by rotating radio frequencies. Under Dreyblatt’s direction, Siemens technicians operated the machine especially for these recordings, searching for software settings generating a desired sonic output rather than as an aparatus for scanning particular body areas, as this machine is normally used. The audio segments were analyzed, deconstructed and grouped as by pitch, rhythm and density. For the resulting composition, these files have been combined and fused, yet they have not been digitally treated or altered in any way. The recordings were originally utilized as the acoustic element of the audio-visual installation 'Turntable History” which was installed at the Singuhr Gallery in Berlin in 2009. Recordings of ”Turntable History" and the later composition “Spin Ensemble” were issued by Important Records as: CD Imprec322 and SAUNA14, respectively.


Arnold Dreyblatt (b. New York City, 1953) is a composer, performer and visual artist. He studied music with Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, and Alvin Lucier and has been based in Berlin, Germany since 1984. Among the second generation of New York minimal composers, Dreyblatt developed a unique approach to composition and music performance. As he began his music in the late 1970's in New York, he invented a set of new and original instruments, performance techniques, and a system of tuning and has formed and led numerous ensembles under the title "The Orchestra of Excited Strings". In 2007, he was elected to the German Academy of Art (Akademie der Künste, Berlin). He is currently Professor for Media Art at the Muthesius Academy of Art and Design in Kiel.

Dreyblatt has been composing music for his own and other ensembles for over thirty years. Often characterized as the most rock-oriented of American minimalists, Dreyblatt has cultivated a strong underground fan base for his transcendental and ecstatic music with his "Orchestra of Excited Strings". The New York native studied film and video at SUNY with Woody and Steina Vasulka, and earned his masters from the Institute for Media Studies at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo. In the mid-'70s, he studied composition with Pauline Oliveros and LaMonte Young, then with Alvin Lucier while completing his masters in composition, completed in 1982. By that time, Dreyblatt had already been directing his own music ensemble, the Orchestra of Excited Strings, for three years. In 1984, he moved to Europe where, in addition to composing, he began to work in performance and the visual arts. He has received numerous grants, stipends and commissions including the Philip Morris Art Prize, Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art and from the Irish Arts Council. Musicians and Ensembles which have performed his music include the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Pellegrini Quartet, Jim O'Rourke, Crash Ensemble, Dublin, and the American Indie-band Megafaun. Dreyblatt has been a guest composer at Amsterdam's STEIM; Berlin's Kunstlerhaus Bethanien; Music Gallery, Toronto; with the Austin New Music Ensemble, and the Great Learning Orchestra, Stockholm.

Programmed by Geeta Dayal