I’ve written about him once before here [all photos herein are from the web]. And, he’s one of those rare, seminal artists who inspires an entire generation of players. What Cage was to music is probably what Valentin is to the instrument: the hurdy-gurdy. I’ll enter here at what I do that is different, but Valentin was sole my inspiration.
He released a CD back in the 1980s that changed the hurdy-gurdy forever, and in his case he is a legit player of the instrument, but invented all sorts of extended techniques.
What extended techniques means is the broader term for a prepared instrument, like when Cage set out to place wood screws inside the piano in order to get a buzzing, rattling sound. Fred Frith is another of these sorts of avant-garde instrumentalists. Valentin does it with the hurdy-gurdy. This artist makes all sorts of seemingly strange sounds. The instrument can howl or bark or shriek. He plucks the strings, which is unorthodox. (All artwork here is from the web.)
Plucking the strings on a gurdy is something liken to reaching inside a piano, to be disregarding everything that seems historically consistent. Experimentation is this idea of breaking some of the rules or maybe all rules. We have to remind ourselves that musical instruments do have rules. It’s the basis of every music school on the planet that there is a right way and so to not do things the wrong way.
To begin with this instrument is unfamiliar to most people, but in France it is much more well known. Since around 2003 when I started to look at this topic, many players have emerged with their own idiosyncratic ideas. There is just no one in charge of it all and so the rules are just not there. Now it looks like I’ve joined the club on this. I want to play mine by using little felted mallets or a large feather to make transfer a rattling sound to the body of the gurdy.
There is a more conservative set of gurdy players, as well as a dedicated more liberal group. I even fall a little bit outside of both since I approach it as an artist. On one hand I study history, then on the other hand I do everything “wrong”. What I do differently? 1) I make no demand of myself to start with playing it correctly 2) I tune my gurdy any way I want to and differently for each piece. I even think I plan to tune it differently to justify composing. I’m thinking of making the signature to each piece its tuning, rather than technique or the notes.