The Paetzold square recorder was developed to offer amateurs and professionals a cheap instrument with a sound more stable than the one of traditional recorders. In fact, not only the Paetzold square recorder meets these requirements, but it has an extremely rich palette of sounds, which makes it a very interesting instrument for contemporary music. Up to now, its acoustic characteristics have hardly been explored and what’s more, never documented. Composers who know the instrument, compositions which really exploit its richness and interpreters who play these compositions are very few.
The recorder, instrument par excellence of the Renaissance and Baroque period, fell into complete disuse in the 19th century, following an important change in musical aesthetics. It was not before the 20th century that it was rediscovered: within the scope of the historic Aufführungspraxis on the one hand, and within the scope of the contemporary music on the other hand. It’s large palette of noises, whistles and rustles, the delicacy of its tonal and dynamical nuances, its multiphonics, glissandi and flageolets attracted 20th century composers and were source of inspiration. New playing techniques were developed and recorder builder tried to improve the instrument.
This was the situation when the German recorder-builder Joachim Paetzold, inspired by organs which combine square and cylindrical pipes, had the idea, at the end of the 1950ths, to build a square recorder. He wanted to develop an instrument which was easy to play over two octaves and mainly cheap. His plywood prototype “happened to turn out well”, as he said, and this first success encouraged him to go on with his experiments. At the beginning of the seventies, Joachim Paetzold built an improved c bass and in 1975, together with his nephew Herbert, he tried to develop an f double-bass. Herbert who was neither instrument-builder, nor musician, but electro-technician and joiner, contributed to the development of the new recorder without prejudices and without being influenced by the traditions of historical recorder-building. In 1976 the first Paetzold square recorder was patented and immediately convinced professional musicians who tried it: in 1977 Frans Bruggen ordered three instruments for his trio “Sour Cream” with Walter van Hauwe and Kees Boeke.
Up to now, only two musicians are known to have seriously explored the Paetzold recorder and worked on a link between this acoustic instrument and electronics. The first one is Michael Barker, professor at the Royal Conservatory of Den Haag, who, in 1986, had the idea of connecting a Paetzold recorder to an electronic system. Having big square keys and plenty of flat surfaces, the Paetzold recorder is optimal for the installation of electronic devices. Barker fixed 24 of them on his instrument, 23 leaving the sound of the recorder unchanged: a first one to measure the pressure in the air canal, one under each of the eleven keys (which allowed the instrumentalist to control the software while playing) and finally six buttons and two sensors on the rear of the recorder. Only one device was used for sound amplification, a small and powerful condenser microphone. The so created new instrument was called “Midified Recorder” or “MiRe”. It allowed the musician to build up a very personal sound catalogue and was used mainly for improvisation. Unfortunately, no collaboration with outstanding composers was developed, no interesting compositions followed, and Barker’s revolutionary work disappeared with its creator. The second recorder-player who experimented with electronic components placed on a Paetzold recorder was Caesar Villaviciencio, one of Barker’s students. Taking advantage of the rapid progresses in technology, he did not only place sensors and a condenser microphone on his Paetzold double-bass, he also equipped it with an LCD monitor. Villaviciencio still improvises on this recorder.
depending from the acoustic characteristics and from the repertoire of the instrument, Paetzold recorders needs very often to be amplified, and for this, discover well suited positions and how to deal with those, becomes a very important issue.
First of all we need to know that the principal hole for the sound output is located on the top of the instrument and is called Labium, here we find the sounds reproduced by the whole instrument, from open tube positions to full close tube positions.
If we want to track some more details, especially coming from low notes, there's also a hole in the front bottom of the recorder from which sounds, with a full length close tube, can be clearly heard, even if the sound pressure is not so relevant.
For what concerns traditional execution techniques this two miking options are enough to amplify the instrument but in case we have to deal with extended techniques typical of contemporary music we need to explore some more microphone possible positions.
Indeed there are many musical pieces in which the sound of the body of the instrument is really important, especially for what regards key sounds, this means that during the exploration of the many sounds possibilities through microphones, place them towards the keys becomes mandatory.
With a direct connection with the history of the new music, especially in case of Live Electronic pieces, we can find that the solutions proposed by pioneers like Luigi Nono or Karlheinz Stockhausen, for micking long instruments are fundamental guide lines for the sound engineer which approach the Paetzold.
There are then some more particular cases in which microphones tracks also different sounds, more connected with the mouth articulations, in that cases is necessary to place an extra microphone.
A good example of multi microphones placement can be found in the piece "Quattro variazioni sul tema del vento" of Agostino DiScipio.