21st Century Oboe
Christopher Redgate & the Howarth-Redgate Oboe
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Dorothy Ker: Clepsydra


Clepsydra  for Redgate-Howarth oboe

Dorothy Ker (2012)

There is perhaps nothing more invigorating to the act of composition than to be part of the bringing to life of a beautiful new instrument and having the privilege of working closely with its designer. The collaboration towards this piece started before the arrival of the new oboe when it was still an object of speculation. In imagining the new instrument through detailed technical descriptions and demonstrations I was drawn to consider the oboe’s essential tactile and acoustical qualities. This primordial investigation was brought to life through the fragmented writings of the Sicilian poet Empedocles (5th Century BC) who developed a theory of breathing and the vascular system around an apparatus called a clepsydra (a vessel with holes that was used to transfer water using air pressure) making a vivid account of the surging exchanges of breath and blood. Known as the simile of the clepsydra, this resonated with the emerging notion of the oboe as an instrument for the crafting of timbre by fine control of its ‘porosity’ (through the multitude of new key combinations available), combined with the oboist’s virtuosity in controlling the column of air to coax exquisite tones from the sweet-sounding cocobolo wood. The material and journey of the piece are informed by this image and related ideas of aggregation and transformation in fluid motion.

Dorothy Ker, August 2012

Dorothy Ker was born in New Zealand in 1965. She studied with John Rimmer at Auckland University and in 1992 emigrated to the UK where she studied with Nicola Lefanu and Harrison Birtwistle. Her music is performed and broadcast in both hemispheres and has been heard at international festivals in Auckland, Belfast, Darmstadt, Huddersfield, Perth, Taipei, Seoul, at the ISCM, in London and on BBC Radio 3. She held an AHRC Research Fellowship at Reading University from 2001-2004 and from 2005-2010 was RCUK Fellow at Sheffield University, where she is currently a Lecturer in Composition. In 2007 Lontano Records Ltd released the CD diffracted terrains: Chamber Music of Dorothy Ker to critical acclaim.