Recorders in pop music

Dot writes: I’m an out-and-proud recorder player. I’m a member of my local branch of the Society of Recorder Players (in fact the only branch in Ireland – there are advantages to living in the capital), I take part in fortnightly group lessons, and I regularly tweet about my recorder playing, to resounding silence from the twittersphere. It is my secret mission, delivered to me anonymously on paper that spontaneously combusted ten minutes later (not really), to promote the use of recorders by everybody in contemporary music that I like, which is to say lots of pop and electronic artists who aren’t interested. And don’t know me. And don’t follow me on Twitter. Fortunately there are enlightened souls in the contemporary music world who have already noticed that recorders need not only be for renaissance buffs (not that I’m knocking renaissance music: in fact I love it, and I love playing it).

So, here are some recent pieces in which recorders escape from their ghetto and mingle happily with contemporary instruments and production styles. For some less recent but better known examples, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”, plus a rejoinder to the stereotype of the recorder as a horrid shrill instrument played badly by schoolchildren, see this Guardian piece. I’m vaguely amazed it doesn’t mention “The Fool on the Hill”, but then that’s a song that trades precisely on the association of the recorder with naivety and childhood.

Marika Hackman, “Monday Afternoon”, from her 2015 album We Slept At Last. This is a dark, spooky, folk-inflected album full of pale bodies lying in forests, and the recorders here give a touch of both formality and pastness, contributing to the general air of maidenly doom.

Shugo Tokomaru, “Vektor”. I came across this a few days ago through the new music section in Nialler9’s enormously comprehensive website. Tokomaru is described as a folk musician, but this seems to me wonderfully unclassifiable, drawing on an incredibly eclectic range of instruments of which the recorder is one. The video celebrates the instruments and is a joy in itself.

Floex, “On the Roof of the Yellow Psychedelic Mushroom”, from the soundtrack to Samorost 3 (2016). In contrast to the busy Tokomaru piece, this is a serene unfolding of shimmering, spacious textures, against which the recorders, entering at 2:23, are clearly foregrounded with their questioning phrase. Floex (Tomáš Dvořák) is principally a clarinettist but plays the recorder very expressively too. He has written about the piece on Facebook.

My final example is a different sort of thing. Recorder arrangements of pop and rock songs can often be embarrassingly twee, but this is a triumphant exception: Daniel Mantey’s Recorder Quintet version of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix (with a bit of help from guitar, organ and bongos) (posted to YouTube in 2014). It sounds like mad druids. It’s great.

P.S. After I posted this a twitter friend (wow, someone responded to a recorder tweet!) told me about this clever and funny cover by Georgia Fields of Guns’n’Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”, including a recorder solo. You can hear the whole thing on Bandcamp. (Thanks, Shane!)

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