Sounding the Oboe Without a Reed

Sounding the Oboe without a Reed: sound options

A number of these sounds can be heard in the two recordings of Roger Redgate’s Concerto for Improvising Soloist and Ensemble. (This is available in two forms on my double CD ‘Electrifying Oboe’ on the Metier Label.)

It is possible to make an interesting range of sounds on the oboe without the reed being used at all. Although there is the fascinating example of Holliger’s Cardiophony there has been relatively little exploration by either performers or composers of the possibilities available. This is in contrast to the sounds made by blowing the reed without the rest of the instrument. (There is an obvious reason for the exploration of the reed sound as opposed to the instrument only sound and that is that oboists naturally make sounds on the reed in order to check that it is blowing properly and this sound is heard by composers.)

There are a number of methods that can be used for making sounds on the oboe without the reed either through using the instrument and blowing through the hole that the reed usually occupies and closing the lips around the top of the instrument or blowing through the staple without cane on the end, (this is less popular with performers as it can injure the lip if not done with care) or in the case of the bass oboe, cor anglais and oboe d’amore blowing through the crook when it is attached to the instrument. The most satisfying sounds can be made using the first of these methods and it is particularly effective on the larger instruments. In addition to blowing and sucking through the instrument a range of other related effects are available. 

The most obvious is to simply blow down the instrument with all the fingerings in place.

These sounds can be modified with finger movement. But remember that though you may notate specific pitches you will not hear the specific pitches. The sound created rises in pitch with fewer fingers and falls again when more fingers are added. To note these changes I suggest either rhythmic movement of the fingers or a wavy line to suggest the outline of the finger movement. The sound when sucking in and fingerings is different to the sound when blowing out and moving the fingers.

The fact that you can make a different sound when blowing out or breathing in through the instrument means that there is the potential to make continuous sound.

Tongue rams are very effective. The performer blows down the instrument and slams the tongue against the top of the instrument thus blocking any further air flow. This has the effect of creating an accented strong and short sound. It is quite possible to make these sounds one after the other and on different pitches by fingering the bottom notes of the instrument and articulating as you go.

Other articulations such as single, double and triple tonguing are also effective. Flutter tonguing at either the back or the front of the mouth can also be used.
It is quite possible to sing, hum or growl down the instrument as well – in fact any noise in the mouth will probably be amplified down the instrument.
In addition to these sounds it is possible to make a ‘trumpet-style’ embouchure and to play ‘alla tromba’. A range of pitches is available and a number of higher ‘tight sounds’ are possible.

Using a microphone attached to the instrument such as a DPA 4061 can make these sounds more audible.