Section 3: Clint McCallum- Bowel Resection


Clint McCallum's Bowel Resection is a solo trombone work from 2011 that takes the concepts from the circular breathing and articulation sections and the pushes them to their limits while demanding a stable execution. This section explores the practical application, and expansion, of the previous exercises in the frame work of McCallum's solo.


The defining challenge of Bowel Resection is the fact that it presents a singular demand- the work is a single split-tone, sustained for six and half minutes, that is constantly altered, but never broken. The piece takes this single sound and requires that the trombonist circular breathe and rapidly double tongue while slowly stretching the split-tone down the slide. It is a work that requires a mastery of both of these skills, while also demanding that the trombonist maintain an intensely focused sound, for an extended period, while she plays multiple techniques that cause one's sound to spread.

Bowel Resection is a work that explores the physical limits of the musician by exploiting a single sound, but the sound created by this act can create an illusion of stasis that can undermine the desired result. Therefore, an additional challenge for the trombonist is to maintain utter stability while still clearly asserting her human existence and struggle into the work's aural fabric. The performer must break away from the piece's potential to fall into a glacial stability that is conceptually divorced from the physical demands of the performer.



The importance of this issue is underlined by McCallum's program note for the Face|Resection EP:


    When Matt Barbier premiered Bowel Resection in 2014 a majority of the audience assumed there was electronic processing involved. This was due partly to the rich sonic complexity his split-tones, but mostly because he never took a breath. Transitioning between split-tones while at a loud dynamic and circular breathing is an inhuman (and inhumane?) task. In fact, when I wrote the piece I wasn't sure that it was physically possible. After the performance I revealed that there had been no electronic processing, that what we had all just heard was someone circular breathing a split-tone for seven minutes. People were shocked. This experience at the premiere me concerned as we approached this project. If people assumed it was electronic in a live situation, how were we going to preserve the physicality of the performance that is so important to the piece when we create a recorded version? To me, all of the distinguishing aspects of the piece—insistence, an engulfing spectrum of sound, a blurriness that thwarts the perception of proportion and hence the formal sense of time, the bizarre instrumental mechanics, the physical extremity of the instrumental technique—all invite a vivid imagining of what is happening both inside of the trombone and inside of the trombonist's body. This is imagining is a sort of empathetic transcendence of both space and subject. If we hear Bowel Resection as electronic music it loses that sense of gravitational pull towards some (imagined) body. Then again, this zero-g approach could be a completely valid way to listen to the piece. And perhaps what is so exciting about this recording is that you can now listen to the piece in many different ways. But Matt's brief, convulsive sniffs should, on some level, continue to return you to the mystery of his struggling body.

Expanding upon McCallum's ending focus, much like in facesplitter, the act of circular breathing is an import musical tool for the form and function of the work. However, unlike facesplitter's mechanically regulated breathing scheme, the need for humanization [and the practical execution of what is required] in Bowel Resection suggests rapid, convulsive patches of breaths. Irregular, desperate attempts to fill one's lungs anchor the work in the sound of a human body and make the breath a constant and intrinsic part of the work's framework. On the side of practical execution, the longer the breath one takes, the higher the probability one has of destabilizing and losing the split-tone. Therefore, multiple short and rapid breaths help a player maintain focus on the center of his embouchure, while also adding an important sonic parameter to the work.


An additional issue found with early performances of Bowel Resection is that as one continued the glissando into the further reaches of the slide the written ff dynamic could not be maintained because of the nature of the lower 3:2 split-tones. Another problem is that the lower end of the glissando requires a wider aperture to maintain a full tone which will potentially destabilize the split-tone, particularly when combined with the destabilizing effects of circular breathing and rapid articulations. This destabilization, combined with a registeraly created decrescendo, creates an anti-climactic drop in energy for the work's second half. A solution found to counteract this problem is to utilize common-tone slurs. This causes deviation from the score, but one that is approved by the composer.


Common-tone slurs, like circular breathing, can serve a dual function in this work by providing assistance with practical execution while also providing sonic material that promotes the composer's conceptual desire for humanistic clarity. By utilizing common-tone slurs to transition between 3:2 and 4:3 split-tones, one is able increase, rather than lose, intensity over the second half of the work, while also enacting hard shifts in harmony which break an illusion of sonic stasis. In doing so, the trombonist is able to shift the listener's focus and bring him into the body and mechanics of the performance, while maintaining the standing wave of the work.


Practical Application of Concepts


In this next section the practical applications of these concepts will be explored in relation to the previous exercises and specific examples from the Bowel Resection score. The score is included here for reference with the permission of the composer.



McCallum's notation and instruction is much less exacting than that contained in facesplitter. This allows the work to have a certain degree of flexibility in execution. While the form and shape of the score is clear, the flexibility of certain parameters allows for the work to be shaped to push the limits of the individual performer while still remaining Bowel Resection.


The score contains the instruction, “sempre split-tone (circular breathe)” without specifying which partials are split, although it does imply a 4:3 split-tone from the written Bb. For the purpose of the author's own playing strengths and practical concerns, the partials split on the recording and in live performance are a 3:2 split-tone. This was chosen for practicality and security. Given the extreme modifications required, the flexibility of the 3rd partial on the trombone and its conducive nature to the techniques involved made it a more practical candidate for the demands of the work. Another reason for the choice is the inherent stability of a 3:2 split-tone. In consideration of the fact that the next split-tone down the overtone series requires a sizable embouchure shift, this helps reduce the danger of the performer, because of fatigue, losing muscular focus and dropping down a partial. With a much less malleable 4:3 split-tone, this possibility is much greater, therefore a 3:2 split-tone was selected increase control and to make the other technical modifications more exact.


One of these modifications is McCallum's desire for a specified shift between “complex” [noise based] split-tone and more clarity in the timbre of the dyad being split. In discussion with the composer, what was stated as important is not that an exact distinction is made between a complex and dyad-based split-tone, but that the performer utilizes two distinct timbres of split-tone. For this specific issue the choice was made to have a shift in phoneme to change the overtone spectrum of the sound. For the “complex” timbre, which is the bulk of the work, a basic “o” phoneme was chosen. This allows the maximum amount of information into the sound while remaining closest to traditional playing, which allows for a greater amount of stability while maintaining a comfortable level of focus inside the mouthpiece. For the more sporadic dyad sections, it was decided to utilize a closed “e” phoneme, which filters out a significant portion of the sound, therefore creating the impression of a dyad. The additional function of this choice is that, while the “e” phoneme is taxing to maintain for long periods, it comes from over-focusing the embouchure. This over-focus brings a much needed stability inside the mouthpiece periodically throughout the work, which helps maintain an unbroken split-tone.


An additional modification suggested by the composer relates to pragmatic demands of circular breathing for such an extended period. McCallum allows for the player to add fermati where he requires more time to breathe. This allows the performer to extend certain notes and create patches of breath, which assists in creating space in which this aural portion of the work can exist. Much like the opening phrase of facesplitter, it is recommended to include this aspect earlier and more regularly than initially needed at the beginning of the work to both normalize the sound and stake its claim in the aural fabric.


The final modification mentioned in this section is the utilization of common-tone slurs between split-tones. The interpretations involved in this project involves two common-tone slurs and both correspond with changes in direction of glissando. The author found that his 3:2 split-tones began to lose power and focus past the D/G, 3:2 split-tone. The solution found, with the composer, is to utilize the [almost] common-tone at m. 81. Shifting between a D/G 3:2 split-tone to a D/A 4:3, by utilizing the tenor-bass valve, creates a massive boost in both volume and intensity at the point where the authors limit of control was being reached. The shift between the two split-tones also creates an illusion of chord shift from I to V. This harmonic shift, combined with an increase in intensity, creates a strong deviation at a point where the work begins to bring the listener into a sense of stasis.


At the point of this shift, the glissando is reversed in direction while the same slide proportions are maintained. By doing this the performer is able to further break any feeling of stasis while more reliably increasing intensity. At the height of the glissando, the performer reverses the process and releases the tenor-bass valve at the end of m. 152. This creates an common-tone slur from the F/C 4:3 split-tone to a F/Bb 3:2 split-tone. The reversal creates an impression of a V to I resolution and modifies the timbre from a more direct and aggressive 4:3 split-tone to a wider 3:2. These aspects encourage a further deviation from any illusion of stasis and assist in presenting a larger formal direction to the listener. In the author's performances, at this point mm. 153-159 are repeated while a long glissando down to 7th position [B/E 3:2split-tone] is executed to create a longer coda and provide the full visual and sonic effect of a tritone glissando.


One challenge not yet discuss are practice techniques for combining circular breathing and multiple tonguing concepts as well as practical solutions for building the strength and focus necessary for the work. A basic approach for the first issue is simply to modify the articulation exercise on page 21 by adding circular breathing to it.


Sequence down by position, like previous exercise.


This process is obviously contingent on the trombonist being completely comfortable both the original exercise and circular breathing, as covered in the previous sections. For the author, the next step was to take this exercise and continue it by removing the first and last two bars and utilizing glissandi to sequence through positions involved in Bowel Resection to create a controlled practice of the piece. It is recommended to not sequence by full position, but by quarter step or smaller. One should start with only first position. Once that is comfortable, add a small glissando and repeat the exercise. Continue this process by slowly increasing the number of cycles while methodically covering all parts of the slide utilized in Bowel Resection. This meticulous process forces a player to familiarize herself with his own tendencies and pitfalls. Concentrate on maintaining focus and center in one's sound and mind. Pay careful attention to small habits that lead to losing the split-tone or unbearable discomfort. Try to find the point not where they affect the production, but where these issues actually start. By slowly and deliberately covering the entire surface of the work, one must search for these issues at their root- not their growth. Bowel Resection is a long work that's success hinges on the eradication of inefficiencies before they are physically perceptible. Once the player realizes a problem has arisen, it is often too late to correct it given that utter stability must be maintained for the work to receive a successful performance.

In this process, the places that the split-tone is lost in this exercise often corresponds with where the split-tone is lost in performance. By taking time to deliberately find one's weak points divorced from the piece, one can learn the personal, physical habits and warning signs that frequently lead to failure or success in an unstable work.

While Bowel Resection presents a host of challenges and pitfalls, it is a work well worth the undertaking. It is a work that creates an extreme instability but is not intended to be a work of failure. It is a piece that demands the individual performer find the edge of his own limits and not surpass them. One must hold themselves on that edge and move neither forward or back. She must remain stable and motionless while simultaneously avoiding stasis. Of works exploring severe physical limits, Bowel Resection is largely unique in the fact that it allows itself to be molded to the performer. It finds a way to push an individual trombonist to his bodily limit while still maintaining a cohesion and form that clearly makes it Clint McCallum's work.