Experimental Double Bass 100.018
White Noise

A composer who is working on a piece for me asked if I would make some white noise sounds for her on the double bass. Today’s entry in the Experimental Double Bass 100.100 is a collection of bowed white noises using the strings, the edges, the bridge, and the top plate of the double bass.


Using the bow without creating tone, what are the challenges? What are the limits of dynamics and expression? I learned a few things. Mostly that the solid elements of the double bass—the bridge, the body, and especially the edges—allow for greater expression using a white noise tone. Working the strings brings with it the risk of creating a tone where using the wooden, fixed elements does not.

That said, there are some unique effects that are only available on the strings and some of that danger of creating tone heightens the intensity for me as a performer. For example the slight pitch modulations in the noise content or what I’ve heard my friend Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (who is a master of these kinds of sounds on the viola and from whom I steal most of my extended techniques) call a “sneeze bow.”

To get the arco on the strings to work requires a significant loosening of the wrist, beyond just being flexible or flowing to being downright floppy. I could see this morphing into a useful exercise to help bassists be aware of how they apply tension and muscle in the wrist while playing.

Technical notes:

I’m on a Sennheisser MD441 jag I guess. It’s a fantastic dynamic mic with a bright switch, more typically used for female vocals. Here I’ve set it pointed towards the bridge area on the treble side of the instrument and fairly close (though not as close as in 100.017!). Probably best to watch the video to get a sense of it.

Since these sounds are so quiet you can hear the birds who nest in the eaves outside my window and of course the traffic of Pine Street as the sun is heading down. Useful to remember from a musical standpoint as well: using sounds like this invites the outside world into your music or requires magnificent soundproofing (with no HVAC!).

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