EOL 2: Russian panpipe playing (Velitchkina)
Movement patterns 2

Breathing techniques

  In analyzing the biology of music-making on any wind instrument, consideration of breathing techniques is essential. It is especially important for the analysis of panpipe playing, since the manner of blowing distinguishes the expressive possibilities of this instrument from that of others. Analysis of breathing patterns also provides an insight into biological mechanisms of Russian panpipe playing.

The predominant articulation of sounds on a panpipe is non-legato (which also can be defined as staccato, marcato, or portamento), i.e., each sound is produced by the separate push of air blown into a pipe hole. This principle is to a certain extent imbedded in the morphology of the instrument itself. Uninterrupted blowing from one pipe to the next is very air consuming, because in this way part of the air is wasted during the movement. On the other hand, if each push of air is treated as a separate breathing cycle, it exhausts the player and quickly leads to hyperventilation. For this reason, Russian panpipe players employ two levels of breathing simultaneously, one "deep" level maintaining a normal breathing pace and another level supplying air for each note played on the instrument. On the first level, the air is inhaled deeply and kept inside the lower part of the abdomen until the end of the musical phrase. Such a breathing cycle usually corresponds to the length of the period, therefore we can call this level phrasing breathing. Usually players take a deep breath at the very end or at the beginning of a period, i.e. for theTimonia tune between positions 12 or 1, and this seems to serve as a point of reference for all players in the ensemble. Since there is no active movement on pipes at the beginning of the period, the players usually use this time to give visual cues to each other, look at the dancers, etc. Phrasing breathing is very often reflected in bodily movements of players, especially those of para (five-pipe) parts. We can see it in Video 4, in the performance of Marina Bocharova, a player from the village of Budishche.

Pan-flute solo video still
Video 4
820K .mov

Solo close-up showing breathing movements
With each period, her upper body turns gradually from one side to another, following the movement of her head as she proceeds to the shorter pipes. Then, after a short pause for breathing, she returns to the starting point of her movement and to the first pipe at the beginning of a new period and starts the same movement over again. The whole cycle of movements seems to be a manifestation of a broad "breathing gesture." These body movements of the panpipe players also seem to parallel the movements of other instrument players and the hand gestures of the dancers.

The second level of breathing is unique to panpipes and not used by other wind players. It consists of frequent and intense "pumping" of the air for each played note. Since it defines the performance articulation, we call it articulatory breathing. The articulatory breathing in panpipe playing is a visible and audible phenomenon. It can be observed in the movements of the upper abdominal muscles, pushing the puffs of air through the rest of the air column. The way this is done holds the "secret" of not hyperventilating when playing kugikly. While the exhalation has to be short and intense, with the "seizure-like" contraction of a diaphragm, it is important not to force inhalation, but instead relax the abdomen so that the diaphragm falls and allows the air to be inhaled automatically. The deep inhalation only occurs once per period.

Articulatory breathing movements are especially visible for accompanying players; breathing is crucial for their execution of the rhythm, the key task of the accompanists. They also have a special breathing technique described by the players with the onomatopoetic verb fudukat' (from 'to produce fu-du sounds'). It consists of a quick movement from one pipe to the next using one exhalation for both sounds, resulting in the syncopation effect described earlier. This effect is similar to the "double-tongue" technique of European wind players, although it seems to be done not with the tongue, but by two distinct movements of the diaphragm separated by a short pause. The players say that when they get tired while playing they use the syncopation more often, because it allows them to have a short pause before the next sound.

Fingers video still
Video 5
870K .mov

Woman imitating the blowing in panpipes with her fingers
Video 5 shows the technique of imitating the panpipe by blowing into the fingers.(21)

Village women often use such imitation when they talk about playing panpipe in the absence of the instrument itself. The articulation of breathing is so intense that one can almost hear the tune "played" on the fingers.

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