The ominous, unclassifiable tones of the waterphone have been favorites of sci-fi and thriller movie composers for 40 years, and experimental musicians love its nearly-impossible-to-predict sound. Played underwater with a bow dragged across metal tines, it speaks the language of the whales for miles in every direction. The chance to hear its creator Richard Waters play it live is rare.
This week, Waters plays his most famous instrument and other handmade specialties in Petaluma with the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band and Full Disclosure in a concert dubbed “When Worlds Collide.” “This kind of music is different,” says bassist Rob Wright, a member of free-jazz group Full Disclosure. “We’re combining avant-garde and free-improv. Our only rule is that there are no rules.”
Gary Knowlton, who will play the flaming hyena, a stringed instrument of his own creation, will add to the program of ephemeral music created entirely in the moment. “I wanted to do something that includes elements of the soundscapes that Richard does with his special instruments with the traditional high-energy, jazz-driven stuff with Full Disclosure,” says Wright.
This might sound beautiful, strange, soothing or scary, but the musicians are all formally trained, including Wright, a bassist and teacher. “For me, this kind of music is an expression of the moment,” he says. “No one who plays this music seriously comes out of a void—it comes out of technique and background.”
The music will feature “lots of invented instruments, and some invented-long-ago instruments,” says Cinnabar executive artistic director Elly Lichenstein, looking forward to the concoction of jazz, blues, classical, experimental music and poetry.
The musical stylings are reminiscent of one-time Petaluma resident Harry Partch. The avant-garde American composer invented hundreds of instruments, and composed music based on speech patterns, fashioning melodies out of the timbre of sentences. One of his most popular works is the 1963 piece “And on the Seventh Day, Petals Fell in Petaluma.”
Another source of inspiration is Tony D’Anna, a musician who passed away at the age of 71 in January of last year. D’Anna spent roughly 25 years as the accompanist of Cinnabar’s summer children’s music program. “He just had a gift working with kids,” says Lichenstein. Though more a jazz player than a musical theater fan, D’Anna fit right in with the program, and, Lichtenstein says, “the kids miss him terribly.”
D’Anna himself played the waterphone, as well as piano and other instruments. Wright played with him for about 15 years, recalling D’Anna’s bebop piano gigs to which he would bring a baby grand piano using a truck and dolly. Between late-night gigs, he’d play Beethoven sonatas each morning. The concert is dedicated in part to his memory.
Wright, whose first bass teacher played in Partch’s orchestra, says though the two never played together to his knowledge, D’Anna and Partch were on a similar path. “There’s some sort of spiritual connection,” he intones, “between Richard and Harry.”