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date: 22 November 2019


  • Laurence Libin


Keyboard percussion instrument invented by the Australian composer and instrument maker Moya Henderson (b Quirindi, New South Wales, 2 Aug 1941) and the acoustician Neville Fletcher. In 1976 the German sculptor Helfried Hagenberg commissioned Henderson to compose a work to be played on a sculpture he had made from 27 triangles. This project led Henderson to investigate the musical potential of large triangles, and supported by grants from the Federal Department of Science and Technology, the A.S. White Trust, and the Myer Foundation, she devised a prototype alemba (the name comes from ‘alembic’), which was introduced in 1983. A CSIRO Artist-in-Residence Fellowship in 1986 enabled Henderson to fine-tune a bass alemba of one-octave range, and since then the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has used treble (two-and-one-half-octave range) and bass instruments as a substitute for bells in performances of music by Berlioz and Janacek.

In the alemba, triangles or similar bent-rod idiophones are coupled to resonators that enhance the lower vibrational modes; early models use a cord to couple the vibrator to a membrane closing the end of a tuned metal tube. In ...

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