“Gertjan” at the WindWorks Design blog posted some interesting comments about using a wind controller in a local production of Seussical the Musical. Gertjan (I wasn’t able to positively identify him from the WindWorks website, but maybe he will find his way here and let us know who he is) played saxophones in the show as well, and used the wind controller to cover a number of wind and non-wind instrument parts.
Although it gives me a little indigestion to see a wind controller substituting for woodwinds that might otherwise have been played by a doubler, I do think there is application for wind controllers in orchestra pits. Keyboard-driven synthesizers are ubiquitous in recent shows (or are sometimes used to replace other instruments, especially a string section), and, in some cases, a wind synth might be even better suited to certain kinds of synthesizer parts. Gertjan mentions some synthy sounds like “vocal doo,” “scary voices,” and “ghostly shimmering breathy sound,” all of which strike me as likely to be very effective with a wind synthesizer’s breath control. Some others, like “harp” and “tinkle bell” seem like they might be more intuitively assigned to a keyboard.
EWI seems like such an individualized thing—what with all the options for sounds, effects, etc.—that in most typical doubling situations it would take a fairly EWI-savvy orchestrator/musical director to use it effectively, beyond just using it to cover acoustic instrument lines (what a waste!). I think most would have to work directly with the performer to compose for the available sounds (or create new ones).
This certainly seems to have been the approach that Gertjan and his musical director took:
What followed was an intense e-mail conversation between the musical director and myself about the possibilities, what sounds I would normally use, etc. It ended with him visiting me at my house where we talked about it in great detail, with me demonstrating the various options and abilities.
It’s worth taking a look at both of Gertjan’s posts about his experience. Part 1 deals with the collaborative process between wind controller player and musical director, and Part 2 discusses some technical tips and other practicalities of using a wind controller in the pit.