Tōrino – echoes on pūtōrino improvisations by Rob Thorne (2016)
for string quartet
Commissioned by Chamber Music New Zealand for performance by the New Zealand String Quartet
Discovering the music of Taonga Pūoro artist Rob Thorne has been the most deeply moving listening experience in my recent memory. I was mesmerized by the many powerful and haunting voices that Thorne could produce through one instrument in particular, the pūtōrino, and felt compelled to explore further and respond musically.
The pūtōrino is a purely Māori instrument, and is unique in that can function both as a ‘trumpet’ and ‘flute’. This results in two distinct voices: the deeper, mournful kōkiri o te tane (male voice), and the eerie, more agile waiata o te hine (female voice). An elusive third voice can be achieved by blowing across the māngai (central opening). Thorne ventures further, finding a fourth ‘humming’ voice, as well as percussive sounds. The instrument’s shape is based on the New Zealand case moth cocoon and embodies Hine Raukatauri, the atua (goddess) of music.
It became especially apparent when I had the chance to improvise alongside Thorne on violin, that the pūtōrino shares many musical elements with string playing, particularly in terms of registers, likeness to the human voice, breathy timbres, and flexibility in pitch. Tōrino (meaning ‘spiral’) is my exploration of this, based on transcriptions of recordings of a pūtōrino that Thorne himself had a hand in making.
My sincerest thanks, Rob, for your incredible openness, generosity, knowledge, support, and guidance through this beginning of a very special journey.
Mā te rongo, ka mōhio
Mā te mōhio, ka mārama
Mā te mārama, ka mātau
Mā te mātau, ka ora.
Chamber Music New Zealand Interview with Rob Thorne
Rob Thorne, pūtōrino improvisation
RNZ Concert Upbeat Interview