Showing posts from 2012

My Best of 2012

So much good, no, great music this year. Many of my favorite artists came through with excellent new releases. It’s always nice to know that music is alive and well, as it should be. 

Scott Walker - BISH BOSCH
What can I say? If you are hip to Walker, then you know what this album means. If you are not hip to him, then you just may not get it at all. The short story is: the one time member of ‘60s pop icons, the Walker Brothers, long ago abandoned the pop world and started creating music full of gritty realism and startling images. It’s been 6 years since his last release, TILT, and he’s gone even further into the darkness, yet retaining a sense of humor that comes through, as if to say, “This is all so dark and brooding, but it’s really just a joke.” 
The 69 year old Walker attacks a variety of subjects, often straining his baritone voice at its upper reaches, adding an edge to the proceedings. The music rarely follows any familiar song structure, but rather is an assortment of ja…

The Two-Fold Aspect of Everything

The great Zen philosopher, Alan Watts, in his book, THE BOOK On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, teaches about the duality of everything in the Universe in the Game of Black & White. In this game, everything has an equal opposite: black/white, up/down, good/bad, in/out, etc. These opposites are necessary, for you only know black is black because of the contrast of black from white. Without white, black is just black, but has no meaning. Thus we need the duality of everything.

So too in music. For each sound, we need unsound, or silence. If all we had was sound, we would not know it, we would not recognize it. It is only through silence that we know sound: When there is silence and then sound, we can say, "Oh, there is sound." Similarly, when there is sound and we have silence, we can recognize silence. As drummers, if all we do is play an endless barrage of notes, how are others to even hear them, know them? When we pause and introduce silence into the mix, …

Defying Gravity - Part 4

Mallets & Striking Implements
While I'm on the subject of mallet grip and action, let's look at all the different types of things I use to play the Gongs and how some of the grips differ.

L-R: wooden knitting needles, Pro•Mark Sabar sticks, Vic Firth BAMS, Pro•Mark TUBZ

The knitting needles give me a soft, delicate sound.  I hold them lightly between my thumb & fore finger.

The BAMS are great scraped on the edge of a Paiste Gong.  I apply pressure with the fore finger.  They are also great for softer, atmospheric sounds  when played like sticks.

I usually hold the TUBZ with a full grip. They are great for soft sounds, but you can smack the face of the Gong for a big whipcrack sound.

An overhand view.

All Mike Balter Mallets, L-R: 
BB11 - Med Hard poly & BB10 - Hard PVC/BB9 - Soft Rubber & BB8 - Med Rubber: great on bells, bell plates, sound discs/crotales, and even Gongs (for very high pitched sounds)
BB6 - Soft Cord, BB5 - Med Cord, SC-2 - Med Soft yarn: Great on tuned Gon…

Defying Gravity - Part 3

Weapons of Mass Percussion
With a large Gong mallet on the larger Gongs, it's really all about having a secure grip in order to swing the heavier mallet. It's mostly wrist, with some arm. Primitive, but effective. The finesse comes in controlling the stroke and the contact with the Gong: you have to know your mallets, and your Gongs, to be able to judge how much stroke, and how hard to hit, in order to get the sound/volume you want. It's also about choosing the right mallet for the size Gongs, and the sound you want—don't play a 32" Gong with a timpani mallet and expect a big, full sound.

If you want a big sound, you need a big mallet
A big Gong is a lot of metal to get vibrating. One question I get asked a lot is about priming the Gong. Priming is getting the Gong moving slightly so that when you hit it, the sound will open up immediately. There are 3 primary ways to prime a Gong:

Lightly tap it with your mallet near the edge.Lightly tap it with your hand/fist near t…

Defying Gravity - Part 2

Grip. It's all about the grip. 
Having played percussion most of my life, I've played all the different instruments and all musical styles. Since delving heavily into the Gongs, I've noticed I've had to adjust my grip and playing techniques. As I detailed in Part 1, I've moved from a horizontal playing surface to a mostly vertical one. This brings about some fundamental changes in the physics & motion of the stick/mallet movement.

First, let's look at my standard mallet grip:

My grip changes somewhat depending on the diameter of the mallet shaft I'm using. With a larger diameter, sort of 5A drumstick or larger (like the Balter Wind Gong Mallet in the photos), I almost always keep my thumb past my forefinger. This gives me some leverage and helps to keep the mallet from moving too far back. The thumb and forefinger are still the pivot point for the mallet (it's a thumbs up grip). The remaining 3 fingers are the ones that activate the mallet, pulling it …

Defying Gravity - Part 1

[The next 3 posts will be for Gong players, just so you know]

This post comes as a result of my Gong session at PASIC earlier this month. I ended up talking to people about grip and mallet technique. 1st, let me say that these are my ideas developed over years of playing. While I do have a lot of formal percussion training, playing Gongs is a whole other realm (BTW, I suck at mallet playing, like vibes, marimba, etc, so what I did at university in this area, besides the basic 4-mallet grip ideas, had very little affect on how I approached the Gongs). I've developed my grips with trial and error over time, and they are always fluid—things can change, so I remain flexible. 

Those of you who are highly trained mallet players may look at this and say, "Big deal." Well, since a lot of people who are taking up Gongs have little or no formal percussion training, this IS a big deal to them. As with everything I do, I don't claim to be an expert or the last word. I just do what…