Showing posts from 2011

A Paradox of Sorts…

I like repetition. I like patterns. I like things to stay the same. Perhaps it's because there is security in sameness, or maybe it's that I just really like some things and want them to always be the same, so I can always enjoy them. Either way, repetition is a big part of my life. And this repetition plays into my music is very strange and unexpected ways. I like to work with rhythm patterns and have them subtly change over time. I like the repetition, but find it interesting to displace say, 1 note, changing the pattern in a small, subtle way. I also like to take the repetition and stretch it out over time, creating a hypnotic, trance-like aura, then dropping that 1 note to create a  pattern disrupt , shaking things out of its slumber. That's why being a percussionist is such a great thing for me, because everything I deal with is a pattern in some way. But there is also a great paradox to my thinking. As much as I love and work with patterns, I also love to wo

Artistry in Rhythm

The drumming community took a big hit recently with the deaths of both icon jazz drummer, Paul Motian, and icon cymbal maker, Roberto Spizzichino. Paul Motian will always be best remembered for his time with the legendary Bill Evans trio, along with the late bassist, Scott Lafario. It was in this trio that he developed (or was it revealed) his sparse, abstract drumming style. Where other drummers played time, Motian implied time, avoiding the traditional ding-ding-ga-ding cymbal pattern. If Paul had been a painter, he would have been a minimalist like Mark Rothko. He was perhaps the first Percussion Deconstructionist . Even though he made his initial mark in the Evans trio, he went on to a very storied career: he played at Woodstock (!) with pianist/singer/composer Mose Allison, worked with pianist Keith Jarrett's early groups, and led a succession of his own bands, like the trio with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano; his Electric Be-Bop band, and the Trio 20

Looking Beyond Expectations

I'm writing this post as both a percussionist, and as a composer. To me, these 2 roles are inexorably linked - I can't imagine one without the other. One thing I have learned over all these years is that, for both, to just get out of the way of the music, and let it come through. Hindsight is always a great teacher, and a great revealer.  For example, I was writing a new percussion solo and had a certain idea in mind for how I wanted things to go. But along the way, the music had a different idea. So instead of being insistent, and forcing things to follow my plan, I let go and followed the music. The thing about this is how the music always leads me to unexplored territory. New realms, new rhythms, new voices. One of the amazing things I have learned with working with Gongs is that they are often the teacher, not only showing me things, but opening me up to allow new elements to emerge.  Understand that I'm not against planning or predetermined ideas, but I have learne

New video: Working With Gongs - Part 8

Here's another in my series of Gong videos. This time I feature a composition I wrote for Gongs, Spiritual Resonance . This was actually the 1st thing I wrote for my newly expanded melodic Gong set up back in 2001 or so. It has evolved over time as I've added other Gongs to my set up, but the main structure has stayed the same.  The song was inspired by the 3 small Wind and 2 small Chau Gongs that I found at a local music store. I was on a side of town I don't normally hang out in and drove past a store that I rarely went to because it was more of a guitar store. But something compelled me to stop there. So I went in and made my way upstairs to their small percussion department and was surprised by finding a a selection of Gongs. I started playing with them, rearranging them into a pitched based order, then bought the 5 best small ones that made a nice melodic set.I used that set for about 4 years until one of the Chau Gongs lost its pitch, which made the compositions I ha

Sometimes A Great Motion

Time is an interesting concept and is something I think about a lot. As a drummer, time is something I deal with in my work. So I’d like to talk about how I relate to time. I’ve always been interested when people say, “drummers are the time keepers.” To me, this is a false statement, as everyone should be the time keeper. I can’t imagine how someone could play guitar/bass/keys/etc. and not be able to keep time. What if they rely on the drummer and the drummer has no sense of time ? Then what? The music being made, if it could even be called music, will have no relationship to the listener, as it will most likely be rather chaotic. So to repeat: everyone is a time keeper . OK, so if the drummer isn’t the time keeper, then what are they? I have always seen my job as getting things from here…………………….to…………………….there . The music starts, and in most cases, there is an unbroken thread running until the end. What happens between those 2 points, beginning & ending, is that energy is moved

The Unwinding Path - Live in Chicago

A celebration of the Atumnal Equinox. Every Gong Session I do is completely spontaneous, based upon my mood at the time, the room, and most importantly, the people who are there. So I’m never sure what will happen, or what I actually did when I’m done, because for me it’s all about being in the moment. I recorded last Friday’s Session in Chicago and and am quite surprised by the results. One thing different is that I brought some of my compositions into the mix of things, sort of bridging the gap between a meditation session and a concert.  It's truly a fine line to walk between improvisation and composition. But is improvisation really anything but composition in the moment? The key to all of this is to listen, and listen again. What is happening in the air around you? How are the sounds you create interacting with the room? With the people in the room? Since no two places in time are exactly alike, no two performances can be exactly alike, and it's the differences that

Working With Gongs: Part 5 - Gongs as Hand Drums

Here it is, Part 5 of my Gong video series. This time I look at using Gongs as Hand Drums. Pretty cool stuff. ~ MB

Happy Birthday John Cage!

Monday, September 5th, would have been John Cage's 99th Birthday. Cage was truly one of the 20th century's greatest composers. As much as so many people despise or misunderstand him, his contributions to music, and more importantly, how we listen to and relate to music, are immeasurable. As a percussionist, I can attest to Cage's contributions to the percussion repertoire, and his immense sense of vision in bringing percussion to the fore. His ground breaking compositions, like Credo In Us ,   First Construction (in Metal) ,  and the Imaginary Landscapes series, are still fresh today after 70 years. Perhaps Cage's most misunderstood piece, and the ultimate musical deconstruction, is 4'33" (1952). In the performance of this composition, the player does not perform a note for the duration of the 3 movements. The piece has been a challenge to many who see it not as a "piece of music." But Cage's interest in Zen Buddhism is apparent here, an

Working With Gongs - Part 2

Further YouTube adventures. This time looking at different Gong types: ~ MB

New Series of Gong Instructional Videos is released

In case you haven't seen this on my Facebook page, I've just released the 1st in a series of Gong instructional videos. The 1st topic is Mallets & Striking Impliments . So check it out. Coming next week is a look at different Gong types and sounds. Cheers ~ MB

The Nature of Cymbals vs Gongs

I’m always intrigued when I read about someone asking the question, “Can I put a hole in a Wind Gong and use it as a flat ride cymbal?” While at first glance this would seem to be a very good idea, the answer isn’t as simple as just yes, or no. There seems to be a common misconception that because cymbals and Gongs are both made of metal, are both round, and are both percussion instruments, that they are really the same thing, just mounted differently. But the similarities end at both being metal and round. Let’s take a look at each instrument, both how they are made, and how they react when struck. Design & Shape While music books will classify a Gong as an idiophone , a Gong is essentially a membranophone : "any musical instrument, as a drum, in which the sound is produced by striking, rubbing, or blowing against a membrane  stretched over a frame." The face of a Gong is a vibrating membrane that is hammered—which is much like stretching a skin over a frame—which puts

Sounding the Inner Landscape

This time I look at creating different sound textures to expand on the basic instrument pitches. Even with 9 drums (10 counting the mounted tambourine) in my solo set up, compared to most other instruments, I am limited in scope as far as creating melodies. So I need to be creative to change the sound texture of those notes, giving me a wider range of sounds to present to the listener.  Implement Options A wise drummer once explained to me that “the easiest way to change your sound is to change your sticks.” With that in mind, I use a wide array of sticks, mallets and other implements to give me a panoply of sound textures . Even with wood sticks, there is a lot of sound variation between using a standard 5A—with its beefy, full sound—and using a very thin, straight sabar stick that elicits the higher frequencies, giving a very sharp, pointed sound. But I find myself most often using things other than wooden sticks. As a rule, a bigger, heavier stick/mallet will bring out more low f


This is another revised and updated article from the past. This time looking at my ideas about Gongs and why I set them up the way I do. In my solo music, I use 5 distinct gong stations :  the Kulintang the melodic gong play the Sound Plates the table Gongs/Bowls the large gong array . The Kulintang   is a set of 8 pentatonic bossed gongs from the Philippines. They are similar to the gong chimes of the Indonesian gamelan.  While they aren’t tuned to specific Western pitches, they are tuned as a pentatonic set themselves. They are traditionally played on the center boss (also known as a knob, cup, or nipple) with soft wooden sticks. The sound is percussive and melodic. I can also strike the face to get more harmonics, or even turn them upside down and strike the sides getting a sound very much like church hand bells. Like everything else, I use different implements to change the tonality. Hard and soft cord vibe mallets bring out a very full, rich tone, while Vic Firth Blades