Improvisation, Part 3 - Tools Of The Trade

Sparks Shooting Off In My Brain

Before we get into the actual dissection of the music and what I played, I think it's important to take a look at the gear I brought with me. The Gong rack and bass drum are my main set up. I chose my usual set of Gongs, but also brought 4 others to swap out as needed. I also looked through my bags and boxes of small percussion, looking for interesting sounds that I felt would fit with the various instruments I was going to record with.

For me, this is never a haphazard process. I look at things, maybe play them, and then imagine how they might sound in the context of what I'll be doing. This is much like how a painter might choose their color palette. And that's a big part of my thought process—I'm thinking colors, shapes, texture, shading—so much more than just rhythm

I love rhythm, but I usually look beyond just playing rhythms. When I'm in the midst of improvising with someone, I'm always carefully listening to the sounds and rhythms they make. I'm then presented with choices: 

  • Play something the same, or similar, in sound/texture/rhythm, trying to match or blend into what they are doing. 
  • Or I can look for something that stands apart and is a counterpoint to what they are doing. 
  • Or, a combination of both of those ideas.

Tour Of The Set Up

So here is a detailed description of the instruments I brought with me. I think this is important so you can have a context for what I'm doing in the videos. You can also see a lot of the different mallets (mostly from Mike Balter) that I used. There's also a cello bow in there somewhere.

My gear set up, L-R, going around in a circle:


Top: Singing Bowls, Trigon & Bells
Bottom: Floor Gamelan (small Gongs) & child's cymbals, REMO Spoxe

Trap Table: Bells, shakers, kalimba, wood block, & noise makers. Mallets from L-R: Balter CDB5 (brown),
Vic Firth BAMS (bamboo), Birch mallet handles, Balter BB9 (red rubber-medium), Balter BB8 (blue rubber-hard).
In the upper left are a pair of Regal Tip Jingle Stix.

26" bass drum sound table with 14" & 16" Chinese cymbals.


The main Gong rack
Extra Gongs on the floor: 18" Custom Tone Heavy Steel, 
22" Wind w/bowing hole, 
22" Custom Tone Stainless Steel, 22" Paiste Accent
(Note: cat is not part of my set up, but she made herself at home amongst things,
so I had to play around her a few times)

China cymbals, Cup Chimes, spring drum, nut shakers, Jing cymbals, toy hammers, various mallets.

More mallets, string of old cymbals, rosin, tea cup & Black towel.
Because someone will ask, here are the mallets from L-R: All Mike Balter, except as noted. Super Rub (yellow & orange), Gong Rollers (black), Wind Gong (large blue), Ensemble13B (small blue), BB6 (red cord), GM3 (large grey), Large padded Vic Firth (red & brown handles), and very far right, Balter modified CM2 Chime Mallet).

Under bell plate: various pieces of sheet metal, whirly tube & 22" REMO frame drum, with a better view of the Balter CM2 Chime Mallet.

Here is the mic plot for the session: L&R stereo overheads, 
singing bowls/floor Gamelan,
bass drum, and 4-mics on the Gong rack

In part 4, we explore the video of me performing with John McCoy & Sarah Heyer.

~ MB


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