Improvisation, Part 10 - Bettine/Schoenecker Duo

While having seen Jim Schoenecker play many times, I had never had the opportunity to play with him before this. Because I was familiar with what he does, I had ideas in mind for our duo. I wanted to create electronic sounding acoustic sounds, trying to match his sounds, so that someone listening to the audio would think it was all electronically produced. This is one of my favorite things, creating electronic sounding music. I have had people ask me, “What electronics or synths did you use on your album?” The looked surprised when I tell them it was all acoustic percussion, with no effects or electronics added. I think it's much more interesting to create new and different acoustic sounds. 

I love electronic music and have performed and recorded a lot of it, but at this point, I'm very much into pure, acoustic percussion. I think my background in synths and electronics is a great benefit to my percussion sound modeling. Back in the 1970s, I worked extensively with analog synths and tape manipulation (both cassettes and reel to reel). In the 1980s, I worked a lot with digital synths and drum machines. And today I work with computer generated electronic sounds. All this has helped develop my ear and make me aware of sound and how it's constructed. 

As a percussionist, I think being aware of your sounds is the most important thing. You can't just start creating sounds and rhythms, expecting them to fit in and sound good. Too many drummers/percussionists are almost exclusively focused on rhythm! Rhythm is great, but it's only one component of music. Even when I was playing drum set in rock bands, I was always aware of my sounds and how they worked within the context of the music. I was also interested in how I could change/modify my sounds for different songs.

In this 1st video I start out with friction mallets playing long tones on a Gong set on top of my bass drum. I wanted to create a droning type thing to fit in with the electronics. Later, it becomes more rhythm as I use the mallets to create a steady rhythm. I was thinking of a factory assembly line, or a newspaper printing press, that sort of mechanical rhythm. When playing with others, I get visual & audio impressions from the sounds being made around me. almost alwreact and play to those impressions.

The 2nd video has a bit of a different approach. I went for darker sounds, first with a sheet of textured aluminum, which created white noise sounds; and then with the large Gongs, adding a dark background to Jim's electronic sounds. Later, I switch to a heavy steel Gong played with a wooden knitting needle. This adds a mosaic of higher pitched sounds and rhythms.

As I watch all of these videos, I see some things that didn't work, or at least didn't work out the way I had hoped. This happens. It's all a part of improvisation. If I was going to release the audio of the tracks on an album, I'd edit some of them to pick out the best parts and make them more concise. I'm presenting the complete audio/video here to give you an accurate representation of what was going on in the studio that afternoon, both the good and the not so good. Hopefully we can all learn something that we can each use in our own work.

~ MB


  1. I remember reading Steve Reich interviews where he said he wanted to achieve effects similar to electronics, but by using live instruments. And a Bill Bruford interview where he swung a bullroarer and the interviewer said he'd heard the sound n the record and thought it was electronic. Jay Bellerose too, saying people heard him playing and thought it was loops and effects.

    So much richness and variety of tone color is possible, especially when you look beyond what's conventional.

    I'm very inspired to see and hear what you do with a gong on a drum. That's the kind of thing I've enjoyed doing - putting a little gong or mixing bowls on my big floor tom. You write about doing your thing without worrying too much about what others are doing, but somehow, seeing someone else come up with the same ideas serves as a kind of vindication. It's not just that: if someone else is working where I am, I can get good ideas about what I might develop by watching them.

    I'm glad to have discovered this blog! Thanks for playing and sharing.

    1. “I remember reading Steve Reich interviews where he said he wanted to achieve effects similar to electronics, but by using live instruments.”

      To me, it’s much more fun to try and create electronic type sounds by physical means (and I love electronics, having worked extensively with them myself in the last century). I really am a ‘hands on’ type person, so bending’scraping/twisting/etc. percussion is natural to me.

      "You write about doing your thing without worrying too much about what others are doing, but somehow, seeing someone else come up with the same ideas serves as a kind of vindication."

      Yes and yes. If you worry about what you are doing, you probably won't do it. I love finding people doing the same sort of things I do, or working on a parallel path, because it's exciting to see the same/similar ideas being developed without the knowledge of each other. Sometimes, when I was younger, and hadn't fully established my own thing, I avoided listening to others who were doing similar music in order to NOT be influenced by them or copy them. And there are some people I discovered, like Le Quan Ninh in France, and Tatsuya Nakatani in the USA, that I purposely avoid doing the things they do (like scraping cymbals across a drum head), even though I love what they do, because it's 'their' thing/style and I don't want to copy them. But if I’ve come up with something on my own, and then find someone else doing it, I’m not really copying them. Besides, most techniques tend to be similar, but not exactly the same, as it’s as much the context it’s used in as it is the technique itself.

      It's always a fine line between being creative and being a copy.

      Thanks for your comment ~ MB


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