Improving the practice and performance of contemporary music

Practical difficulties

Finding the best log drums and woodblocks

The notes for the log drums Billone asks for are very difficult to make and do not exist in factory-made log drums. You can try to make them yourself with well-resonating wood. I bought both the small and the large versions of the ready-made log drums from Kolberg (logdrum 1 and logdrum 2) , and asked for interesting intervals at the factory (I got E-C-C#-F#). They are quite pricy, but they have a smart stand and are quite light to travel with.

For the woodblock Billone asks for, I bought mine from Boris Müller, an excellent percussionist who builds excellent instruments. He makes woodblocks and slit drums in any tone you want. They are also quite pricy, but you have them for a lifetime if you treat them correctly. Other options are also possible, depending on your budget and taste.

It is best to mount the log drums and woodblock in a way that the edges of the different instruments are not “smooth” but a bit like a small stairway. In this way, when playing the glissandi Billone asks for, you get a resistance in the mallets, which makes the playing more articulate.

Finding the right mallets

First of all make sure you have a practice set of mallets next to the mallets you plan to use for the concerts. The glissando style playing easily wears the mallets out, so it is advised to have a set of cheaper mallets to study the piece. Billone asks for four types of mallets.

As practice mallets I used:
  • Bass drum mallets: Adams BD0 bass drum beaters. (These have very sturdy felt that doesn’t wear out and are also quite heavy, so the playing with the other mallets will be easier to control)
  • Marimba mallets soft and double tone: Adams Robert Van Sice M14. (These also have very sturdy wool that doesn’t wear out easily. They have qualities equal to but less pronounced than double tone mallets so it allows you to look for the colours you want with those mallets)
  • Hard marimba mallets: Mike Balter green (These are hard enough to perform the score but still have a medium mallet quality so you have less risk of breaking a marimba bar. The softer mallets also oblige you to “overplay” the score in a way, so you have some reserve when you take the actual mallets.)
As concert mallets I used:
  • Bass drum mallets: Kaufman Wien 150: These mallets are light and woolly, with excellent felt that makes almost no contact noise. The attack is minimal, which makes the humming parts of the piece easy to perform.
  • Soft marimba mallets: I used a very soft and woolly marimba mallet that Pierre-François Resta constructed for me. They are of the same softness as the MC01B of his normal marimba line, but they have less attack and a little less weight.
  • Double Tone marimba mallets: MR10B of the double tone series by Pierre-Francois Resta. I made sure the mallets were quite worn out from normal playing, so the extremes of the mallets were further out from each other.
  • Hard marimba mallets: Mike Balter yellow or Pierre-Francois Resta vibraphone normal series number 7. It is important to have very hard mallets to bring out all the details in the score to a maximum. Be careful not to break any bars while using them.

Trap table position

I used one trap table at the low end of the marimba and used the part of the marimba that is not played through the piece as another trap table, covering it with a black cloth. Make sure your trap table has a soft cloth on top as well, so you have as few contact noises as possible. Also be certain that it is big enough to comfortably put all mallets except the hardest ones next to each other. Put the trap table in a sufficiently low position or sufficiently to the side, so it doesn’t block the view of the marimba. In some parts of the piece, where only the hands are used, I use the cords between the black keys of the marimba as an extra “trap table” when the playing area allows it.

Mounting the gong

When purchasing a normal Peking opera gong, you will find only two holes drilled in the instrument normally. It will be necessary to drill two more holes on the opposite side of the existing holes with a cobalt drill head to mount it properly. The gong is mounted with a normal marimba cord or similar cord; one side goes around the neck and the other side around the waist, mounting the gong on the chest. By bending over slightly, the gong will hang “freely” and can be played as if it were normally mounted on a stand.