Improving the practice and performance of contemporary music

Assimilation and adaptation of the different techniques and combinations


To obtain the desired effect in dynamics and gesture, it is very important to perform the glissandi within the prescribed ambitus. There are a number of ambiti that return in groups throughout the piece, so the muscular memorization of these isn’t too big of a task, but it remains quite hard at the beginning. It is also important to constantly drag the mallets from event to event,ensuring you never have an attack. What helped in my practise was to practise the first page of the piece at 1/4th of the original tempo and then slowly building up the tempo, so the muscular memorization happens by itself. The dynamics that are written in those passages actually come “automatically” so not a lot of energy should go into that while practising. The sonorous focus should be on the cluster that changes in ambitus and position.

Another type of marimba glissando, which only occurs two times in the piece, is executed by moving a mallet between four keys, hitting the four bars with one mallet. This appears on the B-C and the E-F junction of the marimba. The sonorous result is a four note chromatic cluster (Bb-B-C-C# for the first; Eb-E-F-F# for the second junction).

Log drum

As mentioned above, it is best to mount the log drums in such a way so 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, what makes the playing more articulate. Be careful about your instruments. The mallet glissandi leave traces on the varnish of the log drums; so don’t over-practice these passages.

There are two types of glissandi on the log drums:
  • through the middle of all drums
  • toward the edges of the drums
For the Peking gong, dampening is quite obvious. The gong is fully dampened with one hand while playing it with the other, or it is fully open and left to resonate. For the marimba, the is a passage on the second page of the piece where the marimba bars are played with one hand holding two mallets and performing one-handed rolls on one bar. These one-handed rolls are achieved by placing one mallet on the top of the bar and one mallet on the bottom side. The bar is dampened in various ways simultaneously:
  • fully open - dampened with one finger in the middle of the bar, producing a kind of flageolet or overtone and dampening most of the ground tone
  • dampened fully with no pressure
  • dampened fully with extra pressure producing a completely toneless sound, actually quite high in pitch for the size of the bar.

There is one more special dampening technique, where the bar is fully dampened and played at the extreme edge and on the side of the bar (not on top). This produces a very high, woodblock-like sound.

Hand playing
When playing chords of two or three notes simultaneously with the hand, a “slap” technique is intended, slapping one or more bars at the same time as you would perform a conga-slap. Single notes are to be played by the fingertips in a rapid movement, like playing with a miniature mallet. The little triangle signs mean playing the bar in a “dead stroke” with the finger knuckles. The other hand can additionally dampen the bar to obtain an even drier sound.
Bass drum mallet double note
In this technique you use one bass drum beater to hit two bars simultaneously. The writing asks for a gradual transition from one bar to two bars per mallet. The more the two bars are played at the same time, the more the harmonics of the two bars start interfering and the more the sound gets diffuse and beatings starts to appear. The sound obtained becomes more similar to a bass drum sound than a marimba sound.