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Showing posts from 2018

Adjusting Your Sound To Fit The Space

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I have seen/heard some people who seem to play their Gongs at the same intense volume no matter where they are playing. Small room, medium room, large room—they play the same. This also goes for the type of room, whether it's a very lively reverberant space; or a dry, dead sounding one—they play the same. I attribute this to inexperience, and perhaps not understanding the nature of sound and creating music.

I've played thousands of different spaces over the years, and the most important thing I have found, is to learn how to judge each room/venue that you play in for its acoustic properties, and how your instruments will react in there. Now I'm talking mostly about playing with no mics or sound amplification. Using a sound system changes things a lot. But in a completely acoustic environment, you need to be responsible for your sound. This is especially true if you want your listeners to have a great experience.


You need to be responsible for your sound
Tonight, I finished th…

Silence As A Tool

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I have to thank my good friend, Kenny Kolter, for the idea for today's post. We were talking about using silence as a tool. It's an interesting concept that I fear many people making music, especially Gong & Bowl players, don't understand.

Into The Realm Of Silence

Silence is remarkable in its ability to actually reveal sound. So much music today, and much of the Gong playing I hear, is a non-stop barrage of sound. In that capacity, it's virtually impossible to distinguish individual sounds, to really hear what is going on. The human mind has the remarkable ability to shut off unrelenting sounds, or noise, after a short time. 


Invite silence into your playing. Photo © Michael Bettine
Think of the street construction in front of your house. At first you find it irritating and loud, but after a while, your mind tunes it out and you barely notice it anymore. The same with the neighbor's lawn mower, busy street traffic, or living by an airport. All these extraneous sou…

This Is Not A Competition

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It always intrigues me how artists often talk like they are in some sort of completion with other artists. “If only I was as good as X,” or, “I've really got X beat with what I'm doing now.” This type of thinking, whether feeling less than, or better than someone else, is really counter productive to our artistic endeavors. 

The funny thing is, if you are trying to keep up with someone else, they will always be a step or two ahead of you. And if you feel that you are ahead of someone else, they may shift direction and leave you sitting there by yourself.




Competition?

Competition. What for? What is the real goal? The only competition we need is with ourselves. The challenge should not be to be better than someone else, but to be better at what we do each day. The arts are not sports. There are no winners or losers. There is no real definition of winning.

I used to think this way, but it's a dead end where you end up spending too much time looking over your shoulder at what othe…

What's The Best Gong To Buy?

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This week we go to the mail box again. This time from Rafael in Brazil:

Can I ask you a question, please? One interested person that wants a gong for Yoga sessions asked what is the ideal size for a gong in that situation? We have the 32" Chiron, but is it too big? What should be considered? Do you think a 24" is too small?

32” is a great size because it puts out a lot of vibrations, yet it is still easily carried. I use 2-32” Paiste Gongs, a Symphonic and a Sound Creation Earth. The Chiron is a great Gong and I know a lot of people who use that one. I always recommend a Gong 24” or larger for yoga or meditation, especially if it’s the only gong being used. A 24” still puts out a lot of sound & vibrations. Smaller Gongs just don't seem to have the enough vibrational power on their own. The one exception would be the 22" Paiste Accent Gong, which puts out a lot of sound for its size.

My current Paiste set up is the 2-32” Gongs, a 28” Jupiter, 26” Prototype, 24” Venu…

Is Your Music Pre-Ordered, Or Is It Improvised?

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Today's blog subject comes from the mailbag. Someone who is new to presenting sound sessions recently asked:


“So the question is, do you have a certain order for sound sessions, or is it all improv?”
For me, it’s a combination of both. While each night is improvised, there are certain musical elements that often reoccur from session to session—things like rhythms, melodies, specific sounds made with specific instruments. I choose from these small gestures for each performance. The actual choosing is an intuitive process. It's not so much a conscious, “I will play this Gong right now,” as much as I feel compelled to move to some other instrument, rhythm, or melody. 




I look at what I do as one continuous forward motion (from start to finish) and I will choose various elements as I move along. The order I play things in varies, and not everything gets played every time (for example, I've had people tell me after a session that I didn't play something—their favorite sound—the…

Ways of Hearing

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Hearing is a strange thing. So often we listen to things—conversations, traffic, music, etc—but we don't hear them. We have become so used to having sounds in the background that we don't really notice them at all. And this especially happens to music. It's playing everywhere, 24/7—at the market, in our car, at the office, at home, etc. We have become so used to this, that when we consciously play music from CDs or downloads, we often use it in the background.

When was the last time you just sat and listened to music and nothing else? Just sat and really listened?

Even at live concerts, people are often so busy checking their phones, texting, taking photos and video; that the 'live' music becomes secondary, just another background.

Whatever happened to listening to music?

Exercise #1 - Sit in a quiet room, make yourself comfortable, and play your favorite recording/s. To help with distractions, turn out the lights if it's nighttime, or cover your eyes with a blindf…

Music Notation For Gongs

I recently received an email from a composer who is working on a large scale piece with various Gongs in it. He asked me about how you notate Gongs. I started working on a blog to address this issue when I discovered that I had already written something back in May 2014 for my Percussion Deconstruction™ blog on that exact subject. So rather than write something new, here is the link to Music Notation For Gongs.

I feel it's still relevant and is a great resource of information.

~ MB


Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™







Looking For Perfect Sounds

There is no magic to what I do. I play sounds. That's it. But I've spent most of my life learning how to make those sounds, and I've also learned when to make them. And I think that is very important. 

Anyone can make a sound, but, and this is important, not everyone can make the right sound at the right time. I'm not saying that I'm the world's expert on this, but I've put in my time, and I keep working at it. Sometimes things don't turn out right, or as I expected, but I'm able to carry on and make a better sound, a better choice as I move forward.

I just try to make sounds that I find interesting and hope that others find them interesting too. - Michael Bettine
I've also really distanced myself from the whole sound therapy community, because so much of it is based on magical thinking—things like 432Hz, Planet Gongs, 7-metal alloys, assigned notes for each Chakra, etc. While I believe in magic, I don't do magical thinking when it comes to som…

Don't Forget To Make Music

I'm constantly surprised, when listening to sound healers, how much of the sounds they make I perceive as noise, or at least as non-musical sound. It's really a shame, because I think they are missing the opportunity to be so much more, and to give their listeners so much more.

Understand that my viewpoint comes from being a trained musician with over 50 years of experience. I'm all for healing/therapy/meditation, or however you want to describe what you do with your gongs/bowls/bells, but much of what I hear is lacking 3 important aspects of music—rhythm, harmony, and melody. Let's take a look at those:

1)Rhythm. To me, this seems so basic, but as a percussionist, it's so ingrained in my body/mind/soul, that I can't help but always feel a sense of rhythm in what I do. So perhaps it's from this perspective that I'm so surprised by the lack of any sort of discernible rhythm from many of the people I listen to. To me, rhythm is important because it gives th…

Setting Up As Meditation

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I've been a musician for most of my life. In that time I've hauled a lot of equipment around, from huge drum sets augmented with timpani and percussion, to large and intricate Gong arrays. In all that time I've never really minded the set up and tear down of my gear.

Setting up is very meditative for me. I prefer to set up in silence, concentrating on each piece of my stands as I put them together, then concentrating on each instrument as I hang or mount it. Too often, people at the venue either want to help, or to chat. I try to be polite, replying that there's really nothing they can do to help at this time (I'm always happy to have help for loading in and out though), or quickly answering any questions, then getting back to the task at hand.



I know many musicians who complain about setting up and tearing down. They are only focused on the actual performance time. But I find it important to take my time setting up as a preparation for the coming performance. Focusi…

The Difficulty of Walking Your Own Path

It's not always easy to walk your own path, especially if it goes against current trends and fashion. But what else are you to do? 

Well meaning friends might make suggestions like, “You should be more like X,” or, “X does it this way.” And then there's our own, insecure inner monologue saying, “Why can't I be more like Z,” or, “Maybe I could do better if I copied Z.” 

But we quickly find that when we step into someone else's world, we step out of our own. And the main problem is, that when we try to be like someone else, we are always just a copy. We can never be the original, and this is why we are always a step or two behind, because we're following, not leading.

When we first start out in something, we often copy others, but that's a part of the learning process. As we continue, we should eventually grow out of copying and move into doing our own thing. Too often I see people who never get beyond the copying stage. Maybe that's all they aspire to, or maybe…

The Ongoing 'Learning How To Play The Gong' Debate

One problem with gongs, singing bowls and bells is that, it's all too easy to just strike them and get a pleasing sound. There is no training or long term study needed just to make a pleasant sound. Try this on most any other instruments, and you would not be as successful. Pick up a guitar, a trumpet, or a cello, and try to play some music without ever having played it before. For most of us, we wouldn't even know where to start. And when we finally did attempt something, it would most likely be some sort of noise and not a pleasing note.
This leads to a recent Facebook question and the ensuing responses: “A respected gong person said you should never hit a symphonic or planet or tuned gong with a clear centre ring, in that ring too often or gong will go out of tune. Any comments??”
The question is a legitimate question. In answer to the above question, there is nothing wrong with striking the gong in the center, or anywhere else. This is an ongoing myth, most likely propagated…

Can You Hear Me Now?

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From the mailbag: Someone asked me to talk about tinnitus

The official definition from the Mayo Clinic:

Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself — it's a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.Can I Hear You?

First, if you think you might have tinnitus or some sort of hearing loss, seek professional help with your doctor or an audiologist. There can be various causes, including certain diseases and medical conditions.

It just so happens that I had my hearing checked at an audiologist a few weeks ago. Besides having tinnitus, I was concerned that I might have a sharp dip/notch in the mid frequencies. Besides performing, I do a lot of recording/mixing/mastering, so my ears are extremely important. I also wanted to get a snapshot of my hearing today, in order to compare how it has changed…

Time Being - Being Time

TIME IS INSIDE OF US, Dogen Zeni says in his essay “Uji’ (“Being-Time”) from the Shobogenzo. It is our essential nature. What does this mean, and what is time according to Dogen? He writes, “Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.... People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time-being abides in each moment.”  - Katherine Thanas, from The Truth of This Life

What is the nature of time in our work? It's easy to see time in a linear fashion: past to present to future, but it is an illusion. 

We can't live in the past. 
We can't live in the future. 
We can only live in the present.

Working with Gongs, Bowls, and Bells is perfect for bringing your sense of time to the present. Each strike and the resulting sound is a reminder of the here, the now. The sound has a way of snapping our minds to attention. There is no thinking about the past, no thinking about the future. We are confronted with the now, wh…