Choosing Instruments/Sounds

I'm always being asked about percussion and sound, so I posted on my Facebook page that if anyone had a question, let me know and I'd write about it in a blog.This week I'd like to feature one of those questions.

‪Susan T. Blake:‬ Hi Michael! I listened to your interview with Andres Peraza last night (so interesting!), and a question occurred to me. With the vast array of gongs, drums, symbols, bowls, etc. you have, how do you choose the ones to use for a session, especially if it's healing work? I know you are intuitive about the music that flows through you, and I wonder to what extent that is a part of choosing the instruments as well. And to what extent they…volunteer. Thanks!

MB: I have spent a lot of time working with the Gongs over the years, and in that time I have found some sounds that I feel are consistent with what I do for meditation/sound therapy. So I have developed a basic set up that I use most of the time because I know the Gongs/Bowls/Bells well, and also know how they work together as a unit. That said, sometimes I will look around my studio and think about other sounds that might fit how I’m feeling at that particular moment. Yes, it is very intuitive, so I will sort of feel my way around things and decide, “Yes, that sound will work well tonight,” and then maybe substitute it for something in the set up, or bring it as an addition. 

My basic set up in 2013, which has changed a little since then.

The biggest thing, that I’ve written about extensively on my blogs, is that you need to work with all your instruments a lot, so you know what types of sounds they will yield up, and how to coax those sounds out of them. Then you need to know how different instruments will work together to form additional sounds. So even though it’s very intuitive for me, it’s built upon years of practice and study. So I can look at a Gong/Bowl/Bell and know what sounds I can get from it, and how those sounds will fit in with the other instruments.

It's interesting to note, that when I'm playing in an improvisational setting (music vs meditation), either solo or in a group, I use mostly the same set up. The main difference being, that in place of the Singing Bowls and Bells, I use 8-14 small Gongs of various types that are placed either on the floor, or on a table in front. While using mostly the same Gongs/Sounds, the main thing that changes is my approach to playing them. In a meditation setting, I tend to play long sounds and lots of silence in between. In a performance/concert setting, I will intersperse things with faster/syncopated rhythms and pulses. I may also use sounds that are a bit more abrasive than meditative.

Floor Gongs and added 50"

But the same ideas apply here too: I choose the sounds based on what I'm hearing/feeling at that time, and also based on what type of other instruments I may be playing with in a group. If I'm playing with brass, I might choose some different sounds than if I'm playing with strings, or electronics. So it all again comes down to knowing my instruments and what sounds they are able to produce.

BTW, here is a link to listen to that interview: Sound Journeys Radio Show

~ MB

Chop Wood | Carry Water | Play Gongs


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