As a percussionist working with a lot of different instruments I have often found myself investigating possibilities to alter sounds. In the mallet percussion specially there are not many things one can do besides changing mallets and preparing a little bit on the instrument. But if you want to alter tunings, some collaboration is needed.
With TEMKO we got into listening a lot of Terry Riley’s music, where we found orselves intrigued by his Shri Camel recording, which was never performed live. Terry did not play that piece since he took a lot of time altering tunings on the old synthesizers. When Aart, Fred and me got into discussion about tuning systems we took some time reading up on various articles and found a tuning which possibly would be the one Terry used: the Just intonation. Basically that is a baroque way of tuning perfect fifths. If you do that some notes sound really out of tune, and others as perfect as it can get. By writing down some structures and notes form the Shri Camel record by ear we discovered that the piece was written in a rather low C major tuning.
Then I was interested in modifying the vibraphone, since this piece would benefit a lot from resonant notes and the use of a pedal. When I spoke with Frans Swinkels and Albert Straten from Adams Musical Instruments they were very supportive and enthusiast. And they encouraged me to figure out the tuning in herz or cents. But Frans explained me in the mean time that tuning keyboards down is way harder then tuning them up. When I got together with Aart, speaking about guitar frets and strings, we figured the ensemble would benefit a lot if we would play it in a rather high B tonality instead of C.
Then I send through the tuning system and two weeks later I received a phone call and tested the instrument at the Adams factory in Ittervoort. A brand new altered Adams Alpha design was ready in Just Intonation!
Listen to our first rehearsal with this instrument:
In the project called ‘Pas de Deux’ I transcribed music by Darius Milhaud for soprano saxophone, two accordeons for the ensemble Toeac and my own duo Sax & Stix. This music turned out to be so playful and mad that we decided to find a circus duo to join us. The young and talented duo Ayla and Tom asked me right away: Can we use your marimba as a tool to jump on, from or even walk on it during the show. Of course my answer was NO!
When I was at the Adams Musical Instruments factory and told this story with a laugh to director Frans Swinkels and his percussion salesman Albert Straten, they were right away serious: Adams could make a design for a marimba which was sturdy enough to have the duo make use of the marimba as their acrobatic object.
Together with Albert and Frans, I made a design, fitting the needs for Ayla to jump on my frame, land on it after a tric, and also be able to walk over it. Even we could drive the marimba around in open air places and on a nice grassy area. This made me use the Adams Field frame, where we constructed a framework on top, handmade and specially for this project, sturdy enough for circus trics on there.
Here you see the result:
Working with a composer/instrument builder is the best thing a percussionist can do. Their endless imagination in sound, texture and basic musical parameters like decay, register and attack can truly enhance the possibilities in a piece.
In TEMKO I have the joy to work often and very close with Aart Strootman. In the band when I play percussion the short, dry attacks are mostly found in rimshot, metal and wooden materials – in order to hear the complex textures of the rhythms we love to perform. Sometimes the sound just isn’t 100% what we are looking for on drums or already existing percussion and therefore Aart cut small rest pieces of flamed maple he still had in his shed from a guitar project. He stained them blue and used shellac to make them durable.
They’re all over in the LUNAR project!