The first seven pieces on Percussion Discussion are compositions written for drumset and marimba, my two main instruments. There are other mallet percussion instruments, here and there – xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone – as well as some auxiliary percussion. To me, at least, full pieces for drums and mallets are unique. While it’s quite possible there are other pieces that consist of just these instruments, I haven’t heard any of its kind. Generally, percussion albums are either fully Classical or they consist of a Percussion Ensemble. Most of these types of discs, don't feature contemporary drumset techniques and styles.
After I heard the first piece finished, I was quite happy with the combination! Armed with knowing that these two instruments worked well together, I set out to compose a bit more and expound not only on my ideas and performance, but also my composition skills.
It's difficult to pinpoint a straight up comparison, because I can't think of any groups that only feature drumset, marimba and percussion. Of course, many bands contain these instruments, but they are generally complemented by many other traditional instruments. These percussion instruments are the ones I play, so this was my pallet to create. At the fear of the music sounding empty, I had to treat the marimba in some unconventional ways.
I began to look at the marimba in 3 sections as 3 different instruments. The low register was the bass, the middle register would act as the piano where I’d play 3 and 4 voiced chords and the upper register would act as a “lead” instrument, such as guitar or horn. I’d graduate the mallets accordingly. Of course, this was just a loose interpretation, but a good launching point for filling the sound and creating a complete composition.
All but one of the pieces was written on drumset first. Some might find that odd, but drums are my first love and instrument. I could write the melodies, harmonies, chord structures and any other pitch related notes after the groundwork was laid on the drumkit. As I got into the notes, perhaps it would trigger a slight change in the drum part, but for the most part, these pieces were conceived on the drumset.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with two incredibly creative groups – (plūv) and The Yeti Trio. In my private practice sessions, sometimes I would come up with grooves or ideas that didn’t fit either ensemble. Perhaps it was stylistically, or I had already used a similar idea with one or both of those bands. At the time these pieces were composed, neither band were fully active any longer, though neither fully defunct. While both groups were on a hiatus of sorts, my new ideas weren’t. These ideas didn’t really fit the other groups with whom I’ve worked and made a living. Not wanting these concepts to lie dormant, I decided if I want to use these grooves, I must write the music for them myself.
I see these pieces as more of a vehicle for my composing ideas rather than my performance skills. I think there are certain moments that surely present my playing level, but for the drumset, this is just a small piece of the pie. It is much easier for me to play more freely and relaxed when I’m backing up other musicians, rather than having to play exactly what is needed to fit underneath the mallet parts I am writing and playing. I generally use a sizzle cymbal, play tons of ghost notes, word paint and weave in and out of improvised solo lines from other instrumentalists, yet none of those concepts fit here. Sometimes it might feel a tad rigid, but it’s what served the composition best, to my ear.
There are certainly some stylings you will hear that are present in almost all of the tunes – odd meter, cross rhythms (esp. 5’s & 7’s!), flanged hi-hats during the bridge sections, harmonic dissonance, etc. The earlier compositions have a lot of “doubling” – whatever was played on the drumset, was essentially matched in rhythm on the marimba. As new pieces came to life, I tried to move away from that a bit and write melodies that soared on top of the drumset part, when applicable. As stated earlier, it’s easier for me to write more organic drumset parts to other instrumentalists’ interpretations, while with these pieces, it was easy to fall into the trap of making sure all the parts matched up seamlessly. For the most part, I think it’s an efficacious approach, as I was looking at this more from the standpoint of a composer, rather than performer. That said, I worked incredibly hard at making sure all of the performances were as top notch as I can make them. These compositions all fit together stylistically, but each have their own story and were written at different times.
The second half of the disc, is Classical in nature. At this time, I didn't plan on having a 2nd and (eventually) 3rd CD, so I wanted to include all facets of my drum and percussion playing.
The first section of the Classical portion, is for solo 4-mallet marimba. I pay homage to 3 Preludes from J.S. Bach's Cello Suites.
The second section is an episodic 20th century nocturne I composed and performed on piano. However, I heard a symphony in my head, so I assigned each note I played on piano to an orchestral instrument, using MIDI.
Finally, I end the album with a 3-movement multiple percussion suite. The first movement, includes 4 stations of different types of percussion instruments and is improvised. It's spacey & ethereal and set up for sound effects per the many instruments involved. The sounds you hear range from roto toms to cymbals, cowbells to slide whistles, vibraslap to kokoriko, metal chain to spring drum, tambourine to gong and more! The 2nd movement, is fully composed and melodic, while the 3rd movement is a short burst of chops, to end the record in a blaze of drums!
You can read more about each specific piece at the Directed Listening section of my website.
Note: My 2nd CD - Esoteric Music - is more like the first 7 pieces here. There is a lot more drumset, more genres are explored and aspects like ghost notes and my sizzle cymbal are more prevalent. There is only one short, original 4-mallet solo marimba work. The eventual 3rd CD, will combine the format of the first two discs.
Thank you for taking the time to check out my music and I sincerely hope you enjoy it!