Instrumentation: 2 Vibraphones, 2 5 Octave Marimbas
Duration: 9 minutes
Premiered by Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, PAS 2013, Austin Texas on November 15, 2013
Commissioned by Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
Publisher: Bachovich Music Publications
I have always found it fascinating to discover ways to manipulate sound-how notes are played and more importantly what happens after you play them and how they resonate or speak in different ways. My Mallet Quartet (2013), written for the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, for two vibraphones and two marimbas, attempts to consider all elements of sound on these instruments. Each pitch is considered on its own as a scale, of many timbral particles waiting to be examined. For the most part the focus is on the resonances, the attacks, and the overtones. Whether it’s the playing technique used or simply the natural sounds of the instrument, these can all be exposed and manipulated in different ways, depending on the register they are in. For example, an sfz chord played with a sharp attack has two distinct elements to its fundamental sound. The first is the percussive unpitched attack, which on marimba in the lower register may have a sound similar to a wood plank or a woodblock in the upper register. On the vibes, there are more obvious metallic spectral overtones, which with hard mallets can be as obvious as the fundamental pitch, especially at louder dynamics. A sharp attack becomes a dead stroke, and/or a muffled tone, naturally implying some sense of space between sounds, and can be filled by a particular resonance or even the use of silence. A fast run can be given shape in the traditional melodic way, but can also be echoed by different kinds of glissing. One of the timbral techniques requires the player to play a “ricochet” on the frame of the instrument with the rattan handles of the mallets-producing an echo effect of unpitched glissando from low to high. Some other notable devices are the use of hand muffling, which naturally bends the pitches to quarter tones and then with more pressure, transforms pitches into unpitched sounds. There is also the use of harmonics on the vibraphone as part of the normal playing technique and the use of bass drum mallets to expose the vibrato “beats” of the lowest notes of the marimba.
By constantly drawing parallels between all the particles of sound, I was able to develop multiple scales of material to structure the piece as a whole. The introduction contains all the elements of the piece. From here on, all sections are to be developed, layered and woven onto and over each other. They often appear either clearly developed or completely disguised, dependant on the varied dimensions applied to their appearance. This idea of using a 3 dimensional approach to sound, which on one hand goes towards unpitched sounds, and on the other hand digs deeper beyond the fundamental tones into the natural overtones, constantly creates a shifting focus of tension. Pivoting between this axis of sound appearance creates an endless spectrum for each pitch used, relating back to all the elements of creating structure though a total consideration of sound. The playing techniques, the pitch structure, and the timbres are all of equal importance, not one dominating the other.