Friday, 19 January 2018

"Do It Yourself" tamt-tam/gong.

Not very happy about it (I DO HATE shopping malls), four days ago I went to IKEA to buy some stuff for my daughters´ bedroom. Fortunately, and because it was Tuesday morning, it was not too busy.

Believe or not, there are many things there a percussionist could make good use of, and today I´m going to write about one of them: the STOCKHOLM 2017 tray, article number 103.452.47, which you can find HERE. It´s made of stainlees steel, it´s 40cm in diametre (15.5") and features the same flange tam-tams have (4cm). Taking into account that artisans like Lance CampeauMatt Nolan, Dave Collingwood, Greg Keplinger..., have (or have had) stainless steel instruments in their catalogs, it was not too crazy thinking this tray could end up as a musical instrument... Also, because it was 15€, it wouldn´t hurt my pocket much should the experiment failed.

Here´s the tray fresh from IKEA:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


I need to hang it in order to play it, so the first and only thing I did was drilling the flange so I could pass a rope through the holes. Taking into account the orientation of the logo (if we are going to do it, let´s do it right... 😊), I draw a line from its centre to the edge. From that line, I moved 7cm to each side (totally random, it was the measure I felt was OK), and then marked the centre of the flange with a felt pen.


© David Valdés


I marked those two points with a single blow of a nail so as to make way for the bit (use a bit for metal and not the first one you get your hands on... 😉) and to prevent it from sliding while drilling. I started with a size 1 bit, progressing up to size 9 (the one allowing the rope to comfortably pass through).


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


I did so with both points on the flange. When done, I used this tool to get rid of imperfections and shavings.


© David Valdés


In order to avoid the rope being damaged by the rough inner surface, I wrapped the size 9 bit with grade 500 sand paper and worked the inside of both holes untill they were smooth like a baby bum.


© David Valdés


I passed a cotton rope through them...


© David Valdés


... and the tray became a tam-tam. 


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


And yes, same we go around with Paiste, Zildjian, Sabian..., logos, I´ll go around with an IKEA one right in the centre of my instrument 😆.



© David Valdés


How does it sound? Pretty well... Here you have a video (recorded using an iPhone). Headphones or good quality speakers are recommended. I have played dead centre, very close to the flange and half way between both so you can check the different sounds it can produce (very much noticeable live), Surprisingly enough, you can sometimes here the glissandi opera gongs are capable of.




What can I say? For 15€ and a couple of holes, the result is spectacular. If you give it a try (no pun intended), maybe the article "Do It Yourself gong beater" is a good start to make your own beaters.

If you feel adventurous, I´ll be happy to see and hear what you come up with.


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Thursday, 4 January 2018

DIY historic rope tension drum (II).

On "DIY historic rope tendion drum (I)" I showed you the shell, counterhoops and their characteristics. Today I´ll show you how I finished them.

First thing I did was sanding the shell (both inside and outside) with 000 steel wool to remove all traces of sticky residue left by the masking tape and, also, to prepare the surface. I highly recommend using a mask in order to avoid breathing the suspending small steel particles liberated during this process. With regard to sanding, it´s of vital importance to do it following the wood grain.    


© David Valdés


Once the shell was perfectly smooth, I used a gauze I bought at Leroy Merlin to apply tung oil to the inside. Tung oil has been known for centuries to treat wood, specially musical instruments.


Jars containing tung oil. © David Valdés


Gauze © David Valdés


Piece of gauze ready for spreading oil. © David Valdés


The piece of gauze is slightly moistened with oil and spread over the shell (always following the wood grain!). My personal experience is that using small quantities produces better results because it gets almost dry once applied. If we use too much oil we´ll get blobs and stains. On the following photo we can see how the first coat was applied.


© David Valdés
   

This is the first coat still wet.


© David Valdés


Once the oil has been applied (remember... not much!), I inmediately rubbed a piece of clean gauze. This way the coat gets very uniform and almost dry. If you do this well, you may not have to sand before applying the next coat. Use the same 000 steel wool we used for preparing the shell before aplying a second one (the previous coat has to be completely dry before doing so, which normally entails 24 hours).

This shell got nothing less than 10 coats of tung oil (blame my inexperience... Remember this is my first building attempt). I really like how it looks, with a very nice dark colour, but an expert I got in touch with told me four coats were enough to cover the pores and protect it from xylophagous. From that day on, all of my interiors get nothing more than four coats... :-D. Here you can see the result:


© David Valdés
     

© David Valdés


On the next photo you can see the inside already finished and the outside still "raw". There´s a big difference, isn´t it?


© David Valdés


My idea for the outer part was to stain it using chestnut colour, as I saw some historical drums finished this way and I really liked them. Before starting the staining process I covered all parts already treated to avoid accidents (stains, splashes...). As always, Leroy Merlin was my supplier.


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


I used water based tint I bought at Leroy Merlin (I know, I know... They are going to make their principal shareholder :-D ).


© David Valdés


I mixed different quantities of tint and water untill I got the desired colour and tried it on a piece of maple.


© David Valdés


Then I moistened the gauze with the mix and stained the shell using the same technique I used for applying the oil to the inside. I used the table described on "Rotating table for working with drum shells".


© David Valdés


On the next photo we can see the process of aplying the first coat of stain.


© David Valdés


And this is the result after that first coat.




Once dry, I sanded it with 000 steel wool to even the finish.


© David Valdés

Then, I applied another coat of tint. The next photo shoes the shell right after it was applied, the tint still wet.


© David Valdés


This is the result once dry.


©David Valdés




After two coats I was happy with the result, so next thing I did was applying some wax I got you already know where... :-D

©David Valdés

This is the shell after the first coat.

©David Valdés


©David Valdés


I repeated the waxing process three times (I went the easy road: I liked how it looked and, as I was told, three coats is more than enough to protect the wood). I let the wax get dry for 24 hours before applying every new coat. This is the final result.


©David Valdés


Regarding the counterhoops, I had to work on the shavings and imperfections they had because of the drilling. It seems that, when drilling at an angle, they are unavoidable, as the fibres do not break homogeneously.


© David Valdés
   

I used a paste to cover imperfections, pores and equal the surface.


©David Valdés


On this photo you can see the paste before drying and sanding.


©David Valdés


On the following ones counterhoops are perfectly smooth.


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


Now they were ready to get their finish. I used tung oil to get a nice contrasting tone with the shell.

On the next photo you can see the upper hoop already has one coat while the bottom one is still raw.


©David Valdés


Both counterhoops after getting their first coat...


© David Valdés


And this is the result after 10 coats (I promise the photos do not do them justice. They are gorgeous!)


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


The nex photos show both the shell and the counterhoops once finished. I promess they look much better live.


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


©David Valdés


With all the parts ready, it was just a matter of assembling them, but that´s something I´ll show on a future article.

What techniques do you use for staining/waxing? What colours would you have chosen? Let me know!


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Friday, 22 September 2017

"Tavolette" in "Roman Festivals", by O. Respighi.

At the end of the last season I was lucky enough to play "Feste Romane" ("Roman Festivals") which, together with "Fountains" and "Pines", form Ottorino Respighi´s "Roman Triptych".

It´s a work featuring an exuberant, imaginative and brilliant orchestration for, of course, grand orchestra. It requires a "percusive force" of one timpanist plus nine percussionists and, in its last movement ("La Befana"), the composer asks for "tavolette". This is an instrument quite unknown to percussionists and on which no consensus seems to exist This article will try to clarify the different aspects concerning this part.

To start with, let´s have a look at the description of the four movements, as seen in the score:




The fourth movement is entitled "La Befana" (not a very precise translation above, I know), a witch whose "job" is equivalent to that of the Three Wise Men in the Spanish and Latin American tradition: bringing presents to good boys, while giving coal to naughty ones during the night between January 5th and 6th.

So, according to the description above, in this last movement we are dealing with a "maremagnum" of popular music, where several tunes overlap each other during the chaos of the festival.

What is, then, a "tavoletta"?. Literally, it´s a board, plank... No coincidence "tavola", in Italian, means "table". In Spanish, "tabla" means "board". "Tavola" and "tabla" share the same Latin root. "Tavoletta" introduces the sufix "-etta", (a diminutive) which means "small" refering to whatever lexema you add it to. So, "tavoletta" means "small board". Same in Spanish: that sufix exists in the form of "-ita" or "-illa" (almost identical to the Italian one), meaning exactly the same: "small" to whatever lexema you add it to. "Tavolette" is the plural ("little boards"). That's were Italian and Spanish differ, as we make plurals adding "-s" or "-es", and Italians make plurals adding an "-i" if masculine (reminiscence of the Latin second declination, dominus/domini) or an "-e" if femenine (reminiscence of the Latin first declination, rosa/rosae).So, "tavolette" means "little boards".

What percussion instrument is made with little wooden planks? In the Mediterranean area (both in Italy and Spain) there´s an instrument consisting in exactly that: a wooden plank hit by wooden hammers. Its name is "matraca", and it´s a popular instrument also associated to several religious celebrations (Easter in Spain). "Matraca" comes from the arab "mitraqa", meaning "hammer" and "taraq", meaning "to hit". Spanish uses that word and etimology, but not Italian, as their peninsula was not occupied in the Middle Ages as it was ours.




It´s, obviously, a popular instrument, nothing complicated. I associate it with the orthodox tradition of the semantron which, under different forms (more or less evolved depending on the composer and time of composition) appears in this work by Respighi, "Les Choephores" by Milhaud, "Three Pieces for Orchestra" by Berg and, why not, Mahler #6.












They are very simple devices, and their only purpose is to make as much noise as possible (exactly what Respighi tries to musically describe in "La Befana"). There are even more complex ones featuring a rotating handle (similar to a spinning wheel) which, when rotated, make atrocious noise. In Spain, there are quite a few of them (of gigantic proportions) instaled in bell towers. In the case of the "tavolette" asked for in "Feste Romane", its size is small, portable, allowing for it being carried in the streets to make noise during the festival. 

What can we use in the orchestra? Two wooden planks hit by two wooden hammers, that´d be the solution I consider to be the closest to what Respighi intended. Having said that, we can use woodblocks, templeblocks, coconut shells... As long as we can produce two different "wooden sounds" (high and low), we´ll be ok. Don´t go for anything too fancy.

But there´s something more... Apart from the "problem" of knowing what instrument was Respighi refering to, it seems that, after a quick look at the part, he wants the "tavolette" tuned to B and E. Well..., if finding a couple of "tavolette" wasn´t hard enough, we need them tuned to B and E... Reading forums, FB groups, talking to colleagues..., it seems this is a trendy topic. People seem to enjoy coming up with solutions (sometimes, terribly complex) so as to be able to play those two pitches. The "tavolette" discussion comes and goes, always with renovated impetus. Let´s see what the part looks like:




Yikes... A treble clef! B and E. It seems like yes, "tavolette" have to play specific pitches. Sure...? Let´s have a look at the other parts.

This is the timpani part:



We all know timpani produce pitches, so we can see the obvious: bass clef, key signature, different pitches...

Let´s see what´s up with the glock part:




Yes... Treble clef, pitches (many!)... We all know the glock is a definite pitch percussion instrument.

Now the xylophone:



Again, treble clef, key signature, pitches... Because it´s a definite pitch instrument.

Bells/chimes:



Treble clef and two pitches. This part has something important: there´s an indication under "2 campane" stating what pitches to play (Bb in octave). We´ll be back to this later on.

Let´s now see the bass drum/cymbals part:





Hmmmm... Bass clef. C for the bass drum, E for the cymbals. Have you ever worried, when playing this piece, to get those exact pitches? No, because everybody knows these are indefinite pitch instruments.

Suspended cymbals now:




Bass clef. An E... Would you look for an E pitched cymbal to play this part? No, because they are indefinite pitch instruments.

Let´s now have a look at the rachet part (an instrument intimately related to the "matraca", with almost identical uses and belonging to the same tradition):




Treble clef, C... So you are going to tell me that you´d use a C pitched rachet, right? No, because they make noise, nothing more.

Sleigh bells now:




Treble clef, C... No, this is not Mozart´s "Sleigh Ride" or "Three German Dances"... Nobody would ever worry about getting that exact pitch.

Tambourine:




Because of the bass clef, our tambourine should produce an E. Not likely, right?

Military drum:




This was the part I played. Obviously, tunning to a C was not one of my worries.


Snare drum:




Would you tune it to a C because that´s what the treble clef indicates? No...

Tamtam:




Yes, you guessed it: nobody would care about the C, as the tamtam is and indifinite pitch instrument.


Triangle:




Do you have your E tuned triangle at hand? Don´t think so...

You already should have an idea of what´s going on... The copyst uses a pentagram whether the instruments are pitched or not. In this last case, he uses a treble clef for those producing high frecuencies and a bass clef for those producing low ones. He almost always uses the third space (except for the triangle, suggesting it´s the highest one). When two instruments share a pentagram (or produce low frecuencies), he uses the second space (bass drum, tamtam, military drum...). In writing the "tavolette" (and this is what can lead to mistakes), he uses the first and third line.

Still doubts? Let´s go back... In the bells/chimes part, right below "2 CAMPANE", there´s an indication stating what pitches to play. That´s to say, the "intonation" of the bells is specified, as they could be church bells or non specific pitches just making noise. He uses a treble clef, but he is very careful about stating the specific pitches. Why? Because he would have written a treble clef even if no specific pitches were to be used (as he has done with all the indefinite pitch intruments in the work).




In the "tavolette" part, under the instrument name, "grande e piccola" ("large" and "small") is indicated. Nothing more. That´s the indication with regard to the "intonation" of the "tavolette". Should Respighi have wanted specific pitches, the copyst would have done as he did with the "campane", stating them below the name of the instrument. What the copyst has done here is indicating "large" and "small" as the only guide to the relative height of the instruments. Yes, he uses a treble clef (as he has done with other indefinite pitch instruments), but the indication is clear: no pitches, just "large" and "small". Should Respighi have wanted pitched wooden sounds, he could have used the xylophone, an instrument already in the score. Not the case. "Tavolette": just "grande" and "piccola". Pitches are irrelevant.




Still not convinced? Let´s take a passage at random and analyze it harmonically.




There´s a D major chord there, so the B is not in context. We cannot even consider it as an added sixth, as it would be doubled somewhere else. Even more, do we really think we could get a substantial B from a wooden plank so it would be the only instrument playing a B in that harmonic context? It makes no sense.

So... If EVERY SINGLE NON PITCHED INSTRUMENT is written using a clef, why is it that we have only worried about assigning pitches to the "tavolette"? It makes no sense: we should assign pitches to all of them or to none. What´s the solution? The obvious one: indefinite pitch instruments make noises, they don´t play pitches. "Tavolette" are one of them, and if we haven´t worried about assigning pitches to the other instruments in the score, worrying about assinging them to the "tavolette" is absurd... "Tavolette": noise making popular instruments. Don´t over think it, as it´s quite clear that, seeing the edition, they are non pitched instruments. Even more, if finding "tavolette" is quite hard, how hard do you think is finding tuned ones? Hard, very hard. So hard that they don´t even exist, as they are non pitched instruments. Tuned ·tavolette" are as rare as a green unicorn. Don´t search for them, as you won´t find them.

So, next time you play this piece, use the same common sense with the "tavolette" part you use when approaching the bassdrum/cymbals part, or the triangle one featuring clefs and pitches: realize it´s an edition issue.

Having said that, playing this piece is a wonderful oportunity to experiment trying to get a beautiful, musical and popular "tavolette" sound (and, obviously, enjoy a fantastic piece of the repertoire).

Should you get to play this piece, I´d love to know what solution you come up with. Let me know.


  
…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés