Pierluigi Billone
home  contact  


Mani.Matta (Tom De Cock)

For Percussion - Pierluigi Billone (2008) – 18’

drs.Tom De Cock (researcher at Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel, Regentschapstraat 30, 1000 Brussel, Belgium.) September 2011

Program Notes:

In Mani. Matta (2008) multiple sound spaces coexist: a marimba, two log drums (i.e. rectangular wooden drums) surmounted by a woodblock, a gong hanging over the player’s chest. The sound attack on the instruments is designed to extend their timber possibilities: sticks made of different material and thickness that hit on various points of the marimba bars, the log drums, and the gong. The hands can either touch lightly or strike the instruments with fingers, knuckles, and palms. Matta is the name of an American artist, the late Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978), who was famous in the ‘70s for his architectonic works known as building cuts, which were based on the principle that sections of abandoned buildings were removed so that perspective could be broken/opened.

Practical difficulties:

-Finding the right log drums and woodblocks.

Mani. Matta logdrumsThe notes for the log drums Billone asks for are very difficult to make and do not exist in factory-made log drums. You can try to make them yourself with well-resonating wood. What I did was buying the small and the large version of the ready-made log drums by Kolberg (here and here), and ask for interesting intervals at the factory. (I got E-C-C#-F#) They are quite pricy, but they have a smart stand and are quite light to travel with.

For the woodblock he asks for, I bought mine at Boris Müller, an excellent percussionist who builds excellent instruments. He makes woodblocks and slit drums in any tone you want. They are also quite pricy, but you have them for a lifetime if you treat them correctly. Other options are naturally also possible, depending on your budget and taste.

Mani. Matta mounting logdrums and woodblockTo mount the log drums and woodblock, it is best to mount them in a way the edges of the different instruments are not “smooth” but a bit like a small stairway, so when playing the glissandi he asks for, you get a resistance in the mallets, what makes the playing more articulate.

-Finding the right mallets.

Mani. Matta malletsFirst of all make sure to have a practice set of mallets next to the mallets you plan to use for the concerts. The glissando style playing easily wears the mallets out, so it is advised to have a set of cheap (er) mallets to study the piece.

As practice mallets I used:

Bass drum mallets: Adams BD0 bass drum beaters. (These have very sturdy felt that doesn’t wear out and are also quite heavy, so the playing with the other mallets will be easier to control)

Marimba mallets soft and double tone: Adams Robert Van Sice M14. (These also have very sturdy wool that doesn’t wear out easily. They have qualities equal but less pronounced to double tone mallets so it allows you to look for the colours you want with those mallets)

Hard marimba mallets: Mike Balter green (These are hard enough to perform the score but still have a medium mallet quality so you have less risks to break a marimba bar. The softer mallets also oblige you to in a way “overplay” the score, so you have some reserve when you take the actual mallets.)

As concert mallets I used:

Bass drum mallets: Kaufman Wien 150: These mallets are light and woolly, with excellent felt that almost makes no contact noise. The attack is minimal what makes the humming parts of the piece easy to perform.

Soft marimba mallets: Therefore I used a very soft and woolly marimba mallet that Pierre- François Resta constructed for me. They are of the same softness as the MC01B of his normal marimba line, but they have less attack and a little less weight.

Double Tone marimba mallets: MR10B of the double tone series by Pierre-Francois Resta. I made sure the mallets were quite worn out from normal playing, so the extremes of the mallets were further out of each other.

Hard marimba mallets: Mike Balter yellow or Pierre-Francois Resta vibraphone normal series number 7. It is important to have very hard mallets to bring out all the details in the score to a maximum. Be careful not to break any bars while using them.

-Trap table positioning

I used one trap table at the low end of the marimba and used the part of the marimba that is not used through the piece as another trap table, covering it with a black cloth. Make sure your trap table has a soft cloth on top as well, so you have the least contact noises as possible, and that it is big enough to comfortably put all mallets except the hardest ones next to each other. Put the trap table in a low enough position or enough to the side, so it doesn’t block the view of the marimba. In some parts of the piece, where only the hands are used, I use the cords between the black keys as an extra “trap table”, when the playing area allows it.

-Mounting the gong

Mani. Matta gongWhen purchasing a normal Peking opera gong, you will find only two holes drilled in the instrument normally. It will be necessary to drill two more at the opposite side of the already drilled holes with a cobalt drill head to mount it properly. The gong is mounted with a normal marimba cord or similar cord; one side goes around the neck and the other side around the waste, mounting the gong on the chest. By bending over slightly, the gong will hang “freely” and can be played as if it were normally mounted on a stand.

Technical difficulties:

-Assimilation and adaptation/amelioration of the different techniques and combinations of techniques

1. Glissando techniques

1.1 Marimba glissandi

Mani. Matta gliss 1To obtain the desired effect in dynamics and gesture it is very important to perform the glissandi within the prescribed ambitus. There are a number of ambiti that return in groups throughout the piece, so the muscular memorisation of these isn’t too big of a task, but it remains quite hard at the beginning. Also important is to always drag the mallets from event to event, make sure you never have an attack. What helped in my practise is to practice the first page of the piece at 1/4th of the original tempo and then slowly building up the tempo, so the muscular memorisation happens by itself. The dynamics that are written in those passages actually come “automatically”, so not a lot of energy should go into that while practising. The sonorous focus should be on the cluster that changes in ambitus and position.

Mani. Matta gliss 2Another type of marimba glissando, what only occurs two times in the piece is when you move a mallet between four keys, hitting the four bars with one mallet. This appears on the B-C and the E-F junction of the marimba. The sonorous result is a four note chromatic cluster. (Bb-B-C-C# for the first; Eb-E-F-F# for the second junction)

1.2 log drum glissandi

Like mentioned above, it is best to mount the log drums in a way the edges of the different instruments are not “smooth” but a bit like a small stairway, so when playing the glissandi he asks for, you get a resistance in the mallets, what makes the playing more articulate. Be careful about your instruments, the mallet glissandi leave traces on the varnish of the log drums; so don’t over-practice these passages.

Mani. Matta logdrum glissThere are two types of glissandi on the log drums: one through the middle of all drums and one towards the edges of the drums; the drawing speaks for itself.

2. Dampening techniques

For the Peking gong this is quite obvious, the gong is fully dampened with one hand while playing it with the other, or it is fully open en left to resonate.

Mani. Matta dampening action 1For the marimba, this appears at the second page of the piece, where the marimba bars are played with one hand holding two mallets and performing one-handed rolls on one bar, one mallet playing on the bar, one mallet on the bottom side. The bar is dampened in various ways simultaneously: fully open - dampened with one finger in the middle of the bar, producing a kind of flageolet or overtone and dampening most of the ground tone - dampened fully with no pressure – dampened fully with extra pressure producing a total tone-less sound, actually quite high in pitch for the size of the bar.

Mani. Matta dampening action 2There is one more special dampening technique, which fully dampens the bar, being played at the extreme edge of the bar, so not on the top, but on the side. This produces a very high, woodblock kind of sound.

3. Hand playing techniques

Mani. Matta hand techniquesWhen playing chords of two or three notes simultaneously by hand, a “slap”-technique is meant to use, slapping one or more bars at the same time, like you would perform a conga- slap. Single notes are to be played by the fingertips, in a rapid movement, like playing with a miniature mallet.

The little triangle signs mean playing the bar in a “dead stroke” with the finger knuckles. The other hand to obtain an even drier sound can additionally dampen this.

4. Bass drum mallet double note playing

Mani. Matta bass drumIn this technique you use one bass drum beater to hit two bars simultaneously. The writing asks for a gradual transition from one bar to two bars per mallet. The more the two bars are played at the same time, the more the harmonics of the two bars start interfering and the more the sound gets diffuse and beatings starts to appear. The obtained sound seems more a bass drum sound then a marimba sound.

-Avoiding pain in the joints, skin and hands and dosing of energy to cope with physical boundaries

The playing techniques that are described above and especially the glissando techniques are sometimes very extreme for joints and hands. Be careful to train you arms and hands for these extreme techniques, so you don’t hurt yourself while playing the concert, but also make sure not to overplay your muscles and joints. Try to find a good balance between playing all the way and saving yourself. One golden rule is always: never keep on playing if something starts to hurt anywhere....

Some solutions that could avoid these pains: using Compeed plasters, which work as “second-skin” for fingers where the mallets rub the skin while playing dead strokes and violent glissandi; not playing the most physically demanding passages fully all the time, but in a way “acting” them, with smaller movements, smaller distances, etc. Try to visualise the passages in your head instead of playing them, like playing a video of yourself inside your brain.

Interpretational difficulties:

-Musical tactics

All of Billone’s pieces are very long (Mani. Matta is about 18 minutes long) and the musical material is so different from what we are used to, that it is difficult to plan a musical tactic for these pieces. In a way, the music is very expressive and gestural, what made me choose for an intuitive approach. Not really shaping or phrasing, just see what comes next. Like this you can also achieve his demand of moving from one movement of the piece into another without connection, as a total surprise.

In “Mani. Matta”, one should be very careful about connecting the different instrument- passages as smooth as possible to one another. The marimba, log drums, woodblock and gong should be viewed as one big instrument and while practising the passages (especially in the middle part of the piece) where the three succeed each other very quickly and in a virtuosic way, there should be a lot of attention going to the connecting of the three entities, despite the physical distance. What worked the best for me is to see the piece as a big choreography, with equal attention to the movements and the physical connections as to the musical text itself. Like this, the two reinforce each other and the whole comes out a lot stronger.


Sketches used in the text:

All sketches that were used in the text are taken from the scores and the legends of the described pieces. Copyright © Pierluigi Billone.

All websites are stated as found on the Internet on 22/11/2011:


Other references:

-Tzlil Meudcan Festival and summer course, Israel, 29 June 2011 until 9 July 2011: Various working sessions with the composer on all the pieces.

-Ars Musica Festival 26 March 2010, Brussels: performance of “Mani. Mono”

-Felicija Blumenthal Centre Tel Aviv, 27 April 2010: performance of “Mani. Mono”

-Konzerthaus Detmold, 14 July 2010: performance of “Mani. Mono”

-Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt 25 July 2010: performance of “Mani.Mono”

-Porgy and Bess Wien, 1 december 2010: performance of “Mani. Mono” -Minoritensaal Graz, 2 december 2010: performance of “Mani. Mono”

-Felicija Blumenthal Centre Tel Aviv, 7 July 2011: performance of “Mani. Matta”, “Mani. Mono” and “Mani. De Leonardis”

-Since the start of the working process in 2010: Various working sessions with sound engineers (a.m. Tom Philip Krause, Alfred Reiter, Alexandre Fostier)

-Intense email conversation with the composer about the performed pieces.