One year completed, 52 marimba recordings

That went fast. Here I am a year later and I finished it. 52 marimba recordings in 52 weeks. I thought that might be enough, but I’ve become so accustomed to the work that I plan to keep going for at least another year. 100 is a better number anyway, more iconic.

Each recording takes on average 20 hours a week. The open improvisation solo recordings go down pretty fast (although it took me tens of thousands of hours of practice and study and 30 years of playing marimba to get to that point). But all the rest of the recordings can be very time consuming. A few of them were over 40 hours, soup to nuts. It’s a lot of time and energy, basically another job on top of my life as a college professor and Dhrupad singer and everything else I’m doing professionally. But it’s worth it, every second of it. Aside from the fact that I feel more connected to the instrument, I’ve expanded considerably my vocabulary as a composer and improviser and opened up whole new territory on the instrument.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

-expanded the timbral possibilities on marimba through mallet construction, preparations, and digital manipulation

-commissioned several new pieces from different composers

-made the first recordings on marimba of music by Anthony Braxton, Elliott Sharp, and Barry Guy

-made the first ever marimba recording of Hindustani music

-started a new series of jazz standards on the instrument

-created the first body of recorded repertoire for the instrument in the “free” or “open” improvisation genres, with many collaborations, including Weasel Walter, Susie Ibarra, Gideon Forbes, Steven Crammer, Pedro Carneiro, and more

-made a series of recordings for meditation/yoga purposes, which I’m gradually trying to get out to those communities, including a collaboration with handpan master Sean Dello Monaco

-expanded considerably my graphic score work

A piece I composed for the duo recording with Weasel Walter

The self-imposed deadline of a recording a week, every week, has become so second nature that it feels weird not to make a recording every week. During the summer I got ahead by a month, but as school started and my days filled up with teaching and administrative work I’m back to finishing a recording during the week and loading it up before midnight on Sunday. Sometimes the days get a little frenetic, but I never feel like I’m recording just for the sake of recording. I’ll vouch for every note I’ve released to the public.

Of course with this much volume some of the tracks are better than others, but that’s true even for people who only release one or two recordings their whole career. At the time that I release something I’m fully convinced of its value. And even the freely improvised recordings have more editing and curation than one might think. I often delete as many tracks as I end up keeping, and sometimes it’s more like a 10:1 ration of deleted material to what I end up keeping.

So, what’s ahead? More collaborations, and deeper engagement with what I’ve already developed. I’m really just getting started.

What has the reception been so far? It’s hard to say since I’ve only promoted it via local channels like Facebook groups and email lists. Next year I have some bigger events planned to celebrate an upcoming quartet recording with Elliott Sharp, Billy Martin, and Colin Stetson, as well as the 100-week mark. For those I plan to hire a publicist and see if I can build a larger, more global audience for my work.

The percussive arts community’s response has been mostly positive. I regularly get messages from folks who are fascinated by the project and interested in what I’m doing. A few folks have cried foul on my more dissonant and crazy improvisation videos, stating that it’s “not music” or whatever. I don’t take much stock in that since few of them have really studied the improvised repertoire or know the history of that music. Honestly, I’m glad for the arguments those videos create. That pot needs a bit of stirring. I also encourage them to check out my more “inside” playing. When I play with extended techniques, they’re definitely an extension of the fundamentals that I’ve worked hard to master, and continue to practice and refine. But I welcome vigorous discussion.

So, onwards and upwards. I’m just getting started.

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