Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Made a breakthrough realization today. The solenoids were louder than the gongs, so I thought the solution was quieting the solenoids. Forgot that you could also make the gongs louder. And how do you do that? With MASS. There's a reason the traditional mallets are so heavy: it's because heavy sounds good. Moral of the story: Respect vernacular technology. If they've been doing/building it that way for a couple of hundred/thousand years, it's because there are sound physical reasons to build them that way. Jesus.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! But any day you realize how stupid you've been is a day you've gotten a little smarter, so I suppose that it's a good day in that sense.

The image shows the solenoids and the mallets. On the left is a denuded tennis ball on a stick. This was modeled on/inspired by the padded balls they traditionally use on the gongs. On the right is the new beater I kludged together after the light came on. String wrapped around a good SLAB of wood (from the wood stash of Yeye Calderon, a painter/old Mowelfund comrade now residing in SG. Salamat, Ye!). Mass made all the difference.

Another interesting detail. When the tennis ball mallet hit the gong the first time, it made a nice, loud sound. If it hit the gong again, before the gong had come to rest, sometimes it would make a loud sound, sometimes it wouldn't. Sometimes it would even damp the gong. Eventually realized that it was a matter of phasing. If the mallet hit the gong out of phase, the waves it generated in the metal would cancel out the waves already there. Apparently, the solution is just to use really heavy mallets, so that they pack enough punch to damp the existing vibrations AND generate a whole bunch of new ones. Like I said, duh.

I bow in the direction of all the long-dead creators of gamelan instruments, and their acoustic/engineering/physical solutions. I follow in the footsteps of giants.

PS ISEA has its own dedicated blogger (nice idea). He's Joel Ong, whose job it is to write up and photograph the festival and process. His stuff can be found here.

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