The psycho-acoustical aspects of marimba playing

The continuing evolution of the marimba’s modern performance practice has ushered myriad challenges to the current generation of performers. One uniting issue is that the marimba is an idiophone at its core. The sound is created by a mallet touching a wooden bar and making it vibrate. The impact is fast and the contact happens in a split second. The performer has no direct contact with his instrument while playing and has no direct influence on the resonance, which is often seen as a limiting quality in western classical music. This leaves many marimba performers in search of space for the expression of their musical intentions, and created the current research trend: analyses of sound projection and body movements. Though these topics are important factors for marimba playing, the outcome of these researches is evident and conceals the raison d’être as a musician — bring imaginary sound and constructive notes alive to communicate and resonate with people.

Where to find space in marimba performance for the expression of all musical elements needed to convey ones musical intentions? As mathematics are a tool for humans to establish equal conjectures, musical performance cannot be described and evaluated by equations and formulas. Written around the sixth century BC, Chinese philosopher Laozi’s Tao Te Ching captures themes that are timeless and specific yet imaginative like intuition, consciousness and beauty. The original Chinese characters contain multiple meanings. Sentences are short yet incisive continuously engaging interpreters through its concentrated essence. Descendants are left space finding their own way of applying it to each of their own current needs. My research goal is to provide critical competencies for marimba performance by applying Laozi’s Taoist philosophy.