Growing up I thought there were only two uses for gongs. One was for making one large bonnnnnnng sound for something important, like the announcement of a royal banquet or the beginning of a J. Arthur Rank production. The other was as a weapon against cartoon animals--it would make a funny sound and their heads would be turned into a pancake. How was I to know there was so much more to gongs, especially 80-inch wide gongs that cost around $27,000? Thank goodness for YouTube, then.
The above video features Sven aka Gong Master Sven aka Paiste Gong Master Sven (it’s not very clear in the description) very gingerly playing this monster symphonic gong, coaxing out of it menacing, echoing groans and wails straight out of a horror movie.
Just a gentle stroke can cause the metal to vibrate and feed back onto itself. Using a smaller mallet produces sounds like whale songs. That something so large can make such a stunning array of tones, and react to such delicacy is fascinating. (Watch with headphones on or a good sound system, by the way).
If that whets your whistle, here’s more gong action with musician Bear Love, who manages to make his gong sound like something out of science fiction, incredibly creepy. If there’s a ghost story movie out there with a one-gong soundtrack, I’d believe it.
Michael Bettine plays the same Paiste gong in a more familiar way, by whacking it with a big mallet. It’s impressive, and he doesn’t really hit it that hard. “You can feel your internal organs being massaged by the vibrations,” he says.
Finally, Tom Soltron Czartoryski, slims it down to a 62 inch “earth gong” with its array of indentations, and creates a nearly 10 minute ambient work, which is one expansive dose of space music. Groovy and sometimes stressful, fascinating and all-encompassing. Enjoy!
(Note to self: Resolve to find a local giant gong and have a go.)
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.