Melody Competition
1991, 21' for percussion sextet

Instrumentation and set-up

2 marimbas
2 vibraphones
6 sets of non-pitched instruments, each comprising:
-one resonating drum, such as tom-tom
-one medium not-particularly-resonant metal (sharp attack, short decay), such as a Beijing opera gong
-one higher-pitched piece of wood. Such as a woodblock
There should be as wide a variety of sounds within each "family" of instruments as will still allow aural connections. It should be clear that the drums are related and are making interlocking melodies, as are the metal and wood instruments. It is suggested that ensembles assemble sets of instruments with similar sounds and wide melodic ranges. All six sets should be set up in the same configuration so that all players' arm motions are visibly similar (i.e., all drums on the player's left, all metal dead center, all wood to the right).

Unequal temperment is preferred between mallet instruments. Do not try to find sets of instruments that are perfectly in tune with one another.

Players and instruments are divided into two groups, left and right. Players should be located from stage left to stage right, as indicated in the score (L1, L2, L3, R1, R2, R3). Instruments should be arranged so that players can stay in their relative position no matter what instrument they are playing. Suggested set up:

Performance Notes

Beginning to Letter I
The piece proceeds normally. Dynamics are fluid within the general markings – players can add small crescendi and diminuendi as they see fit. Similarly, tempi are strict but individual rhythms have some "give" to them – precision is only demanded when in unison with another part (generally, this means that "tuplets" can be a bit wobbly). "Hogwild" sections should not exceed the allotted time (by much), and players should try to keep within the range and mode of the material that immediately precedes these sections.

J to T
Strict rhythm and dynamics!!! As you'll notice, there's only one rhythmic pattern - 44 "units" long, though the length of the unit varies. It should sound and look this way, even when the unit is an annoying length. Dynamics are terraced (except where indicated) and are extremely important. Rhythmically, players need to understand who they're playing with and who they're playing against, as well as which combination of these is the focal point at any given moment. Please also note that there are no letters U-Z.

AA – LL "Mebarung"
"Mebarung" is a type of musical competition common in West Bali – this section of the piece is an elaborate version of the game. Left and Right have different operating instructions and tempi – each group's parts are coherent in their own right but not synchronous with the other. Both groups use the same material – the 13 repeated tunes labeled AA through MM. (A couple of these are slightly different, just for the record…). Each group approaches the material differently and, most importantly, plays in different approximate "fall-back" tempi, which will not remain strict, for various reasons. The rules of the game change over the course of the section, so it's important to understand what's going on.

The basic principles: 1) Each group stays together with itself – this can and should encompass small changes in tempo, bearing in mind the "fallback tempi" indicated (left: 144-160 bpm; right: 180-200 bpm). 2) The goal is to play your part fast and securely enough to disorient the other group and throw them off. However, if you play the game too well, and the other group gets knocked out too easily, the game is pointless, so the real idea of the game is to play your part just well enough to be on the verge of disorienting the other group. Dynamics and accents are free and should be very flexible: one's instincts will be to play louder and louder – it's important to use soft dynamics as well, otherwise the whole thing is unmitigated chaos.

Left Group segues immediately from the end of letter T, playing its parts AA-FF in sequence with no breaks, using the amount of repetitions listed in the part. It then stays on pattern GG indefinitely or until some form of entropy ensues (i.e., one or both groups get knocked out). Whatever group is left proceeds to letter HH.

Right Group lets Left Group begin, interrupting it as indicated during patterns AA and BB (these will therefore not be continuous). Try to begin pattern CC precisely on Left Group's second time through their pattern CC, at your faster fallback tempo, then proceed as indicated to pattern GG, staying there indefinitely until a breakdown, as indicated in the paragraph above. Don't worry if this takes many many repetitions, considerable effort, assorted strategies – the more struggle at GG the better.
Whichever group is "left standing" proceeds, without a break and on cue, to Pattern HH, which it plays two times alone at the slower fallback tempo. After two repetitions, it proceeds to pattern II, and the remaining group begins pattern HH at the faster tempo. Neither group should seriously try to alter their tempo, but there should be a race-like feel to arrive at Pattern KK, which is repeated indefinitely (cf., notes to GG), again until one or the other group is eliminated.
Whichever group is left segues on cue to Pattern LL, which starts soft, is repeated many many times at various dynamics and accent structures, and eventually fades out. Meanwhile, the remaining group should attack the first group intermittently and in a variety of ways: through faster tempi, slower tempi, in canon and in sync, playing the pattern once or twice and then dropping out one by one to letter MM.
The group "left standing" continues to play LL, softer and softer. The interruptive group gradually drifts to MM, one player at a time, to be joined on each repetition by another player. Gradually the players in the "victorious" group should also join in. Once all players are playing MM, the sextet can proceed to NN whenever it feels like it. Dynamics in this section are as soft as possible throughout!!!