Japtax for Prepared Kettledrum


Japtax is a work for solo percussionist, playing an electronically prepared kettledrum.  The electronics are used to expand the timbral range of the instrument, increasing the number of possible transients and resonances. Also, the electronics provide additional "ensemble voices" in the musical structure, including other percussion and spoken text.  There is no direct playback of prerecorded material, rather, all sounds are played and/or triggered by the performer. Finally,  the underlying idea for the piece, "an ensemble controlled by one player", is inspired by John Cage's work in 1946-48 for his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.  This work was revised in 2002.


Zack Settel    June 1996/2002




     approximately 18  minutes


Additional Personnel:

     sound engineer

     musician/technician (coach)


Percussion Equipment:

1          28" kettledrum with good variable tuning pedal(Ludwig, Primer, etc.)

1          17" tamtam w/stand

1          14" chinese Symbol w/stand

1          14" crash symbol w/stand

5          temple blocks w/stand

1          tamborine       

3          14" lengths of various light weight chain

1          woodblock       

1          aprox. 8 "  domed bell (derby hat shape)

2          temple bowles

3          crotales

3          cup bells         

1          dampener (mouse-pad or similar)

1          felt cloth dampener

2          trap tables


1          stool

1          music stand



            Timpani mallets

            light brushes

            brass tip

            hard plastic


Instructions to the performer


The score calls involves a mix of structured improvisation and fully notated performance.  The durations for the structured improvisation are not always indicated, as this is left up to the performer to decide.


Regarding the electronics,  most of the details will be explain during rehearsal.  It is useful to listen to the recording, once you have learned the score, so that the electronic accompaniment part will be heard clearly, as distinct from the performed part.


Below is some page-by-page  information regarding the score and the piece:


Page 1.


1.) Striking technique.  One mallet slides along the timpani head, while the other one strikes the sliding mallet.  The mallet on the timpani head is slowly slid from the rim toward the center of the head and back again, as indicated in the score.


2. ) "Pedaled accent on skin means that, unlike the other strikes in the measure, this note (G) should strike the skin (head and not other mallet). This is done accented, and while the provided midi sustain is held down.


3.)  Re. Felt dampening:   The player should  not completely dampen drum-- only partially. When playing with the electronics, just how much to dampen will be clear.  Please note that the non-standard striking technique described above applies to the first two systems only .



4.)  Re: pedaled accent:  the accent should occur while the pedal is down;  in such a case, the accented note is routed by the computer to a signal processing module.  Improvising time in this part of the score is around 45".  Check recording of piece.


Page 2.


1.)  Pedal is held down to "capture" material being played for the indicated duration. Note that the pedal release must precede the sharp attacks which always follow in this section. When the pedal is down, a sharp attack will trigger recording. When the pedal is up, a sharp attack will trigger playback of recorded material.  Up to three independent playbacks can sound together.


2.)  In Bar 5,6,7,8 the pedal is up, thus two sharp attacks trigger playback. Two copies of playback are sounding, as a tight cannon (one delayed by a 16th note)


3.) System 2, m6-9:  What’s happening here is the same as above  in 2),  but using different triggering patterns.


4.) System 3 -> 4, This is an improvised section using additional instruments (tambourine w/ chain inside) w/ some felt dampening.


At the bottom of the page, the final phrase is recorded (note the pedal is down the entire time).  The material is distinctive, and should be played as written. Note that the last note on the page triggers playback of the recorded  phrase. 


Page 3.


Improvised section.  Basically it's a fast repeating even triggering pattern, which slows down dramatically, and then speeds up to a tight roll.


Understanding  that the entire phrase will playback, you execute the  last trigger on the first system, which serves to trigger the final playback of the phrase. Knowing the phrase, you can listen to the play back and strike the last note of the section (following system) on the downbeat following the end of the phrase.  It's done by ear.


Page 4.


1.)          The player plays in the playback section,  though  not at first;  rather after a  minute or two.


2.) "PS2" is a button on the midi controller. The piece requires three, PS1,2 and 3 respectively. These kind of cues will be explained during rehearsal by the “coach”.


The instruments which are supposed to be placed on the drum head  is indicated above the end of system2 following the text "new config".  Al other instruments, such as wood blocks, tam-tam etc... are played VERY NEAR (but not touching)  the drum head (refer to the  graphic layout page of the score.


3.) 5th system:  Sharp accents on the drum head  trigger playback of the previous material. The transposition of the playback controlled by the pitch of the sharp accents.  From this point through the end of the piece,  the material indicated for the timpano is to be played along with material (similar to preceding) played on the instruments near to the drum head (cymbals, tam, blocks etc.).



Section 4


The technique for the Chinese gong (hand held cymbal of sorts) is difficult to describe. It can be used to tap other instruments,  "cup/slap" the timpani head.  These sounds resemble at times cooking sounds in the kitchen...


 System 5

Regarding time to place the tambourine and chain on the head:  It's a challenge to maintain a good groove while supplementing the instruments on the timpani head.  But it can be done (even by the composer).   Beats can always be drooped if need be.


Section 6


The drum head  is “empty”  at the start of this section.  Further in (in system 2), a Tibetan bell can be placed on the head,  held in place using a drumstick, pressing the bell somewhat downwards, while striking the bell with another mallet. 


The pedaling controls the quality of feedback.  The feedback is triggered by a sharp attack. During forty seconds following a trigger, the feedback slowly attenuates. 


In this section, the drum head is extremely sensitive to modes of vibration. These can be altered by touching the head in various places, and by imposing  other modes (such as the bell) on top.







Technical Requirements and Instructions



Computer: Apple G4 Macintosh, min:  1ghz, 250mb RAM, w/ 17" flat screen monitor

Audio I/O  interface:  MOTU 824 or similar firewire-based unit

MIDI interface:  MIDIMAN or similar USB-based unit

MIDI controller with 2 sustain pedals: Yamaha MCS2 or similar

1 air microphone: 1 Shure sm85 or similar condenser cardioid micicorphone

1 contact microphone for  the  kettledrum (e.g. AKG piso-electrice style)

Small on-stage phantom power mixer:  MAKIE or similar

Stereo sound system w subwoofer. and 2 Stage monitors

Small low table for computer, with score reading lamp


1  long MIDI cable from performer on stage to computer (or an XLR cable via microphone, with MIDIà XLR àMIDI adaptors)

2 audio cables from stage mixer to computer audio I/O interface

2 audio cables from audio I/O interface  PA system

Electric power bar for on-stage midi interface + mixer,  and for computer and audio I/O  interface.



Electronics Installation time:

     approximately 1 hour  (about 20 minutes required for take-down)


On-stage space requirements (for performer):

     15' X 15' or larger (with adequate lighting for  reading the score)


Off-stage space requirements (for computer/technician):

Room enough for  small table next w/equipment, near main concert hall mixer


Suggested rehearsal requirements:

2 three-hour rehearsals in the concert space

1 general rehearsal with 15 minute sound check (total: approximately 35 min.)





Instructions for the sound engineer:


Since the electronics in the piece include live-mixing and signal processing, it is preferable to install the equipment near the middle of the concert hall. This facilitates live mixing during the concert and  rehearsals,  where it is possible to "tune" or adjust the piece to the concert space.


There are no particular parts of the pieces that require any special attention. However, it is strongly recommended to include equalization (graphic or parametric EQ) in the concert configuration in order to attenuate any resonances that might promote feedback due to open microphones, room characteristics and the player's proximity to the speakers or monitors;  additionally, reverberation  can be applied to the electronics if necessary.


The stereo output signal from the computer, should be assigned to corresponding speakers, located on either side of the stage. In non-standard staging configurations, the speakers should be placed  so that the stereo field is maintained.


The air mic should be placed just inside the kettledrum's rim and approximately 1 inch above the skin.  The contact mic should be placed next to the air mic (see figure below).


In larger spaces,  the percussion instruments should be amplified (using separate microphones) and  assigned to the speakers independently of the electronics (computer's output);   this makes it easier to control the balance of the instrument and the electronics, which  should be of equal intensity,  or presence.


The player needs to  hear  the electronics;  thus a  mono mix of the computer's output should be sent to the on-stage monitors for the player;  however in some cases, this may not be necessary if the house loudspeakers are placed close enough to the player; it's the player's call.


MIDI controller configuration

The MCS2 (or similar) should have the following MIDI assignments:


global MIDI channel:  16

program buttons:  program change 1-8

ps1 button = sys. real-time "start" message (hex value: 0xFA)

ps2 button = sys. real-time "continue" message (hex value: 0xFB)

ps3 button = sys. real-time "stop" message (hex value: 0xFC)

sustain pedal 1 = CTL64

sustain pedal 2 = CTL65

CS1 (control slider) = CTL4

CS2 (control slider) = CTL7

Mod wheel = CTL1




Technical configuration


Percussion configuration



Stage setup