The interesting thing about being involved in R & Ez Art on Swansea High Street is the eclectic mix of talented artists who walk in off the street. Most have come along to put something in the window, some want to see what it’s all about, and then there’s the others. To cut a long story short, this is how I ended up learning the gong today from local gongist?… gongman? … gonger?… David Pitt.
I’ve never played gong but I’ve heard David play before so I knew what to expect from the sound. The interesting thing is how this changes when you’re the player. This flat German gong is made of brass so has a particular timbre which is more of an intense, strong crash. Since the gong is suspended, each hit I made was met with a rebound. This means it feels more like hitting a drum than a cymbal. The rebound has a physical vibration all of its own which travels through your whole body. This vibration is a shift in the air molecules as a wall of sound from the gong hits you, and it is also a vibration up the soft-headed mallet as you make the next hit. This is compounded by the vibrations of earlier hits and it’s quite easy to build up volume and resonance as well as a physical intensity from playing.
Playing involves building up a rhythm of your own but also listening to the responses that the gong gives and forming a dialogue with the gong itself. The effect is a sound sculpture which grows, breathes, and lingers for a long time. It feels more like the experience of listening to traffic on a busy road, or the sea as the tide turns. The ear becomes tuned in to nuances and a blended gradation of sounds. Even afterwards there is still a residual energy in the air as the gong settles back to its neutral state.