Blog Electric Vibraphone

So I’ve started electrifying my vibraphone..

Why?

I ‘ve long been jealous of guitarists and their pedals, keys users, and wanted to be able to play with a rich, delicate or fat \m/ sound. I love the acoustic sound of the vibraphone, almost as much as the marimba or gamelan. But still, I want to electrify it, 21st century is here, and for all the colour and possibilities it can generate.

Yes, press play there:

I remember a masterclass where Emmanuel Séjourné stated something about the melodic-mallet-percussion instruments still being no further evolved as when piano hammers would keep pressing against the strings until you release the key. A few years later I guess making the electric step could be a good extra step in my practice of the instrument.

What about microphones to record and process the vibraphone sound?

Acoustic overhead microphones work great in many cases but one limit they have is that they will always also “hear” any other sound close around the instrument, like a guitar amp, or a drumset. You can use a low-cut filter but that’s about all. This means that anything that goes into your mics will also be present in your vibraphone signal, reason why it becomes unpractical to process it through effects.

How?

20mm transducers with 3.5 mini jack ready to stick on my Marcon vibraphone

This is where the piezo transducers/pickups come into place. It’s a ceramic disk that produces a voltage when it changes shape, receives weight, or heat. Each side goes into cables (the red and the black), that then connect to all other 36 keys’ pickups. This raw electric current becomes an audio signal to be passed through any hardware of software.

At least, that’s my level 0

Level 0: transducers connecting directly into the mixer. I might have broken my sound interface by doing that.

I reached it mid-September and accelerated the making and researching after that. Level A followed, using a pre-amp and getting all 37 keys to work together.

I am currently working on level B, with 12 instead of 20mm piezo transducers, 2.5 mini-jacks instead of 3.5 mm or Dupont connectors.

In the meantime, I have plugged into Ableton and Max with some friends,and researched some low latency possibilities using only my (remote control) mixer.

From the beginning, I started looking up more information and found out about three existing pickup systems for percussion mallets: K&K Sound, Malletech and VanderPlas.

I intend to document more of the process in the following articles. 

In the meantime, you are listening to “Piezo8” a compilation of recent musical moments, improvising with live effects using only the Behringer XR12 mixer and my electrified Musser M55 vibraphone.