Mallets and Flumies
Photo Courtesy of Bear Love
When I first discovered the gong, at nearly all the sessions that I attended, the gongs were played with soft faced (sheepskin or wool wound) traditional mallets.
I think the first time that I saw a gong played in a non-traditional way was at a lecture and demonstration by Manfred Bleffert.
He played his own hand made instruments with home made bows and also what looked like a large rectangular block of rubber mounted on a long wooden stick, that he pushed across the surface of a gong to produce some intriguing and completely unexpected sounds.
Shortly afterwards, these friction mallets, or “flumies” as they have now been designated, became commercially available and were quite popular. They were mainly used sparingly for “special effects” and for 99% of the time the gongs were still played with soft mallets.
I noticed that many of them were simply children's “superballs”, mounted on a wooden or fibreglass stick. As a grandparent I had no problem scouring local toyshops for different makes and sizes, and subsequently made many of my own. However, I soon noticed that these toy balls had quite a short life…the surface would harden and become unusable after a few weeks or months.
I decided to go deeper and to make my own. I purchased several sets of different sized silicone ice cube moulds, and lots of different grades of silicone from builders merchants and specialised suppliers.
I did manage to produce a few successful models, but frankly it was hard to achieve consistent results. Also some of the models that produced the best sound also left a “snail trail” on the gong surface. This is not an issue on titanium, but is not at all desirable on a bronze gong.
Unknown to me at the time, Bear Love was also conducting his own experiments, and with far greater success than me.
By using commercial casting techniques he was achieving far superior products. With typical generosity, Bear would gift me a flumie or two whenever we met up to play together at festivals or gigs.
I abandoned my own production, and now use Bear Love's flumies exclusively, and can highly recommend them. Some are a few years old now, and show no signs of deterioration.
I have a dozen or so ranging in diameter from 10 to 80 mm.
Each gong has its own unique fundamental and harmonic resonances, and the flumies must be carefully chosen to best access and control these. Every gong that I make will have been tested and played for long periods, and will come with recommendations as to the best sizes to purchase. I find that each gong only needs about 3 flumies, in order to reach its full potential.
When I hold a gong bath or sound journey today, I may use these flumies for much of the time, as they are so easy to control, and are no longer used just for effects.
In the past I also made several of my own “traditional” mallets, and used lathe turned wooden cores, rubber “dog” balls, real and fake sheepskin etc etc.
However, once again I have found that the commercially available ones are more consistent.
I have tried quite a few brands, but find that the Oli Hess models are the most comfortable and best. Again, each gong will have an ideal size and weight of mallet, and this will be specified to any potential purchaser.