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Percussive Notes Research Edition. Volume 25, Number 3

Performance Analysis: Morton Feldman,

The King of Denmark

D a r y l L. P r a t t (B. E A , California Institute of the

Arts, M. A., University o f California S a n Diego)
is lecturer i n p e r c u s s i o n at Canberra School o f
Music i n Australia. His activities i n contempor a r y m u s i c include the performance of n u m e r ous pieces composed especiaUy f o r him. He was
a m e m b e r o f the contemporary chamber group,
Sonor, u n d e r B e r n a r d Rands f r o m 1977-84. Pratt
is also a j a z z vibraphonist-composer and currently t i m p a n i s t w i t h the Canberra S y m p h o n y

Feldman's Kingof Denmark 1965 by C.E Peters

Corporation. Reproduced by permission of C.E Peters

When a performer is handed a new or recently

written piece of music there are two sources of
information that should be utilized in guiding the
realization of the work. The first source, usually
enclosed with the score, comprises the 'written
rules.' Written rules clarify the notation, include
directions not apparent in the notation, and
occasionally contain extra-musical data designed
to provide the performer with in.formation about
the composer's intentions. The second source,
often overlooked by even the most zealous
performers, is information that exists outside of,
and independent from, the score. For example, a
performer can usually gain valuable first-hand
information from the composer. Information can
also be obtained through research and analysis.
The latter are essential in preparing Morton
Feldman's The K i n g of D e n m a r k for performance.
Although Feldman provides instructions for
performance, these contain a number of omissions
and ambiguities, as does the score. Consider the
performance instructions (copied verbatim from
the score):
1. Graphed High, Middle and Low, with each box
equal to MM 66-92.The top line or slightly
above the top line, very high. The bottom line or
slightly beneath, very low.
2. Numbers represent the number of sounds to
be played in each box.
3. All instruments to be played without sticks or
maUets.The performer may use fingers,hand, or
any part of his arm.

PerformanceAnalysis:Morton Feldman,The King of Denmark

4. Dynamics are extremely low, and as equal as

5. The thick horizontal fine designates clusters.
(instruments should be varied when possible.)
6. Roman numerals represent simultaneous
7. Large numbers (encompassing High, Middle
and Low) indicate single sounds to be played in
all registers and in any time sequence.
8. Broken lines indicate sustained sounds.
9. Vibraphone is played without motor.
Symbols Used:
B-Bell-like sounds
S-Skin instruments
T. R.-Tympani roll
h -Triangle
G. R.-Gong roll

definitions stems from the necessity that each

symbol, denoting a particular type of sound, should
be distinguished from all other symbols/sounds. To
facilitate the distinction, 'simultaneous sounds'
should be discrete, simultaneously activated
sounds. 'Clusters' should be masses of indivisible
Deducing the nature of the grace note is more
difficult. One possible definition is that grace notes
are short, isolated sounds. There are several
problems with this interpretation. Firstly, grace
notes are not always short. Secondly, they are not
always isolated. The biggest performance problem

lineS, box41


line 1, boxes 22-27

Among the omissions and ambiguities are the

following: The symbol for triangle ( ~ ) appears to
have been inadvertently left out of the instructions.
It is not clear in 1.if the tempo should remain fixed
at a rate between ram 66-92 or if it can freely
fluctuate within this range. There are no directions
for the jagged diagonal line ( - ) , the ,~sign (~,,1")
and the grace note. Nor is it clear what is meant by
'cluster' and how clusters are differentiated from
'simultaneous sounds:
Most of the above can be clarified by refe~ing to
other scores by Feldman. For instance, in Search of
an Orchestration, Feldman refers to the jagged
diagonal as "upward slide" or "downward slide:'I
The ~ y m b o l is found throughout his music but
probably never defined because it is a common
convention signifying Lascia vibrare (allow to
vibrate). And it is entirely legal (within the limits
of Feldman's definitions) for the performer to play
simultaneous sounds that are so close to one
another that they sound like a cluster. The
rationale for added restrictions in the


line 2, box 19

is in distinguishing grace notes from arabic

numerals. A survey of other graphic music by
Feldman reveals that while grace notes and arabic

line 3, box 13

numerals often coexist a distinction between the

two is never defined. Perhaps an examination of
his treatment of grace notes in more traditionally
notated settings will be of assistance. A brief
conventional definition of the grace note would be
ornamental materials that are linked to (following
or preceding) the main text. Feldman's grace notes
are not always subservient in this older sense and
often operate on equal footing with all other
sounds. They do, however, have a special function.
Grace notes affect the placement of weight in the
music.The passage from mm 89-101 inExtensions
3 for solo piano, for example, contains grace notes
to be placed on both sides of the beat? In this case
the silent beat is a reference pulse. The result is a
lack of rootedness that could not have been
accomplished by placing the sounds "inside of' the
metric structure, on the beat or a subdivision of it.
The grace note, therefore, becomes a vehicle for
uprooting sounds, allowing them to float freely.


PercussiveNotes Research Edition-Volume 25, Number 3

Feldman's Extensions III 1962 by G. E Peters Corporation. Reproduced by permission of C. E

Peters Corporation.

Notation and symbols provide two performance

functions: 1) they signify to the performer what is
to be played, and 2) they influence the mood and
affect how the performer plays.With this in mind, a
very real distinction can be comprehended
between grace note groups and all other sounds in
Piano Piece. 3The distinction between numerals

ptA o place (t.)



Feldman's Piano Piece (1964) 1965 by C. E Peters

Corporation. Reproduced by permission of C. E Peters

and grace notes in The King of D e n m a r k can be

achieved by referring to the contexts evident in
Extensions 3 and Piano Piece. Arabic numerals
are tied to the beat (see discussion of tempo
below). Grace notes immediately precede or
immediately follow sonic events or beats, represented by each box.
How should the performer treat tempo in the
piece? Perhaps Feldman's statement regarding
Projections a n d Intersections, a set of pieces also

notated on coordinate paper, will aid in answering

this question.
Weight for me does not have its source in the
realm of dynamics or tensions, but rather
resulting from a visual-aural response to sound
as an image gone inward creating a general
synthesis. Weight involves the finding of a pulse
which allows for a natural fluidity. Discovered
weight implies discovered balance. Discovered
balance implies discovered movement from
this pulse.The notation is presented graphically
where each box is a clock time duration?
The performer should discover a single pulse that
remains fairly stable throughout the work allowing
for the 'natural fluidity' and 'balance' discussed by
Feldman. The rationale for maintaining a stable
tempo is that when the pulse is varied, the
temporal proportions are violated. Let us consider,
for example, the following hypothetical temporal
condition. Because 4 boxes at ram 92 are equal to 3













Performance Analysis: Morton Feldman, The King of Denmark

boxes at ram 69, it is possible for the listener to

confuse A and B. This example is, of course, an
extreme juxtaposition of the fastest and slowest
allowable tempos. Subtle employment of temporal
modifiers (accelerando, ritardando, etc.) to shape
the work is, on the contrary, pertinent to what
Feldman says. A rendering resulting in smooth
fluctuations is permissible as long as the large
scale temporal design is not irreparably altered.
There are numerous instances in the score
where the boxes are inexplicably lengthened.
[ line 3, box 23

It is clear in the examination of what appears to be

a pre-publication version of the composition
(included with Jan Williams' interview of Feldman
in Percussive Notes, September 1983) that the
work was initially composed on grid coordinate
paper? The longer boxes were, therefore, precisely
equal to two or more small boxes. By measuring
the number of spare beats we find that box 23, line
3 is equal to 3 beats. All of the longer boxes (listed


line 3, box 23

below) are equal to 2, 3, 4, 5, or 9 beats according to

the space - i.e. how many spare beats in the box. To
line 1, box
line 2,box
line 2,box
line 2,box
line 2,box
line 3, box
line 4, box
line 7,box
line 9,box
line 9, box
line 9,box

3 0 : 2 beats
6 : 2 beats
8: 3 beats
15:2 beats
2 1 : 2 beats
2 3 : 3 beats
3 4 : 4 beats
16:9 beats
1 : 3 beats
13:2 beats
2 1 : 5 beats


maintain the temporal proportions in the composition, the performer should observe the full
duration of all extended boxes. The absence of
pulse divisions allows the performer the choice of
where to place the sounds in these boxes.
Feldman appears to have differing degrees of
concern for the various parameters of sound. He
provides very explicit directions for dynamics and
tempo, only partial directions for timbre, and no
directions for rhythm and pitch. This raises two
questions central to the performance realization:
1) Is Feldman indifferent to these aspects of
sound? 2) Is Feldman relinquishing some of the
compositional duties to the performer?
Feldman expresses his concerns with respect to
the second question in the following paragraph:
After several years of writing graph music I
began to discover its most important flaw. I was
not only allowing sounds to be free - I was also
liberating the performer. I had never thought of
graph as an art of improvisation... This
realization was important because I now
understood that if performers sounded bad it
was less because of their lapses of taste than
because I was still involved in passages and
continuity that allowed their presence to be
Feldman's compositions are not elaborate
forums for improvisation/Ultimately, however,
decisions must be made and to this end the
performer is a co-composer. The negative consequences mentioned in the preceding statement
result when the performer's decisions are not
compatible with Feldman's intentions. Before one
can act as an ally, however, a better understanding
of his compositional creed is in order.
Let us consider the following statement by
The idea of construction as a subject in music
was largely brought about by the breakthrough
of musical innovation in the past fifty years. It
was assumed that all these ideas could be
brought within the existing logical state of
order. And in the first half of the century this
process worked. The new possibilities of sound
suggested by the innovations were not


Percussive Notes Research Edition- Volume 25, Number 3

there can be no unification. It follows then that

an indeterminate music can only lead to
catastrophe. This catastrophy I allowed to take
place. Behind it was s o u n d - which unified
everything. Only by u n f i x i ~ the elements
traditionally used to construct a piece of music
could the sounds exist in themselves...9

regarded as having any compositional significance. What was emphasized was the unifying
of all these new musical elements into a
significant form. An emphasis on this more
evasive element-sound would have upset the
precarious balance of the 'Ideal Composition:8
He appears to be at odds with the notion of
construction; the manipulation of sound to fit into
a prescribed system. He professes on the contrarz
an interest in sound - in and of i t s e l f - and how
sound acts in determining the shape and character
of the work. This idea is clarified in a paragraph
from the same article:

Feldman's involvement with control and

de-control is evident in The King of Denmark.
The parameters he has chosen to control are:
dynamics and articulation, tempo, register, and
duration. Parameters that are not controlled are
rhythm and pitch. The remaining element, timbre,
is the only parameter that shifts between conditions of control and non-control. Throughout the
work Feldman has inserted blocks of ordered
timbre into a field that is generally unordered with
respect to timbre. The blocks or areas of ordered
timbre are of a homogeneous character. The
predominate type (1-4) comprises a single timbre.
The second type (5,6) is homogeneous in the
sense that all sounds are of a ringing nature.

Up to now the various elements of music

(rhythm, pitch, dynamics, etc.) were only
recognizable in terms of their formal relationship to each other. As controls are given up, one
finds that these elements lose their initial
inherent identit~ But it is just because of this
identity that these elements can be 1miffed
within the composition. Without this identity





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B -

III I I~1 I'1 I I I

. iA~-~ Ill ,,

,,,, I II

' . . ~ L..L~s ~ .

I Ill I I i t lit

I III I I I I lilt .


_I_._L~.J,_I IC

I'[! ~ TIIG II a~ IB

I I 1 6T ISJ. leT 161 ~H--l--l--i---l~l--~--~l



B" C "



Performance Analysis: Morton Feldman, The King of Denmark

The performer's task in The King ofDenmark is

to ascertain how the elements that are controlled
affect the elements that are not controlled. To


illustrate the connection between controlled and

uncontrolled elements, the following diagram can
be constructed.





--> n o t


_ _ _ _ . _ . . _ ~ w




The prescriptions for register, duration, and
timbre function in determining rhythm. Register
and timbre determine where in the playing area
the performer must be positioned and, consequently, affect the shape of the rhythm as he
moves from box to box. There are three types of
durations in the score: 1) short, 'dry, sounds (any
symbol that is not followed by the broken
horizontal line or ~sign), 2) sustained sounds of
specified duration ( ..... ) and 3) sustained,
'ringing: sounds of unspecified durations (~ 1~). If
the performer plays short sounds on ringing
instruments either dead strokes must be deployed,
which take more time to execute than normal
strokes, or time must be taken to adequately
dampen the instruments. 1Duration, therefore,
affects micro-rhythmic detail. The velocity of the
rhythm is affected by tempo and dynamics and
articulation. In keeping with the requirements for
dynamics and articulation, the performer must
avoid fast velocities and rapid instrument changes
that result in loud or uneven sounds. In keeping
with the requirements for tempo, the rate of
activity in boxes with many sounds must be rapid
while the rate of activity in boxes with few sounds
can be slow.


can be slow

linel, box27

must be fast

i T'I linel, boxl


The prescriptions for tempo, duration, dynamics,
and articulation function in determining timbre.
Instrument selection (timbre) is affected by the
requirements for duration (ringing or dry sounds),
for dynamics and articulation. The performer must
choose a collection of instruments that can be
played by hands and fingers and produce a
uniformly balanced sound at the prescribed low
dynamic level. Tempo affects the selection of
timbre. In performing boxes containing many
sounds, the performer is restricted to a small
playing a r e a - limited number of instruments because the time needed to.move throughout and
select from the entire collection of instruments is
not available.


PercussiveNotes ResearchEdition.Volume 25, Number 3

realizationof timbre is based on two precepts: 1)

the performer'sarrangementof timbre must be
congruouswith Feldman's,and 2) areas that are
Timbre is the only parameterthat affects pitch.
ordered with respect to timbre must be distinMany percussioninstruments do not produce a
predominantfundamentaltone (e.g., cymbalsand" guished from areas that are not ordered.Where
Feldman orders timbre he avoids pitches.The
tam-tams);when a collectionof diffuselypitched
instrumentsis sounded in succession,the listener instrumentsthat he specifies,with the exception
becomesless acutelytuned into pitch relationships of the last sounds in the piece, are indeterminately
pitched.The performershould,therefore,avoid
- 'melody.Althougha sense of relativepitch (i.e.,
high versus low) may remain,it is probablyin such melodiesor patterns that suggest an orderingof
pitch. The areas that Feldmanhas ordered with
a situation (even one that includes precisely
respect to timbre are homogeneousin character,
pitched sound) that the listenerfocuses instead
restrictedmost of the time to a single timbre. In
upon differencesin the quality of the s o u n d distinguishingthese areas the performermust at
timbre relationships.
all other times employa diverse collectionof
Timbre is the key elementin the realizationof
The K i n g o f D e n m a r k . My approachto the


The second stage in the realizationis to
determine: 1) the collectionof instruments,and 2)
the setup design.I have tried to establishin the
first portion of this articlethe importanceof
carefullyadheringto the explicitand implicit
requirementsin the score. Register directlyaffects
instrument selection.To honor the tripartite
register divisionthe percussionistmust, firstly,
extend the range as much as possible.In order to
articulatethe middle register,high and low
registersmust not impinge upon it. Secondly,the
registerboundariesshould function as a guide
influencingsound selection.This will probably
require adjustingthe registerboundariesbased on
the practicallimitationsof the instruments
availablefor performance.Ultimately,the boundaries must be set so that the registers do not shift
from line to line or from one instrument class to
The followingdesignationsappear in the score:
G, gongs, G. R.
C, cymbals
S, skin
A, triangle
T,T.R. (timpaniroll)
Because this list does not provide specific
information(size, quantitz type) it is necessaryto

examine the contexts these symbols appear within

to guide the selection of instruments.
Let us consider the first line of symbols: G,
Gongs, and G.R. To be faithful to the score, these
designations appear to rule out the use of an
instrument often substituted for gongs, the
tam-tam. A perusal of the entire list of designations
reveals, however, that in every case Feldman seems
to have been purposefully inexact. This imprecision, consequently allows the performer much
latitude in selecting instruments. Furthermore, if
gongs are intended to represent the much larger
family of gong-like instruments (akin to the
bell-like category) then tam-tams could be
included in the setup. In any case, there is no
evidence to suggest that a particular type of gong
is more appropriate than another, or that tam-tams
are unsuitable in the composition.
A look at the area scored for gongs reveals that
they must b e capable of producing very low,
medium, and high sounds. Medium and high

[ i tL '


line 2, boxes 21-32



PerformanceAnalysis:Morton Feldman,The King of Denmark

sounds can, through the production of harmonics,

be obtained on a low gong but low sounds cannot,
obviously, be produced on medium and smaller
gongs. One of the gongs selected must, therefore,
be capable of producing one of the lowest sounds
in the piece. The gongs appear in all three registers
in rapid succession. The clearest realization of this


The symbol for triangle, A, appears in three

registral locations. To distinguish these locations, a
minimum of three triangles should be included in
the instrument collection.

line 2, boxes 25-29

passage is to employ three distinctly different

A variety of sounds is required in the area
designated 'cymbals: In addition to sound
production in the three registers, a glissando and a

I I ~

I|T I l' line 6, boxes 23-29



IRH ~111 I

T~vo of the triangles need to be within striking

distance of a tirapano and a gong. In the sixth line,
boxes 12-20, the percussionist is required to strike
two triangles while rolling first on a timpano and
then a gong.



' ; c7
a" 8"

line 6, boxes 12-20

cluster also exist.To satisfythe requirements for

clusters,the percussionist should employ- as a
minimum - the m a x L m u m a m b e r of cymbals that
can be simultaneously struck. To accomplish this,
the cymbals will have to be situated in close
proximity. Several medium and high cymbals could
be used to perform the glissando that stretches
over two beats. Feldman has not specified the type
of cymbal but, in the interest of diversity, a variety
would be most appropriate.
The third category is designated 'skin: Why
Feldman chose the singular instead of the plural
'skins' as he did with 'gongs' and 'cymbals' was
probably an oversight. The guidelines for register
and predilection for variety that governed gong
and cymbal selection should also apply to skins. A
medium and a low skin should be very resonant so
that their durations are consistent with the other
ringing instruments in the passage listed below.

S,, ]
line 6, boxes 1-11





[s,L c"


The letters T. and T. R. (timpano roll) appear

three times in the score. Because they are only
located in the lowest register, one large timpano
will suffice.
The remaining designation, 'bell-like sounds:
does not denote a specific instrumental class.
There is no dictionary definition for bell-like
sounds but I think that what is desired are metallic
resonant and pitched sounds. By this definition,
bell-like sounds could be produced on vibraphone
and, albeit with more difficulty, on triangles, gongs,
and cymbals.As will be recalled, a tenet established
in the first section of this analysis requires that
areas controlled by Feldman, with respect to
timbre, should be differentiated from areas that are
not controlled. The concept of differentiation
taken one step farther dictates that each instrumental category should be distinguishable from
every other category (e.g., 'cymbals' should not be
confused with 'triangles'). Because triangles,
gongs, and cymbals are already defined as
categories they cannot serve as bell-like sounds,
which is itself a category The practicality of this
principle is evident in the areas where Feldman
mixes categories.


PercussiveNotes ResearchEdition.Volume 25, Number 3

I I I IcT I I I I 1ST I laT

I I I I ; ICl
let IBT I I~T I I IGT I I Iz~T 1ST
~T 151 lOT I~ltR.l---I--H--t--~H--tal
line 6, boxes 1-21

In this example, substitution of any of the B's with

triangles, cymbals, or gongs would blur the
category distinctions and render this passage
undifferentiated from the rest of the composition.
It is, therefore, necessary to include a collection of
high, medium, and low bell sounds (cow bells,
church bells, tubular bells) that are sufficiently
different from other ringing metallic sounds in the
To this point in the analysis, the minimum
instruments required are: vibraphone, G~ antique
cymbal or glockenspiel, 3 skins (high, medium and
low; m. and 1. very resonant), 3 gongs (h., m., 1.),
3 cymbals (h., m., 1.; additional h. and m. for the
cluster and glissando), 3 triangles (one large for
the medium sound),bell sounds (h., m., 1.) and 1
large timpano. An inventive percussionist could
perform the piece with this modest collection. As
we continue to probe through statistical analysis it
will be revealed that a larger assortment of
instruments is better suited to the requirements of
the composition.
Before doing so let us review the performance
aims. Repetition of sounds and sound sequences
should be avoided. Pitched sound should be mixed
with unpitched sound. The frequency spectrum
should be expanded both up and down. The
register partitions should be honored. Every
attempt should be made to differentiate the
symbols/sounds. With these aims in mind, let us
Of the 425 discrete sounds and events in the
work, 345 are undesignated - i.e., not instrument
specific (B, C, T, S, G, h). ~1The magnitude of this
number in itself points out the need to augment
the core instrument collection. What kinds of
instruments are best suited to produce the
required sounds?
There are more high sounds (161) than medium
sounds (131) than low sounds (84)? 2Nonrringing,
dry sounds (255) outnumber ringing sounds (117)
more than 2:173 This information suggests that

instruments added to the original collection

should produce primarily medium to high, dry
sounds. While it is true that large ringing instruments are capable of producing such sounds the
data reveals the advantage of supplementing the
collection with smaller, nonringing instruraents.
The preceding examination of instruments
specified in the score (timpano, cymbals, gongs,
etc.) touched only briefly upon their arrangement
in the percussion setup. To recapitulate, cymbals
should be grouped together (the glissando and
cluster) and several of the triangles should be
within striking distance of a gong and the timpano.
I would like to propose that all of the specified
instruments should be grouped in clusters by class
- skins with skins, gongs with gongs, and cymbals
with cymbals.
Grouping by class might also be beneficial in the
arrangement of ringing and dry sounds. There are
numerous large areas in the score primarily
devoted to ringing or dry sounds.
Mainly dry area

Mainly ringing area

line 1

line 6

Class grouping is definitely required when we

embark on a more telling analysis of boxes
containing five or more discrete sounds per icti. 14
line I, box 1

Due to the large number of sounds to be performed

simultaneously or in rapid succession, the
percussionist has no time to move around the
setup and select from more than one area at a time.
Dry sounds in these boxes outnumber ringing
sounds 5:1.15The majority of the boxes contain
only dry sounds, outnumbering ringing boxes
about 6:1 and mixed boxes by an identical
proportion. TM
line 1, box 30

Performance Analysis: Morton Feldman, The King of Denmark



glockenspiel, tubular chimes, and large collections

of bells (e.g., almgloken) - satisfy these requirements. Clusters span the entire range, from very
high to very low. The middle and upper registers
are adequately represented in the above list of
instruments but the low register is absent. Bass
marimba and the bottom end of the standard
marimba could be added to fortify the low register.
The large number of clusters and register
formations and Feldman's expressed wish for
variety indicate that numerous ringing keyboards
are essential to the growing collection of instruments.
The employment of numerous bells in addition
to realizing clusters is useful throughout the piece.
The majority of designated sounds are bell-like.IS
The bells, like the other instrument families,
should be grouped together.
In summation, instruments should be grouped in
families, instruments added to the specified core
collection should be mainly medium to high and
dry~Timbres should b e mixed throughout the setup
but generally dry should be grouped with dry and
ringing grouped with ringing. High, medium, and
low sounds should be evenly mixed in the setup.
Numbers of ringing keyboards are useful additions
as is a large variety of bells.

line 2, box 8
line 3, box 25

Although ringing and dry sounds are seldom

mixed in these boxes, registers usually are. Boxes
that contain two or more registers outnumber
boxes with only one register almost 2:1. ~7These
findings indicate that high, medium, and low
sounds should be evenly mixed throughout the
Clusters are sounds requiring special treatment.
All of the twenty clusters comprise ringing sounds.
In order to distinguish them from roman numerals,
clusters should be blurred masses of sound. Three
attributes will facilitate this distinction: 1) all
members of a cluster should belong to the same
instrument class, 2) all members should be pitched
in close proximity, and 3) cluster members should
be located close together to allow the percussionist
to activate a large number of tones at one time.
Ringing keyboards -vibraphone, crotales,

The final section of the paper addresses the
'nitty-gritty' of the performance p r e p a r a t i o n - the
process of bringing the symbols to sonic life. The
catalog of hand and finger techniques and the
strategies for realizing the symbols are not
intended to be definitive. A significant feature and
the source of this writer's ongoing fascination is
the degree to which the performer is obligated to
take part in the shaping of the work. The composer/
performer collaboration goes far beyond the
demands encountered in most other music. To take
away the performer's creative i n p u t - the discovery
of new sounds and techniques - by reducing all
possible realizations to a fixed formula would, in
my opinion, be misguided and a great disservice to

Feldman's work. It is, nevertheless, necessary to

follow up on the propositions advanced in the
preceding sections by showing how they might be
implemented in performance.
It is very important to note that observations
and techniques grow out of numerous performance
encounters and a period of reflection and consolidation. In my own case, I began work on The King
of Denmark in 1976 and presented it in concert for
the first time in 1977. I have, subsequently, returned
to it often as a subject in lecture/demonstrations
and as a recital piece. It is, undisputably, one of the
most significant compositions in the solo percussion repertoire.


PercussiveNotes ResearchEdition-Volume 25, Number 3

Finger and Hand Techniques


Description of Action

Finger nail scrape Finger nail(s) are dragged

(pushed or pulled) along
playing surface

Resulting Sound


High frequencies are


Glissandi, sustained sounds/

events (1-..... ),not recommended
for medium or low sounds

Finger nail flick Playing surface is approached High frequencies are

at an angle (.-~).
Medium to high frequencies
Finger nail attackSurface is approached at
are accentuated
a 90 degree angle ( ~ ) .

Not recommended for medium

or low sounds
General purpose striking action.
Not recommended for low sounds

Finger tip
Surface is approached at a
(fleshy) attack 90 degree angle

High to low sound (depending

upon object that is played)

General purpose striking action.

Not recommended for
extremely high sounds

Finger drag

Finger(s) are/is pulled

along surface

High frequencies are


This technique can produce

'whistle' tones on some
instruments. Not recommended for medium or low

Knuckle tap

Knuckles strike surface

High to low sound

Very versatile. Slightly

brighter than finger tip attack


Fingers 2-5 are snapped off High to low sound

of thumb into playing surface

Very versatile


The 3rd or 4th fingeris anchored High to medium sound

on surface whilethe 2nd finger

Excellent method for producing

harmonics on skin instruments.
Not recommendedfor low sounds


Palm squarelyattacks surface

Heel attack

Heel of hand strikes surface High frequencies are vilrtually Not recommended for medium
or high sounds


Finger(s) are/is pushed

along surface


Finger friction rubFinger(s) start on surface, push

Muted sound
(quick release) and away from surface to
produce sound (timpano
tuning technique)
Forearm attack Arm,hand and fingerssimultaneously strike instrument
(plus fingers
Elbow attack

Elbow strikes surface

Highfrequenciesare suppressed Not recommendedon small


Mediumto low sustained


Usefulforsustainedsound(1-.... ).
Not recommendedfor high sounds

Best suited for skins

High to low sound

Recommended for wide clusters

on cymbals and keyboard instruments

Mediumto lowsound.Pitch
glissandion lowskins

Best suited for large skins.Not

recommendedfor smallinstruments

PerformanceAnalysis:Morton Feldman,The King of Denmark


Symbols~Sounds: General



High: finger nail rolls. Low: tie shy finger tip or knuckle rolls. As the angle of the
fingers approach vertical, the sound gets higher.


To create the sound for wide clusters, combine very low with very high clusters
in two simultaneously activated groups. The middle register will be absent but
the effect will be that of a single wide cluster. Palms and forearms are useful for
producing clusters (see hand and finger techniques).


Keyboards are best suited for producing glissandi. Alternative sources include:
roto-toms, timpano, and loosely tightened skins that yield a variety of pitches
(push into the head with one hand while the other is playing it to produce a
Ideally,every member of these composite sounds should be distinct. The
combination of timbres from different instrumental groups assists in this
d i s t i n c t i o n - e.g., skin, wood, metal. On several occasions the size of the
number renders such combinations impractical, e.g., example (a) below.
A solution for performing large composite sounds is to use pitched
sources (vibraphone, marimba, etc.) making sure that half steps are not
employed. In my opinion, 3 tones on the marimba, (r.h.) are more easily
perceived as a three membered complex than 3 sounds on less precisely
pitched p e r c u s s i o n - e.g., temple blocks. For example, see (b) and (c)

Roman numerals

Selected Specified Sounds

Very small triangle: finger nail attack

Large triangle: knuckle or finger tip attack

. . . .

Start at the bell of a very small cymbal (finger nail scrape). Shift gradually to larger
cymbals (always start near center of cymbal and move toward the rim) overlapping
cymbal sounds to create a seamless gliss. The finger nail scrape should be transformed into finger tip rubs or rolls.


Percussive Notes Research Edition- Volume 25, Number 3

Box 21. Large gong: heel attack (below center)

Box 22. Small gong: finger nail flick (half-way between center and edge)
Box 25. Small gong: finger nail attack (rim)
Box 26. Medium gong: knuckle attack (between edge and center)
Large gong: palm attack (center)
Box 27. Large gong: heel roll (below center)
Box 28. Medium gong: finger tip roll (center)
Box 29. Small gong: finger nail roll (rim)
Box 30. Large gong: palm attack (center)
Box 31. Medium gong: knuckle roll (center)


A d d i t i o n a l S o u n d Resources
Instrument frames

Scrap metal and aluminum

cooking ware

1. End pieces of some keyboard instruments produce medium and high,

dry sound.
2. Resonators of keyboard instruments are another source for glissandi.
3. Rims and shells of drums produce dry sound.
4. Vertical metal tubular bell supports on some instruments produce a
high 'ping:
Bell-like ringing sound.

Thunder sheet

Low ringing sound.


(Woodblocks, slit drums, temple blocks, etc.) dry sounds.


Performance Analysis: Morton Feldman, The King of Denmark


Morton Feldman, In Search of An Orchestration (1969). Copyright 1969; London, Universal
Edition 15324.
Morton Feldman, Extensions 3 (1952).
Copyright 1962; NewYork, C. E Peters Corporation.
:3Morton Feldman, Piano Piece (1964).
Copyright 1965; New York, C. F.Peters Corporation.
4Everett Helm, "Current Chronicle:' The

13Excluded in this count are: glissandi, clusters,

sounds not restricted to a particular register, and
sustained sounds/events - e.g., 1- - - , R - - "The number 5 is an arbitrary limit. Proportions
are the focus of this survey not quantities. Had the
limit been 4 or 6 the proportions would have
remained approximately the same. Boxes included
in this survey are:

Musical Quarterly (38):131.

5Jan Williams, ' ~ n Interview with Morton
Feldman:' Percussive Notes 21/6 (September
6Morton Feldman. "Durations:' liner notes, Time
Records No. 58007.
7The term 'improvisation' is used here to denote
the situation in which the performer makes
personal decisions not governed by the written or
unwritten intentions of the composer.
8Morton Feldman, "Pre-determinate/Indeterminate:' Composer (London) 19 (Spring 1966):4.
1oI am not suggesting that the performer should
always choose based on what is easiest to perform
and control. On the contrarz the performer should
devise new techniques, create new sonic designs
within the limits of the piece - an approach that is
in accord with Feldman's ideas.
1, Discrete sounds are: each member of an arabic
numeral, grace notes, each member of a roman
numeral, and clusters. Events are: rolls and
~2Excluded in this count are glissandi, clusters,
and sounds not restricted to a particular r e g i s t e r e.g.,

Line # Box # Line # Box # Line # Box #






















(Box 1 on line 3 contains five sounds but

because it contains three icti it is below the
'5153 dry, 30 ringing.
1625boxes total: 19 dry, 3 ringing and 3 mixed.
IT16 multiple register boxes, 9 single register
is 23 bell-like sounds plus 3 clusters. The next
largest group is gongs, 20 sounds.