Cedar Commissions Guest Blog: Zack Baltich

Zack Baltich

Composer and percussionist Zack Baltich is one of six 2017 Cedar Commissions artists. His project ingress/passage, debuting on February 4th (get tickets here), is a new work for drum-set, bass clarinet, and percussion (marimba, tuned bottles, found objects). Performed in collaboration with drummer Reese Kling and clarinetist Carley Olson, ingress/passage will seek alternative textural possibilities through the use of contact microphones. The piece will also be a continued effort to create a paradox of challenging, yet inviting soundscapes by utilizing uncommon performance techniques within familiar confines of form and key center.

ingress/passage started out as a simple idea – to explore what the world of contact microphones can offer the marimba, and to write accompanying parts for drums (Reese Kling) and bass clarinet (Carley Olson). Contact microphones are small microphones that, when pasted to objects, amplify vibrations within the objects themselves (hence the title ingress  meaning “the act of entering”).  After a lot of experimentation, I found that the best way to utilize this technique is to paste contact mics to only a few bars of the marimba, then run those microphones into a series of guitar pedals, allowing me to alter the sounds and pitches being produced by the marimba. This technique made the marimba a much more malleable instrument. Additionally, I have a mic taped to the bottom of a ceramic bowl filled with water to be tuned to a pitch, also running through the guitar pedals.

mba pic

To vary the sound palette a bit, I also added two metal plates, a glass bottle, and some tuned aluminum piping to my setup.


A personal challenge for ingress/passage was to write accompanying parts for drums and bass clarinet. Drum-set  and marimba are a notoriously volatile combination. Luckily, Reese Kling is an extremely versatile and dynamic drummer, and has the unique touch needed to balance these instruments out. Since I couldn’t help myself, we decided to add a wooden slat, a glass bottle, and four tuned desk bells to his setup as well.


While I have been playing drums for years and writing Reese’s part came somewhat naturally, bass clarinet is not something I have ever written for, which made it much more difficult to get started. Utilizing marimba and vibraphone as writing tools, I wrote the bass clarinet part alongside the marimba part. After a lot of experimentation, things actually translated pretty well from pitched percussion to a woodwind instrument. It also helped that Carley Olson was dedicated to workshopping her part with me throughout the entire process.

ingress/passage begins as a complex piece of chamber music, and over its span evolves into something much simpler. Our unusual instrumentation offers fascinating textures and dynamic opportunity, and I am so excited to share the final product.


With so much happening in world near and far, it can feel selfish to immerse myself so deeply into a personal project like this one. It is hard for me to understand why this music is so important to me, or if it even matters. Still, after all is said and done, if I can create something that affects me on a personal level, the hope is that somewhere out there someone else will connect as well. In the end, art is reflection of the world around us and can be an extreme force of positivity. No matter what, positivity is something we will always need more of. Maybe it is naive of me to think, but if my music has a positive impact, even with just one person, then it will not have been a self serving endeavour and its existence will be justified. I am extremely grateful to The Cedar Cultural Center and the Jerome Foundation for this opportunity and for taking a chance on new ideas.