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for percussion and orchestra

Year:  2008 Instrumentation:  2**222*; 2200; perc. + solo percussionist; strings | (Orchestral percussion: tri., bs.dr, sd.dr, tamb., tub. bells, sizzle cym., tam-tam, hi-hat)

Year:  2008
Instrumentation  2**222*; 2200; perc. + solo...

Composer:   Peter Scholes


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"Where do words go when the sound of them has died?" (Keri Hulme). With onomatopoeic words we can linger on the actual sound of the word and then the imagination considers how the sound was produced. There is a bewildering array of sounds and instruments available to the composer who writes music for percussion. I am one of those annoying people who, upon seeing an interesting object, immediately wants to hear what sort of noise it makes. In choosing the instruments for the soloist in Bonk, I wanted to have a unified sound world and so made a decision to restrict the instruments to those made of metal. The result would be a piece with industrial and machine-like characteristics, but there is also an element of fantasy and sounds which could adorn the world of Oberon and Titania. The sounds of metal percussion are full of variety and range from pitched instruments such as the vibraphone, glockenspiel, gongs, brake drums and cowbell through to those which make unpitched noise such as the cymbals, tam tam, spring coil, mark tree and rainstick. The orchestra in Bonk serve to enhance the soloist by adding to the attack or resonance of the percussion instruments, thereby giving the process of composition much in common with sound design. The orchestral writing also utilises the sound spectrum from clearly pitched or melodic music through to clusters where the priority is noise rather than harmony. Bonk explores density of sound. The thin transparent music of the glockenspiel solo contrasts with densely layered structures. The rhythms in Bonk are built on the simple repeating idea of short-long-short-long. In jazz this is called "swing". In Bonk different degrees of swing are explored by varying the ratio between the short and long duration and then these are layered against a common pulse. The strict notation creates an amalgam of independent tempos.

I would like to finish those note with two quotations. Firstly, the words of Quince in his prologue to the play within a play from Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare: "If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think, we come not to offend, but with good will. To show our simple skill, that is the true beginning of our end." And from Monty Python team - "Ah, I see you have the machine that goes ping!"

Peter Scholes

Commissioned note

Commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as part of their concerto series

Performance history

21 May 2008: NZSO May: Christchurch

23 May 2008: NZSO May: Wellington

29 May 2008: NZSO May: Napier

30 May 2008: NZSO May: Auckland

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