Centazzo sets up his Logic sessions with multiple tracks, each with an EXS24 sampler on it loaded with a different set of instruments that is mapped to the MalletKat. “I load the tracks with sounds that match the composition I am playing. I also use sequences and loops. Every piece has a different keyboard setup and configuration, and sometimes there are two or three different setups in the same song. One piece might have huge gongs and electronics in the first part, then I switch to the second part where there are tuned gongs and a marimba.”
To change the sample instruments, he uses the keyboard’s up and down arrows to step from track to track. “Sometimes I have 20 or 30 instruments across the keyboard. I stick labels on the keys to remind me of what sound is mapped to them, but I can’t do it for the 30 different sounds that could be triggered from the same key in a composition. So it’s a lot to remember.”
Although his sample library sounds gorgeous on its own, he carefully blends them with acoustic instruments. “The secret is to play a real gong, which is amplified with a little bit of reverb, while triggering, at the same time from the MalletKat, the equivalent sound with the same tuning but in a lower-octave, or another sound that fits with the real one. To the listener, the composite sounds natural because it comes from the same speakers. That’s why I insist on using a P.A. when I perform, otherwise you can spot the trick easily. And visually, if you play a keyboard and the sound of a gong comes out, it looks weird. But if you play a real gong along with a sample of a 30" gong, it looks and sounds realistic.
“Recently, I have begun using the [Native Instruments] Kontakt sampler with my library. I found a few electronic sounds in Kontakt that I like, so I’m trying to add my percussion samples on top of the electronic timbres to make original sounds. That’s the way I work: I find a sample that I like and manipulate it. I don’t bother sampling a vibraphone or marimba: there are already plenty of libraries to choose from. So I’ll use the vibraphone library that comes with either sampler and leave it in one octave of the keyboard and add my own samples in the other octaves.”
Video plays an important role in his solo shows, which is why he brings a second laptop to run it. “I play QuickTime files on the smaller Mac Air, and there are reference signals in the soundtrack of the video so I can sync my playing to the film without watching the screen. It might be a bell or an electronic sound – something that tells me where the video is when I perform.”
Because the audio from the video goes into the mixer, the audience also hears these cues through the P.A. “But they don’t know that it’s a cue. They think that it’s a sound I’m producing from the MalletKat. The cues are carefully chosen so that they melt inside what I’m playing. That note or two are in the tissue of what I’m playing, but I know they are the cue for the next section of the video.”
With a setup this compact and rich in sound, Centazzo still at least one thing on his wish list. “I would really like another octave on the MalletKat, because four octaves is fine, but five would be better,” he says. “I wouldn’t have to step between as many tracks in Logic as I do now.”
Yet, he says that technology merely serves the music, and the sound of his gear is of the utmost importance. “Since the beginning, the Paiste sound has really fascinated me. Now that they’ve resuscitated the Formula 602 line, I’m getting all those cymbals because it’s the sound that I like and it fits what I’m doing. “