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The modern orchestral percussion section can vary from a few standard instruments to a whole arsenal, depending on the demands of the music. Percussion instruments made their way into the orchestra relatively late, as references to European military music or, for a more exotic flavor, in imitation of the Ottoman janissary bands which terrorized Europe for centuries. The most standard percussion instruments today are the the timpani, the snare or side drum, the cymbals, the gong or tam-tam, and the xylophone or marimba.
The xylophone consists of a number of wooden bars arranged like a piano keyboard, suspended from chords passing through them, and mounted over tube resonators corresponding to their pitch. It is played with mallets. The origins of the xylophone are unclear; there are ancestors in both Africa and Asia. The first written account of a xylophone dates from the 14th century. The African form made its way to Europe from slaves who took the instrument to South and Central America (where it is known as the “marimba”). In Java and Bali, a similar instrument is used extensively in gamelan ensembles. The modern orchestral xylophone derives from the European instrument used by itinerant virtuosi in the 19th century.
Source: The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.,  ISBN 0-333-43236-3