Review: So Percussion

So Percussion (2007 New York performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”)
So Percussion (2007 New York performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”)

So, this post is pretty delayed. There is no real excuse.  We all talk about how busy we are. Since we are all busy, it is boring to talk about. I won’t bother.

The background on this one is that I am generally pretty skeptical of what can only be described as “weird shit”.  Obviously, the presentation of weird shit stretches across all art forms, across all sectors of life.  Damien Hirst-weird shit. Philosophy- weird shit.  Unicycles- weird shit.  The list goes on. I expected weird from So because they planned to play a set of only Steve Reich. Of course, “shit” may be weird to me and not so weird to you. However, although I can’t be certain, I would guess that there is some consensus to the fact that the work of composer Steve Reich is pretty weird.  Reich, they say, is a composer of contemporary classical music- or, is that classical contemporary?  He works in the realm of minimalism, art broken down to its most fundamental aspects.

First off, the UMMA space was a really great space for this performance.  The apse, in the old part of the museum, had rows and rows of chairs set up and the upstairs had seating around the railing overlooking the main floor.  We sat upstairs to catch a view all of the instruments as well as the audience.  In an improvement from past performances at UMMA, the stage did not have a curtain- it was just an elevated platform at the end of the hall.  We were truly in a museum- even museum security! (Why do I get the impression that museum security guards are pretty square?  Maybe art museums should look into hiring security guards that are interested in art in order that they can also act as guides or helps in the galleries.  Or maybe it’s just the uniform and the mandatory cold glares that make me think they are squares- easily changeable characteristics).  One particularly cool only-in-an-art-museum moment was during the “Mallet Quartet” piece, you could see the shadows and reflections of the percussionists movements on the art and the walls in bright golds and oranges and, well, normal shadows.

And, the music was weird. Definitely. Especially the piece that was not percussion instrument based- “Four Organs” (in which, a UofM music student played the maraca part for 15 minutes.  A crazy show of endurance.  Listen to the song below and think about this kid keeping that exact maraca rhythm for 15 minutes.  You just wanted to cry for the kid and his forearms.  Absurd).  However, despite its experimental force, the pieces found ways to connect with me, rather easily.  In the excerpt from ‘Drumming’, I could hear the United States’ history with Africa, and a US battle march played with all four percussionists on a line of six (yes? I think, six.) drums and their interconnections and intricacies.  In every piece, really, I could find something to latch onto, something to think about and study.  The pieces they played are in the playlist below (except for the newest piece, “Mallet Quatet”, which they were playing for just the second time in the states.  It is a Reich piece commissioned for So Percussion (and a few other percussion groups).

I had the opportunity to talk to these guys for a bit at the Eve after party- a really fun time hearing these young dudes philosophize and tell stories in the hip bar atmosphere.  But, at one point, one of the guys, Adam, was talking about what he has seen from being on tour and playing around the country.  He said that people are trying, again, to understand what is true American culture- like, what is ours and what is theirs? And, perhaps slightly biased, but nonetheless, he got the sense that rhythm and percussion just made sense to people in terms of helping to define American culture.  That, although the Reich pieces were pretty out, people could find ways to relate to their patterns and rhythms.

Great night.  The dudes are working on an album with Matmos for this summer. Matmos always seems to be doing pretty cray cray thangs- so definitely watch out for that.

Booyah, Bennett