The gig started with the Pollen Trio. Three players, piano, trumpet, drums; a looper and some percussion and a ring modulator; some water for bubbly trumpet effects. This is not scored music, but I expect there was a structure. Starting discretely, with a drum kits played with hands, bubbling noises from the trumpet and effects and plucked strings in the body of a Steinway. Swelling with percussion in place of trumpet and a move to mallets and sticks. A trumpet without mouthpiece sounding of hunters’ horn. A rising intensity of repeating piano lines and harmonising, looped trumpet and piano chords looped and growing in power and volume and rock drum grooves. And finally a decay to bubbling trumpet and an end. This is sprawling music to close eyes to and drown in. Minimal change but often a busy hustle. Austin, Miro and Evan have been doing this for sometime and are about to tour the Pollen improvised experience. Pollen Trio are Austin Buckett (piano), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, percussion) and Evan Dorrian (drums).
The rest of the gig was percussion, classically trained, notated, often pitched, complex and dynamic but also with some touches of great beauty. Yvonne Lam started the set with …And now for the news by Graeme Leak. This was a solo percussion piece against Yvonne’s spoken voice (in Chinese?) at start and finish and a news report (in Vietnamese?) over the PA through the middle. The drums were Chinese toms, congas and bongos and some wooden percussion. The drumming followed and reacted to the rhythms and inflections of the Asian tonal languages.
Next was four performers presenting four of six movements of The Heavenly muzak machine by Mark Clement Pollard. This is an exploration of the vibraphone as a machine and as a musical instrument. The movements we heard featured harmonised vocals with vibraphone, then a four part performance with 8 mallets, then a quiet and delicate movement with tapped keys, then a final four part movement with 8 mallets. It was all beautiful and ringing, but especially the tender harmonised vocals and the delicious tapped third movement. The four performers were Bartholomew Haddock, Anna Ng, Yvonne Lam and Veronica Walshaw.
Then William Jackson performed Exposiciones by Andrian Pertout. This was a solo notated marimba piece against another vocal track, as I remember, a news broadcast in English. I was impressed by the detail and skills, but also by the performance of 15 minutes of detailed percussion by rote, but then the accompanying track must have assisted. I was also thrilled by some devastatingly fast stick work. The classical world may not improvise but it sure has chops.
Another interval, another stage change, another set. The final set was a single work composed by Austin Buckett, called Reset: for multi percussion due and field recording and performed by William Jackson and Yvonne Lam. This was a complex setup of quadraphonic recordings and effected percussion, performed in the round with contrasty, white lighting and white costumes and headphones for the performers, scraping snare skins and striking bottles and bass and kick drums and gongs. There was repetition, I think it was in two similar parts, big volume from bass drum hits accompanied by long decays from the gong, prying, interrupted scraping from fingers on snare skins and moving accents from sharply-struck empty glass bottles.
I’m still musing on it a day or so later as I write this. My preference was the tuned percussion. It’s at the unchallenging end of the performance spectrum on the night, but it was ringing and quite beautiful. But when I closed my eyes, I took in the freedom of Pollen and the formed and rhythmic-tonal-(or with open eyes)-visual presence of the pure percussion. All intriguing and musically involving stuff. What a lot of work; what a wonderful presentation; what developed skills and gratifying sounds.