2 December 2012

Coming together

DRUMatiX presented the first of two nights of performance for its 15-year retrospective. William Jackson introduced it at one stage by noting that percussion is the oldest of musical forms and that’s “inexhaustibly diverse”. I’ve been thinking about both those claims. It’s easy to think that it’s the oldest musical form. Certainly, it’s basic, requires no complex and constructed instruments although it wields a few these days. There’s something essential and would-be prehistoric about slapping or slamming or hitting one thing against another, and there’s lots of timber amongst the instruments and that’s a product that’s been around forever. The other claim is inexhaustibly diverse. That’s more difficult, but this concert showed a vast array of styles and dynamics and tuned and untuned instruments, so maybe it’s true. Here’s the program.

Gary’s France’s Celebration was an exciting and joyous rock drum rhythm, enhanced by three snares/toms and interspersed with a melody on glockenspiel, vibes and other tuned percussion and played by an array of performers across the stage.
Next was Kalabash, the first Nigel Westalake tune, this one played on two wonderfully thuddy and luminous marimba by four players. This was all child-like tonality, bouncy and intriguing as the melody flowed over barlines in what I guessed was some sort of polyrhythm overlaying 4 and 3. It had to reference Africa, but I found that more with the later Westlake piece. Then a blindfolded duet in 3/4 with a rhythmic melody on woodblocks and accompaniment with damped toms, called Blindfold music. Bree van Reyk said she’d arranged this after noting that orchestral audiences were as interested in the choreography of percussion as by the sounds. Then some John Cage music for prepared toy piano, arranged for 4 percussionists. Then a long work of many movements, Transmutations by Anthony Pateras, performed by six percussionists on drums and cymbals and any number of other percussionable instruments laid out on a long bench in front of them, and led by a conductor. Perhaps it was here I noted the dramatic lighting and I had my own choreography moment. After interval, the first movement of Steve Reich’s Drumming, played by four performers with eight mallets on eight bongo drums. I recently gave up on a CD of this after a few minutes, but music works so much better when played live. Then Musique de Tables, by Thierry de Mey, with three women sweeping tables and tapping and clapping to three, dramatically lit charts. What a demonstration of dynamics, as I strained to hear the swishes of hands lightly drawn across folding tables. What a stunner! Then my favourite Nigel Westlake, Omphalo Centric Lecture, again with four players on two marimba, but this time accompanied by two drummers and with some African vocals and thumb piano. There were two further items on the program which maybe they didn’t; perform, or otherwise I merged in my mind with the Westlake composition. Certainly there was no change of instruments or performers.

Then the magnum opus, Coming Together by Frederic Rzewski. Eric Ajaye came on stage in work-house chains to recount the words of Sam Melville, 6 months in Attica and killed in the subsequent riot. This was tense, political, emotional, with repeated lines.
The text was from a letter to his brother. You can read the text on the Net, but some lines stood out “i am in excellent physical and emotional health. there are doubtless subtle surprises ahead but i feel secure and ready” and and “i can act with clarity and meaning. i am deliberate - sometimes even calculating - seldom employ histrionics” and “i read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life”. Wikipedia suggests Melville was not so innocent but neither was Attica. This was a charged environment that we can only imagine in these TINA days. The music was powerful, incessant. I looked for the steady bass and found it as an unceasing electronic keyboard line, subtly varying and played with mallets. Miro provided an imploring, muted trumpet melody while colour and fills and chords came from a bevy of 12 percussionists. This was stunning and overwhelming and purposeful music.

The final words of the night were thanks given to Gary France, associate professor, obvious friend and open-hearted supporter of the group and “a facilitator of dreams”. This truly seemed a wonderfully effective and creative department. There was obvious love of the form and support and respect for all within it and readiness to take part in whatever projects arose. Great music of considerable diversity, but also an honest presentation of active musical inquisitiveness. What a privilege to attend this retrospective. Let’s hope this retrospective doesn’t mark the end DRUMatiX performers were percussionists Gary France, Bree van Reyk, William Jackson, Steve Fitzgerald, Charles Martin, Christina Hopgood, Yvonne Lam, Anna Ng, Veronica Bailey, Jonathan Griffiths, Bart Haddock, Jacinta Dunlop, Adam Cooper-Stanbury, Wesley Faulkiner, Niki Johnson, Jared Synnott and Thomas Chalker with Eric Ajaye (vocals) and Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet). Also Josh Chaffey (sound) and Owen Horton (lighting).

1 comment:

Chrissy said...

How exciting that I now have a label in your blog! Thanks for the great review. No, we didn't play Nola or Knockin' on Wood that night (my two ragtime pieces) because the concert was too long. We played them the next night because there was no Blindfold piece or Cage. You can listen to me play Nola here: http://soundcloud.com/charlesmartin/20120117-nola and Knockin on Wood here: http://soundcloud.com/charlesmartin/knockin-on-wood-red-norvo
Thanks so much for coming!