Vol. 54, No. 5 November 2016
New Percussion Literature and Recordings – Selected Reviews
Electric Rebel Poetry
Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensembles
Terry Longshore, Director
This recording features the music of Bryan Jeffs, Mark Applebaum, Colin Malloy, Hikaru Sawai, and Jeff Richmond. The performance by the SOUPE is exceptional and musically inspiring.
Highlights include Mark Applebaum’s “30” for percussion soloist, quartet, and septet. The piece is everything we have to come expect from this incessantly creative composer. Layered soundscapes and complex rhythms flourish throughout the performance of this fascinating work. Sawai’s “Yume no Wa,” arranged by Colin Malloy, is a delightful work played beautifully by the ensemble. And the last track, “Sex, Drugs, and Poetry” by Richmond is a delightful contemporary jazz piece for percussion ensemble. This is is a truly magnificent recording by the Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensembles and Terry Longshore. I highly recommend it.
~Brett William Dietz
Vol. 54, No. 5 November 2016
New Percussion Literature and Recordings – Selected ReviewsLa Alma del Ábol
Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensembles
Terry Longshore, Director
This is another great recording by SOUPE and Terry Longshore. It features performances of Chris Burton Jácome, Alport Mhlanga, Christopher Deane, Nigel Westlake, Bryan Jeffs, and Peter Garland. The first track, “La Alma del Arbol, la Resonancia de una Rama,” is a Flamenco piece with gorgeous guitar playing by the composer, Jácome. The performancesof Deane’s “Vespertine Formations” and Westlake’s “Omphalo Centric Lecture” are incredibly musical and precise. “A Maroon Hog’s Rebel Frog” by Jeffs hints at several distinct musical styles including reggae, funk and rock, and Garland’s “Apple Blossom” is delightfully well performed by the ensemble. The Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensembles have produced another solid recording of new music and well-known percussion ensemble standards. Longshore’s musical leadership of this group is phenomenal, and I look forward to more recordings from this group.
~Brett William Dietz
The Flutist Quarterly
©2016 Caballito Negro
Songlines features the duo Caballito Negro, with Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore. This recording was made in conjunction with Caballito Negro’s 2016 tour of the Pacific Northwest and a Britt Music & Arts Festival residency. The recording includes three pieces from the tour and can be purchased digitally.
Press information from the duo lists amongst its goals to perform intercultural music that blends modern and traditional aesthetics. The three pieces included in Songlines clearly fulfill this mission. The multi-movement work included here is Music for South Africa, by Darin Kamstra [sic David P. Jones]. This piece was originally written for alto saxophone and percussion but can be heard here in substantially rewritten form for alto flute and percussion. The percussion parts include both marimba and vibraphone, as well as vocal effects and small percussion parts for the flutist. Music for flute and mallet percussion is often effective, and this piece is no exception. It is well written and engaging, and it uses the skills and color of all instruments effectively throughout. The performers are accomplished musicians and able to bring the music to life from the first note played.
Encounters XVI was premiered by the group in 2012 [sic 2011] and recorded with the composer, William Kraft, in 2014. Kraft has won many awards and had a long and varied career as a percussionist in in the Los Angeles Philharmonic followed by many years teaching composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The flute parts in Encounters XVI include many interesting effects that weave in and out of intricate writing for many percussion instruments.
The final piece, “This Is Like Jazz!”, is a 2015 co-commission by Caballito Negro and several other flute/percussion duos. Ivan Trevino has created a narrative work about his time in Turkmenistan with rhythmic vocal text by the percussionist scored alongside contrabass flute and marimba.
Of the three works included, Music for South Africa is the longest. It is a bit more traditional and also the most compelling. All are expertly produced and played, jumping out the speakers in a way suggesting a live performance would be worth hearing. Songlines offers just a tast of the work Caballito Negro will continue in the future.
Vol. 54, No. 1 March 2016
New Percussion Literature and Recordings – Selected Reviews
The “Mad Scientist” of music is at it again! Composing the work for his wife on the occasion of their 30th anniversary, 30 is scored for 12 percussionists. Performed exquisitely by the Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble with Terry Longshore (soloist and director) and Bryan Jeffs (conductor). The piece is dedicated to Longshore and co-commissioned by a large consortium of individuals and ensembles worldwide. Constructed as three ten-minute pieces, the work is modular, meaning that each ten-minute piece can function on its own or in any combination. Each piece is based on a decade: “The First Decade” (percussion solo), “The Second Decade” (percussion quartet), “The Third Decade” (percussion septet). All the possible combinations are presented in the recording so that the entire depth of the work may be experienced. An extremely challenging work, especially the solo and quartet versions, the piece is handled here with grace and precision. The sound is fabulous! Longshore’s solo rendition is detailed and nuanced, while the quartet is extremely precise. Scored for a symmetric stereo setup (identical instruments — wood-blocks, glass bottles, cowbells — for both the left and right hands), the soloist’s stereo sound is enhanced by a pair of highly directional microphones, which helps to isolate the sound to left and right channels. Listening with headphones enhances the stereo effect. The quartet’s music uses a quasi-drumset-like setup (various drums and cymbals). Unfortunately, the end of the quartet makes use of hand gestures, which are silent on the recording. The septet is essentially a kind of sound collage, and the ensemble succeeds with specific attention to detail and remarkable sounds. The modular aspect of the piece is, perhaps, its most interesting feature. It is interesting how one’s ear is drawn to different aspects of the work in the variety of iterations. Applebaum, with the artistry of Longshore, Jeffs, and the SOU Percussion Ensemble, have produced a recording of extraordinary depth and originality.
~ John Lane
Gramophone: Sounds of America
“Applebaum: 30” – Terry Longshore perc The Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble/Bryan Jeffs
Innova ℗ INNOVA928 (72′ • DDD)
As anniversary presents from Northern California composers go, Mark Applebaum’s 30, written for his wife on the occasion of their 30th, sets a high standard. Consisting of three intersecting, 10-minute long pieces called ‘Decades’ for up to seven percussionists that can be played separately or simultaneously, Applebaum’s highly sophisticated attempts to separate music out from time and space employ 12 virtuosos playing a garage-band array of resources. It works because of the human brain’s ability to ‘learn’ sounds almost instantaneously. As a result, once heard either in its entirety as 30, or in its three component pieces, each of which has a certain ambling quality, or in the three other configurations on the CD, the material becomes stinkingly three-dimensional, clearly related musical entities fully as rich, absorbing and identifiable as melody or harmony, all in a new, similarly 3D sound universe.
The First ‘Decade’ is scored for a solo player in a symmetric stereo setup, with identical glass bottles, cowbells and woodblocks for left and right hands. The four players the Second ‘Decade’ is scored for are also charged with executing hand gestures and vocalising hissing sounds. The Third ‘Decade’ comprises 10 continuous episodes, scored for seven players playing conventional percussion instruments augmented by unique sound-effect devices and entirely new instruments of the composer’s own design.
Adding a nice human touch, Applebaum wrote the music so it would ‘involve as many of his colleagues as possible’ while at the same time ‘creating pieces of variable technical demand – in inverse relationship to their personnel size’.
~ Laurence Vittes
American Record Guide
“Kraft: An Encounter With the Music of William Kraft”
…Encounters XII is for harp and percussion…The Gabrielic Foray. Taken from that point of view, the percussion part shows a certain amount of humorous frustration along the way, hitting out on occasion and insisting on imitating the harp with a vaguely-pitched bell instrument. Actually, the two get along about as well as our cats, enjoying an occasional pitched battle and then ending up in each other’s paws asleep on the couch…Finally, the relatively short Kandkinsky Variations for percussion and electronics [actually, all electronic instruments] is a work where the composer invites the players to interpret symbols rather than notes. The results are amusing and enjoyable. Altogether, this is an effectively performed and well recorded program of music by a fine and gratifyingly human American composer.
~ D Moore
Words and Music (online)
Steven Schick’s recent book The Percussionist’s Art: Same Bed, Different Dreams is an extraordinary example of musical writing that comes from inside the action. Now comes the action itself, almost tangibly felt in the sound that pats, purrs and wallops out of a three-record set of percussion music by Xenakis (Mode 171/73). Included are the two solo pieces, four duos (Xenakis wrote twice for the unexpected coupling of harpsichord and percussion) and three works for percussion ensemble. Schick plays the solos and takes part in two of the duos (not those with harpsichord, which he relinquishes to colleagues); the ensemble pieces are performed by the group he has trained, red fish blue fish, playing without him.
One surprise emerging from the collection is that Xenakis turned to percussion only during quite concentrated periods. After the lone Persephassa, written in 1969 for Les Percussions de Strasbourg to release over the ruins of Persepolis (during the brief time when the Shah’s government financed a festival there), the composer produced four varied percussion works between 1975 and 1981 (the solo piece Psappha, another sextet for the Strasbourgeois – Pléïades – and two duos) and a further four in the late eighties (including Rebonds for solo drummer and Okho for three). Schick, in his excellent notes, observes a move from colourful to homogeneous set-ups, and yet even when Xenakis calls for a great variety of instruments, as he does in Persephassa, the sound is uniform for long stretches. Perhaps it has to be, given that, as Schick also observes, Xenakis’s percussion music reawakens the ritual use of such instruments, a use that depends on pattern repetition (a constant here, from Persephassa onwards) and on signalling (which requires there to be distinctive timbre characters that can be identified as callers and responders), as also on strong pulsation. The solo pieces have all these qualities as much as the sextets do. In Psappha, variegated instruments seem to be signalling to each other, moving the music on towards the final home-run for pounding drums and clanging bells. Rebonds is more a declamation.
Schick is superb in both these pieces. His sense of timing is acute, whether expressed in phrasing or in how, unforgettably, Rebonds A gradually runs out of steam. It is the shapeliness of sound and rhythm – the presence of the body in the slap of a hand on a drum (something Schick’s students emulate in Okho) or the flow of a gesture – that makes these performances almost visual in their effect. Schick is also excellent in the extraordinary Dmaathen, where he has to encourage, support and applaud the virtuoso strangeness of the oboe part – strikingly enunciated by Jacqueline Leclair – which is made of multiphonics, a harmonic clean as flute tone and elemental (perhaps only elementary) tunes.
~ Paul Griffiths
The Sunday Times
11 February 2007
Iannis Xenakis’s music is elemental, antiRomantic, architectural, ritualistic, dispassionate. It is also deeply poetic, its emotional power vast, as the nine works recorded here testify. For ensemble, there’s the raw, aggressive drama of Persephassa (1969) and the static, beautiful Pléïades (1978). For solo percussionist, there are the complex, thrillingly technical challenges of Psappha (1975) and Rebonds (1989). Perhaps most impressive of all, there’s the ritual drama of Kassandra (1987), where the voice of Philip Larson conveys an increasingly furious frustration. All is driven by the energy and musicianship of Steven Schick, who plays the solo pieces and directs the six percussionists of Red Fish Blue Fish.
~ Stephen Pettitt
Crash – This multiple percussion solo deserves serious consideration for recital programs. The composition takes about five minutes to perform, requires a very small setup, and is extremely entertaining. The instrumentation calls for a pair of “Lion cymbals” (played with the hands) and two pair of hi-hats played with both feet. Two pages of performance notes clearly describe the techniques needed, as well as the type of sound required to perform each passage. One unique sound color is produced by wearing metal thimbles on the index fingers, which are used to perform rhythmic figures on the hand cymbals. This solo will be a challenge for all four appendages, and uses styles found in the music of India, Africa, and American jazz and rock. There are numerous challenges in technique and coordination between the hands and feet. One of the challenges is in measure 40, which requires playing half-note triplets with one foot, quarter notes with the other, and playing quintuplets with the hand cymbals. The publisher’s Website provides a video of an excellent performance of this composition. Anyone viewing this video will see that the piece is exciting and will likely want to take on this challenge.
~ George Frock
BBC Music Magazine
PERFORMANCE 5 stars *****
SOUND 5 stars *****
“Howard Goldstein is amazed by a revelatory Xenakis set”
Xenakis, of all the 20th century’s radical rethinkers of musical parameters, managed to keep the strongest link with music’s traditional ritualistic associations. This is perhaps most obvious in his percussion music, collected here in stunningly played and recorded performances by Red Fish Blue Fish, the resident percussion ensemble at the University of California, San Diego, directed by Steven Schick.
Persephassa (1969) marked the beginning of the composer’s exploration of music’s temporal dimensions with the same scientifically rigorous yet musically gripping approaches previously applied to pitch and form. Here six players encircle the audience; even in two-channel, Mode’s engineers give us enough spatial cues to appreciate the final section’s accelerating vortex of rhythmic layers (realised here with some discreet overdubbing) and sliding whistles (human and inhuman at the same time).
Every performance of Psappha (1975) is unique, given the freedom of choice allowed the soloist with regards to instrumentation. Schick’s evenness of touch and mastery of pacing make it hard to believe that one person is playing these absurdly complex interlocking timbral and rhythmic patterns, reminiscent of a one man gamelan orchestra.
Gamelan-like structures and sonorities also permeate Pleiades (1978), where the harrowing sound of ‘Sixxen’, metallic plates in sets of 19, microtonally tuned to each other, produce a shimmering glaze of overtones, at times almost producing the glissandos so important to Xenakis’s theories of the relationship between pitch and time. Glissandos also abound in the vocal part of Kassandra (1987), whose prophecies are dramatically intoned in falsetto by baritone Steven Larson, and punctuated by the discordant strum of the psaltery. Here Xenakis’s ritualistic side finds its most natural outlet in one of his frequent encounters with ancient Greek culture, in this case the Oresteia. Texts and translations would have been nice here; the general omission of title translations, instrumentation lists and other ‘nuts and bolts’ information is the only blot on this otherwise exemplary issue.
~ Howard Goldstein
A few years ago the music of Iannis Xenakis suddenly became radically chic, thanks to the well-intentioned efforts of the likes of DJ Spooky and other Deleuze-toting hipsters. More recently a younger generation of fun lovin’ noiseniks have been singing the praises of pieces like Bohor and Persepolis as if they were the latest offerings from Merzbow, Prurient and Sickness. But this attraction to the visceral, violent side of the composer only addresses half of the Xenakis enigma, as percussionist Steven Schick makes clear in his informative and eminently readable liner notes to this 3-CD set. There was also Xenakis the mathematician, master of the impenetrable FORTRAN, creator of UPIC. Any of you out there read Formalized Music (me neither – I got as far as page 100)? It’s easy to thrill at the swarming glissandi of Metastasis or succumb to the apocalyptic intensity of Kraanerg, but without the serious theoretical underpinning, those extraordinary works wouldn’t sound the way they do. And without the background and years of study, none of the distortion pedal abusing wolf-eyed teens currently tearing round the alt.music racetrack will ever get remotely close.
As Schick points out, the striking contrast between the brutally impersonal world of advanced mathematics and symbolic logic and the spine-tingling raw emotion is no more evident than in the body of works Xenakis wrote for percussion (with or without added instruments): Persephassa (1969), Psappha (1976), Dmaathen (1976), Pléïades (1979), Komboï (1981), Kassandra (1987), Rebonds (1988) and Oophaa and Okho (1989). No recording could possibly capture the sheer power of this pieces in performance – I caught Pléïades in Paris shortly after its premiere, and can still remember the utterly devastating experience of being surrounded in the Auditorium of Université Paris II Assas by six sets of sixxen (specially created instruments consisting of tuned metal plates) – but until you get a chance to see and feel it in the flesh, you could do no better than get hold of these excellent recordings by Schick and the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble (lowercase intended.. Dr Seuss plays Xenakis, dig it).
Schick is also joined by Philip Larson (baritone and psaltery, on Kassandra), Jacqueline Leclair (oboe, on Dmaathen in the most thrilling double-reed / percussion battle to come my way since Kyle Bruckmann went the distance with Weasel Walter on his Musica Genera album) and harpsichordists Shannon Wettstein (on Komboï) and John Mark Harris (Oophaa). Not all the pieces are as spectacular as the percussion ensemble pieces Persephassa and Pléïades – the rather plodding Okho once more raises the question as to whether the composer was losing his touch a little in his final years – but that’s one of the risks you take when you release a complete set of anything. This one’s worth the price of admission alone for the spectacular ending of Persephassa, in which Schick and his crew use multitracking to realise, for the first time on disc, the ferocious near-impossible complexity of the score’s final pages. I say near-impossible, because, as Aki Takahashi once wryly noted, “if Xenakis’s music is truly impossible, why are so many people playing it?”
~ Dan Warburton
“It is not an exaggeration to say that for many contemporary percussionists, learning how to play has meant learning how to play the music of Iannis Xenakis,” declares percussion master Steve Schick in his introduction to this triple CD set of the great Greek composer’s complete percussion music. Ever since Xenakis’s friend and mentor Edgar Varèse scandalized a New York audience in 1933 with his percussion ensemble work Ionisation, the profile of the onetime subservient percussionist has risen. John Cage and Lou Harrison’s 1940s works stepped the percussion project up a gear; Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zyklus (1959) gave percussionists a meaty one-off display piece. But no other composer defined a fresh syntax and potential-fuelled modus operandi for percussion music like Iannis Xenakis.
This set is much needed. In the Xenakis Primer I wrote for The Wire 259, I expressed doubts about his percussion works, but I now see that my quibbles were caused by recorded performances which sometimes haven’t made the grade, and which have suffered from dubious fidelity. Mode never deal in anything less than impeccable sound and, alongside Schick himself, the San Diego percussion ensemble Red Fish Blue Fish play with a devotion to detail and inner fire.
Writing for percussion is a daunting challenge for any composer. An authentic engagement with the character and DNA of percussion takes time to accomplish, and too many pieces deal in splashes of decorative colour or register as stiffly notated transcriptions of Buddy Rich solos. Xenakis sidestepped both issues by simply deciding they weren’t of significance to him.
The earliest work he wrote for persuccion was Persephassa in 1969 (could there be more perfect Xenakis title?), and already he was writing with certainty about how he wanted percussion to sound. Stretching out over a near 30 minute canvas, Persephassa is written for six percussionists, each of whom sits in what Xenakis defines as their own “sieve”. At the start of the work the sieves provide each player with their own rhythmic terrain, and allow Xenakis to create infinitesimal degrees of rhythmic displacement. The opening passage dances in your head with the force of dense polyrhythmic boulders plunging down a mountainside, each part proudly proclaiming its own independence while enigmatically jammed into the whole.
A key intrigue in all Xenakis’s percussion music in his strategic doublebacking between rhythm and pitch; here he incorporates swirling sirens and whistles into the flow. If the sirens might sound like they’re referencing Varèse, actually their feral microtonal inflections relate more to the trademark string glissandi of an early Xenakis orchestral work like Metastaseis.
Both his later percussion sextets, Pléïades (1978) and Okho (1989), were originally conceived for Les Percussions De Strasbourg and find Xenakis going ever deeper into the percussion zone. Pléïades splits the ensemble up into skins and keyboard percussion, and includes a section for the self-invented ‘sixxen’, a 19-note microtonal metal keyboard instrument designed to highlight the clashing harmonic overtones between notes. The overtones generate shimmering waves over the ensemble, and never have they been captured with greater clarity on CD, Okho adds the brittle tones of djembes – West African hand drums – to Xenakis’s palette.
By the time of Okho Xenakis’s contribution to the percussion repertoire was unassailable. The same year he also produced Rebonds, which has been recorded many times previously.
Familiarity makes it easy to take it for granted, but Schick’s performance is a reminder of its nuanced subtleties and power. Pitched drums are locked into a dialogue with chattering woodblocks. At the start, Xenakis provokes the two into a testy, dissonant irrational rhythmic relationship that sets up enough tension to power the music onwards through its ten minute duration.
An earlier solo piece, Psappha (1975), is more problematic, as Xenakis tosses percussionists the impossible challenge of playing up to 25 ‘hits’ a second at the climactic point. According to Schick, some players have concocted multiple-headed sticks to help them cope, but Xenakis’s aspirations for performers to stretch beyond the possible has historical precedent in Beethoven’s cello writing in his Grosse Fuge and the 20-fingered mutant hand presumably required to play some of Ives’s block chords on the piano. Schick quotes pianist and Xenakis specialist Aki Takahashi: “If Xenakis’s music were truly ‘impossible’, why (are) so many of us playing it?”
Xenakis continues to be a central figure because, like other 20th century ‘outsider’ such as Satie, Ives and Varèse, he dealt in material and not with idiom or style. The extraordinary falsetto vocal writing he devised for his voice/percussion duo piece Kassandra (1987) is unheralded and yet rooted in something deeply humane. Similarly, Dmaathen (1977) for oboe and percussion at first sound like curious, snake-charming music. Then mallet percussion and oboe refract their material through each other – gestures become elongated, and instrumental textures are obligated to buckle into obstreperous multiphonic screeching, so that macro meets micro. Two scores for harpsichord and percussion – Komboï (1981) and Oophaa (1989) – are fastidiously worked through so that their rhythmic and pitch qualities fuse to create a ‘third’ hybrid instrument. It’s a fitting analogy – harpsichord, that most ancient of Classical hardware, running up against Xenakis’s mind-expanding exploration of the possibilities of percussion.
~ Philip Clark
Moment’s Notice – www.pointofdeparture.org
Much is made about the duality of Iannis Xenakis, and rightly so. There is the Turing-like savant who saw through the lead shield of FORTRAN and devised UPIC. And then there’s the mythologist with an Artaudian sense of cruelty. Xenakis reconciled these seemingly contrary facets by using objective processes to compose pieces seething with primordial power. This is why his music speaks to many listeners who otherwise have no use for composition, history, et al. Arguably, these aspects of the composer’s sensibility collide with the greatest force in his compositions for percussion, where the common starkness of numbers and ritual is unfiltered. Presented in chronological order, this 3-CD collection of Xenakis’ percussion works (a term that encompasses both pieces scored only for percussion and duets scored for percussion and another instrument) details how this starkness prevailed. Even though the titanic clashes between instruments on “Persehassa” (the earliest, written in ’69) were largely mitigated by the penning of “Pléïades”, the silence-punctuated ensembles, the languorous ripples and Reich-like pulse of keyboard-configured instruments and the gamelan-tinged phasing of sixxen (Xenakis’ pitched metallic invention) in the 1978 consensus-pick masterpiece retain the earlier piece’s demand for clarity. This demand is perhaps most stringently expressed in the duets with harpsichord, “Komboï” and “Oophaa,” composed in the early and late ’80s, respectively, where the material’s intense rhythmic drive is tempered by the dynamic restraints imposed by the harpsichord. There are numerous daunting challenges to present this body of work as a whole, which the project’s director, Steven Schick, meets in the only appropriate way – head-on. Whether he leading the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble or tackling the set’s two percussion solos and the duets with oboe and voice, Schick demonstrates a palpable understanding of Xenakis’ intents and purposes, a key reason why this is a monumental collection.
~ Bill Shoemaker
Letter to Music Chair, Southern Oregon University
In the course of my career, I have visited many, many universities, music schools and conservatories around the country, and in very few places (and these were outstanding institutions, such as the Juilliard School of Music, New England Conservatory, University of Southern California, and Indiana University, in particular) I can say with complete confidence that the Percussion Ensemble at Southern Oregon University is a match for those at any of these other institutions.
Prof. Longshore chose the very best and most challenging of my works. He conducted one work for eight percussion, Momentum, indicating a thorough understanding of the work and the ability technically and mentally to communicate it to the students. There has never been a better performance of the work. Prof. Longshore performed in the other three works on the program. One, Encounters IX for Saxophone and Percussion was the first live performance of that piece (it having been recorded previously). All I can say is that it was perfect. The third work, Soliloquy, Encounters I for Solo Percussion and Electronics, was, by far, the best performance I have ever had, and this piece has been in the repertory for percussionists for over 25 years! I have never – repeat, never – been so pleased with performances of my works.
~ William Kraft
Emeritus Professor of Composition, University of California, Santa Barbara
Former Composer-in-Residence, Associate Conductor, and Principal Timpanist, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
“Boom” is an advanced percussion duet that requires two sets of bongos, three tom-toms and a bass drum shared by the two performers. Composers Terry Longshore and Brett Reed, also known as the duo Skin & Bones, have recorded the work on a CD also titled Boom. Longshore and Reed include specific performance notes as well as a suggested instrument setup. The work is approximately seven minutes in length and fluctuates between ostinato patterns layered over a melodic statement and very polyrhythmic sections. The composers also include two sections for improvisation.
~ Lisa Rogers
The New York Times
May 11, 1999
From “Plugging Your Ears is O.K. Here”
Review of the 1999 Bang on a Can Marathon at the Henry Street Settlement
The Bang on a Can Festival ended on Thursday evening with a spectacular concert of percussion music by Iannis Xenakis. Or should that be by Red Fish Blue Fish, the percussion ensemble that Steven Schick has formed at the University of California at San Diego? A string quartet playing Haydn is playing Haydn, but a percussion group playing Xenakis is really playing itself. The composer’s score is much less an imaginary object, to be realized well or not so well, than a means of facilitating a performance.
….The “Skins” part of the same work [Pleiades], played with mallets on drums, offered fascinating movements into and out of synchronization, made possible by individual click tracks for the six performers. But there is something to be said for musicians reacting to each other rather than to what they hear over their headphones, and “Persephassa” was the more impressive for its spontaneity and for the sense of musical electricity jumping from one member of the group to the next.
~ Paul Griffiths
The San Diego Union-Tribune
February 2, 1998
From “Sushi presents intriguing marriage of sound, movement,”
a review of “The Dance and Music of Choreographer
Stephanie Nugent and Composer Robin Cox”
January 30 & 31, 1997, at Sushi Performance
and Visual Arts at the Reincarnation Project
….while “Glide,” with Cox and marimba player Terry Longshore, sounded like an exotic cross between Balinese gamelan music and Appalachian folk tunes. Cox’s “Twitch,” with Longshore and Brett Reed on marimba, was a post-minimalist celebration of twitchy syncopations.
Yet for rhythmic verve, nothing beat “Boom,” the program’s final work. It was created by Longshore and Reed, the percussion duo known as Skin & Bones, in conjunction with Nugent and her five able dancers.
The movement was often fun, incorporating swivels, sways and cartwheels. But with their hammering mallets, Longshore and Reed achieved a percussive virtuosity that was itself a kind of choreography.
In this music and dance number, it was hard to take one’s eyes off the musicians.
~ Valerie Scher, Classical Music Critic
20th Century Music
The percussion duo ‘Skin & Bones’ is the latest ensemble offering from the flourishing percussion studio of Steven Schick at the University of California, San Diego. One of the most internationally active performers of new music at a department that was founded to promote the same, Professor Schick’s students have furnished world-class talent not just to established institutions like SONOR, but to new ensembles currently making names for themselves. ‘red fish blue fish’, a percussion sextet formed just a few years ago, has already been featured at New York’s ‘Bang on a Can’. Both members of ‘red fish blue fish’, Terry Longshore and Brett Reed formed ‘Skin & Bones’ in 1994 to continue exploring new music, but this time with a much more intimate, and improvisatory edge.
The improvisatory nature of the duo’s undertakings is evident on their first CD ‘Boom’ released this past summer, and produced by the duo with the help of some production friends culled from the ranks of fellow doctoral students at UCSD. Schick’s influence is clear on this recording, especially in the precision and sense of joy the duo bring to the most complex materials. ‘Skin & Bones’ break music down into its most basic elements: rhythm and sound. Indeed, sound is at the heart of the duo’s explorations, and according to Reed and Longshore, “the genesis of all we do.” A compilation of six of the duo’s best-loved works from concerts given over the last several years, ‘Boom’ offers music of the barest and most primitive elements, just as one might expect from a group entitled “skin and bones”.
Three of the six titles on the disc are as monosyllabic as a drum beat, such as ‘Tharn’, ‘Plank’ and the title track ‘Boom’, which adds to the percussive, neo-primitive aura the duo obviously wish to promote in their first recording. All the pieces on this disc are longer than your average CD pop fare, but far shorter than standard classical offerings. Ranging from 7 up to 13 1/2 minutes, these tracks require a longer attention span than the MTV generation can generally muster, but the results of the CD are remarkable. Shying away from the obvious percussion excesses on record, from Var*se’s ‘Ionisation’ to Reich’s ‘Drumming’ this duo revel in simplicity, and the variable nature of the simplest pattern.
‘Tharn’ the first track, offers an opening of delicate vibes, sometimes verging on “mod” jazz, with subtle texture shifts and occasional drum riffs at home in any Beat’s sonic universe. Cool bongos will leave the most abject listener crying out for a dry martini and cigar. The piece wanders a bit toward the middle, when Brett leaves his vibes it loses its cool, clear feel and moves into a more mathematical space, though one never tires following the miniature themes moving back and forth between players. This opener leaves no doubt in the listener that this is truly a duo.
The title track ‘Boom’, ranges far from the sheer volume its name would imply. Hypnotic and relentless, there is less of a dynamic breadth and melodic movement than ‘Tharn’, ‘Boom’ relies on the pleasure inherent in the beat, the groove, and these performers’ virtuosic ability to manipulate each. ‘…yeah, no…’ begins like a rock solo gone terribly wrong, maturing slowly through an abundance of overlapping Latin-inspired rhythms. Almost disappearing at one point, ‘…yeah, no…’ reappears in the sound-world of the kitchen sink, with what sounds like a solo straight off the earthen and glassware (though the instrument lists it as further out in the garage — with brake drums, a gear cog and cowbells).
‘Slatdance’ is the most haunting of the works, in a neo-primitive sort of way, and yet at the same time it is the starkest, using only one timbre throughout. Here both percussionists use the same marimba, improvising interweaving melodies against the steady flow of a repeated motive. Also the most melodic tracks on the CD, the tunes which populate ‘Slatdance’ are sublty complex in their slightly varied repetition, creating an almost subdued result. There is more than a hint of minimalism here, but the performers don’t get stuck too long on any one idea. The piece doesn’t evolve so much as sweep across the listeners consciousness, building and dying away at irregular intervals. Each time it renews itself, it seems as if the material has emerged stronger for the brief silence.
The track, ‘Plank’ is aptly named. Crisp, non-resonant, it is exactly how you’d expect your lumber to sound. The strange “distant” quality of the wood slats that serve as impromptu instument make this piece oddly distant, as if you’re lisening to it though a thin wall, or across the alley from your neighbor’s stereo. There is a faint Asian flavor to the sparseness of the piece, the single timbre highlighting the movement. ‘Mixing Bols’ continues the Asian theme, though this time with a bit of bite, using temple gongs, Chinese tom-toms and assorted noisemakers, like shakers and Native American drums.
The effect of subtly evolving rhythms eventually begins to wear slightly thin. While one is left desiring less drive and more reflection, the beat of this CD pushes ever forward, right up to its closing seconds.
~ Renee T. Coulombe
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Night & Day – June 5, 1997
*** (Three Stars)
On its debut, Skin & Bones, a percussionist duo that includes UCSD music students Terry Longshore and Brett Reed, plays a mixture of avant-garde and lounge music that will likely appeal to both trained musicians and the cocktail crowd. Although the complex bongo rhythms of the title track are impressive, it’s the clanging bells in “…yeah, no…” and the various self-made gongs in “Mixing Bols” that give the album its eccentric energy.
~ Jeff Niesel
The San Diego Union-Tribune
June 24, 1997
From “Sollberger offers winds of wonderful change, range”
Review of a concert of composer Harvey Sollberger
at the Spruce Street Forum, San Diego
The concert’s most recent work, “Double Triptych” (1984), was also the most amusingly experimental. Flutist [Lisa] Cella and percussionist Terry Longshore (on vibraphone and bongo drums) adroitly presented “Triptych’s” three bustling movements and three sleepy “anti-movements,” which were as contrasting as day and night.
According to Sollberger, each “anti-movement” stops with “a sudden sound, almost like an alarm clock going off.” His score leaves it to the performers to choose the sounds that serve as wake-up calls.
Longshore opted to pop balloons, chop nuts and dried beans in a blender, and ram an electric engraver inside an aluminum can. It was a performance that listeners won’t soon forget.
~ Valerie Scher, Classical Music Critic
The New York Times
June 4, 1996
From “Noisemakers Revel In Sounds of the Century”
Review of the 1996 Bang on a Can Marathon at Lincoln Center
….It began with George Antheil’s “Ballet Mécanique,”….played with tremendous energy by Red Fish Blue Fish, a skillful ensemble from the University of California at San Diego. During the performance, a silent experimental film of the 1920’s by Fernand Léger was projected, just as Antheil had intended.
Red Fish Blue Fish closed the marathon with an arresting performance of Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” a manifesto of Minimalism from 1971, an hourlong, ritualistic mass of overlapping rhythms for bongos, marimbas, glockenspiels and voices.
~ Anthony Tommasini