It is widely believed that a great work of art should be able to withstand reappropriation and reinterpretation, and, if possible, grow from the experience. This philosophy is often applied to plays, operas, and films, but rarely to instrumental music. On April 30, Ear Heart Music did just that, by presenting a re-mix of Michael Gordon’s monumental work for six percussionists, Timber. Mantra Percussion was joined at Roulette with a slew of guest artists, who responded to the original work, overlaying it with their music to create something wholly different.
Gordon’s Timber was co-commissioned and premiered by Mantra in 2011. The work in its original form calls for the ensemble of percussionists to play “simantras” (wooden 2 x 4s of varied lengths) arranged in a circle, for 75 minutes, with all members playing from memory. In this performance, the members of Mantra were arranged in the middle of the audience space, whilst the guest artists took to the stage.
An announcement before the concert explained that the audience should feel free to move about, so as to soak in the sights and sounds of this unusual cross collaboration. Interestingly, Gordon, who was in attendance, remained in his balcony seat throughout the evening, however many audience members freely roamed throughout the space.
Throughout the concert, avant-garde rocker Ian Williams, electro composer Ikue Mori, multi-instrumentalist Brandon Seabrook, and clarinetist/composer Jeremiah Cyerman, each took turns at responding to Gordon’s music, whilst Mantra pummeled away, creating a continuous wall of sound. Mesmerizing visuals from media artist and designer Joshua Ott added another element of heady stimulation to the concert. The projected graphics seamlessly shape shifted and pulsed along with the rhythms of the simantras.
At the moments of greatest intensity, this performance made you feel as though you were hearing all the electrical signals inside your mind times a thousand. Mexican wave-like swells of sound gave the underlying rhythmic drones shape and direction, and it was a treat to see the precision and care that the members of Mantra displayed in this performance.
The rhythmic dexterity of the percussionists was echoed by the guest artists, some of whom were playing their instruments, tapping at pedals, and playing with patches simultaneously. Cyerman’s balancing act with his clarinet often meant he was holding the instrument with one hand, whilst the other hand roamed around his Macbook to convert shrill squawks into crunchy moments of sonic entropy.
It is somewhat of a strange disconnect to see a group of musicians politely tapping away at their Macs, producing some of the noisiest and most affronting sounds imaginable. At times, the sheer amount of extraneous noise overpowered the hypnotic rumblings of Timber, but that’s the beauty of a re-mix: sometimes it’s not necessarily better or more interesting than the original, it’s just different.
And as with all great works, Timber was able to withstand this barrage of stimulation, and come out with its musical integrity wholly intact. I was left at the end of the performance with an appreciation for the artistic vision that dreamt up this strange collaboration, and with a desire to hear Timber in its original form, with a little more breathing space.
More pics on the photo page.