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A Showcase for the the Power of Percussion at Kettle Corn New Music

by Robert Leeper

Kettle Corn Music 9.13.14 © Noah Stern Weber-2
Photo by Noah Stern Weber, used courtesy of Kettle Corn Music

Despite the wide variety of available instruments, a percussion concert can turn into droning monotony if the program is not carefully considered and presented. Fortunately, Sandbox Percussion, a Brooklyn-based percussion quartet, took this into account at their performance Saturday night at the DiMenna Center. The season opening concert of the Kettle Corn New Music series offered works ranging from the ambrosian atmosphere of the bowed vibraphone in Jonny Allen’s Interlude, to the militant rhythms of David Lang’s the so-called laws of nature, to a number of other rhythmically exploratory works.

The concert started with David T. Little’s Speak Softly (2003), which had the quartet hitting sticks on the ground, against each other and with beaters, creating wide palette of timbres and intricate cross-rhythms. Thomas Kotcheff’s Part and Parcel was a celebration of found objects, including pieces of wood and bottles. Percussive rolls on the bottles gave the impression of marbles streaming out of a bag; settled grooves were regularly interrupted by well-timed polyrhythmic additions, or starkly contrasted with sumptuous vibraphone chords.

In Alex Weiser’s The Anatomy of a Drum Roll, the title is not a metaphor, but rather examines microscopic shifts and accents that make up the structure of a drum roll. The second movement, "Resonance and Rhythm," explored similar techniques on the vibraphones, with the ambient resonances of the vibes filtering one harmony into the next.

Perhaps the most compelling work on the program was "Part I" of Steve Reich’s Drumming, demonstrating that no amount of textural and rhythmic intricacy is beyond the grasp of this ensemble's young players. (Drumming was performed by Reich himself at BAM last week.) The group glided through complex rhythmic units with ease, the work's familiar phase shifting occurring in minute detail and leaving the audience lost in a swirl of rhythmic phrases, unsure of where one begins and the other ends.  

The musicians of Sandbox threw themselves into the performance with the energy of youth and the precision of a well-established group, with a program that was both vibrant and exotic.