Monday, March 14, 2011


Skins, metal, wood: percussion is made of these things.

Skins stretched over a framework, metal shells sheets and rods that ring, and wood blocks that are smooth or ribbed. Percussion is the beating of the body or stick onto these materials, and the beating transmits the rhythm and force of the body through the space of sound. We've been communicating this way for thousands of years. We dance, we sway, we shout with these instruments which are a direct extension of our bodies.

Les Percussions de Strasbourg performed recently, and each work was distinctive and from the 20th century. The tones, textures, timbres from skins, metal and wood were varied, complex and engaging. Although this modern music does not have "pitch" per se, it has tones that includes the growl of huge drums, tingling harmonics of metal triangles, and drones that are generated from drumming wood and skins in an acoustically live space.  I heard sounds I have never heard before. I don't know how much the pieces were intended to be "intellectual", or of the mind only. I don't know if this is even a consideration in the composers' mind. For me the pieces had dance, sway, and expression in them.

The last piece, Hierophonie V (1974), by Yoshihisa Taira, began with shouts and rhythmic taiko-type drumming, followed by a quieter section, and ended with the shouts and drumming again. Suddenly the earthquake, tsunami, and on-going nuclear disaster in Japan all came rushing forward in a huge wave that paralyzed me, and this piece became the voice of humanity.

Have mercy on us.

No comments:

Post a Comment