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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Greg Stuart, Subtractions


Music for a solo percussionist was a part of the legacy of 20th century uber Modernism. It was John Cage, Lou Harrison, Edgard Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen we can thank, among a few others, and it has changed the idea of instrumentality to include now the extraordinary potential of the language of nonpitched sound color.

As if to fill us in for some of where the percussive New Music arts are now we have Subtractions (New Focus Recordings FCR 348) by Greg Stuart. It gives us some very intensively probing compositions, some two, that further define the possible sound universe in engaging ways.

The most satisfying is perhaps "Border Loss" (2021) by Sarah Hennies. The work concentrates on a recurring universe of combinatory logic from specific percussion objects and the manner in which they are struck, a kind of free falling, tumbling expressive panorama of testificatory fullness. Happily to it reminds of some exemplary early Free Jazz drumming, such as the classic duet by Sonny Morgan and Miford Graves, Percussion Ensemble (1966). There is like on that recording a barrage of recurring sound family identities. It then kicks into a higher intensity explosion that nicely takes it all into higher orbit in virtuoso post pitching that gives us the Space Age as we might dream of it. In the final thrust of the music we get an all over continuous smear of sound that we do not expect to hear in such a context, yet then it alerts us to how much sound a physical battery such as this might produce in imaginative compositional minds and ready-to-hand performatives. This is a real tour de force that anyone interested in the New Music percussion world should contemplate by deep listening.

From there we get a two-movement work entitled "Side By Side" ( 2021) as composed by Michael Pisaro-Liu. We revel in extended techniques of sounding a drum, in setting an initial set of tones in provocative ways, and then on to another continuous soundscape of rubbing drum sounds that gradually acquire exploratory pitch center drones that surprise and beguile in time. Mallet driven cymbal-gong sustains then enter into the wash and thicken the timbral construct even further.

From there the second movement starts with vibraphone long notes that refresh and set up another sonic micro-orchestration that is nice to hear of not exactly world shattering. Yet in does land us suitably after a height scaling percussion deluge. 

But in the end the first half of the program makes it all worthwhile. So surely give this a listen and get a good feel for what can be happening in percussive advances. Bravo Greg Stuart for his brilliant performing self, and composers Sarah Hennies and Michael Pisaro-Liu for their often bold sorties into where we are. Recommended.

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