So Percussion: Amid the Noise

Formed at the Yale School of Music in 1999, So Percussion accomplishes the enviable feat of establishing itself as a credible ‘new music' percussion ensemble without sounding overly indebted to Steve Reich. One way the quartet downplays the association is by integrating electronic textures into its material. Consequently, a piece like “White,” with its echoing chimes and static-flecked rhythm patterns, becomes more an electronic composition that happens to accentuate percussive elements, rather than a percussion piece per se; in similar manner, “September” is more Electronic-Gamelan than Music For Eighteen Musicians. So Percussion also distances itself from the minimalism association by expanding the range of instrumentation; in addition to the expected vibes, glockenspiels, and marimbas, Amid the Noise adds Fender Rhodes, toy piano, kalimba, harmonica, melodica, tuned and prepared pipes, drums, synthesizer, and murmuring voices to the mix (guitars appear too, courtesy of Grey McMurray and Masaru Takahashi). Finally, despite the fact that the group's first two Cantaloupe releases feature the work of established composers (a four-person realization of Reich's epic Drumming, conventionally performed by nine percussion players, and a debut that includes works by David Lang and Evan Ziporyn), the dozen pieces on Amid the Noise are entirely composed by group co-founder Jason Treuting and are, by ‘classical' standards, brief with many in the four-minute range.

The stop-start rhythms and melancholy aura that initiate the crystalline “Go” suggest a Michael Torke influence but the character of the piece dramatically shifts after the intro to become an almost entrancing ‘world' amalgam of African and Asian sounds. Amid the Noise is often, though not exclusively, dreamily atmospheric and soothing (i.e., the peaceful closer “February”), a quality reinforced by the vibraphone's reverberant gleam. The group is clearly adventurous and ambitious: Treuting and Lawson White are also members of Alarm Will Sound (which released Acoustica, the recent collection of Aphex Twin interpretations), and So Percussion is not only touring with Matmos this fall but may also collaborate with the equally explorative Drew Daniels and M.C. Schmidt on an album next year.

November 2006