“Challenging, ingenious, electronic surrealism for the brain and ears.” —Playlouder on Matmos
“Brilliant . . . So Percussion [was] energetic and thorough in mining all these works for their visceral and structural thrills.” —New York Times
Making viscerally intense music out of the sounds of animals (crayfish swimming and rats in cages), objects (latex, the pages of a bible, and human skulls), and actions (cards shuffling, spinning coins, and liposuction surgery), electronic duo Matmos has collaborated with such diverse musical visionaries as Björk, the Kronos Quartet, and People Like Us and created original music for a pinball machine. Performing at the Walker Art Center, they are joined by the captivating chamber quartet So Percussion, hailed as one of the most exciting young ensembles in the country (recently featured at Carnegie Hall, the Bang on a Can Marathon, and the BAM Next Wave Festival), and former Twin Citian Kitundu, known for his sculptural, hand-built turntables that elaborate on the sonic possibilities of the record player. Matmos, So Percussion, and Kitundu perform on Saturday, May 19, at 8 pm in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater.
Matmos is M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel. They make music out of the sounds of objects, animals, people, and actions. They have collaborated with Rachel’s, So Percussion, Jay Lesser, Alter Ego, People Like Us, Kronos Quartet, and Björk. They have shared stages with Slint and Wolf Eyes, remixed Foetus and Erase Errata (and many others), taught seminars on sound art at Harvard University and the San Francisco Art Institute, and DJ’d at proms for homeless teenagers. They have had pieces in the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, did a 17-day live performance at the Yerba Buena Museum of Contemporary Art in San Francisco, and they have scored the soundtracks for five gay porn films, one pinball machine, and one NASCAR television commercial.
So Percussion is comprised of Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Lawson White. Following two acclaimed albums of rigorous music by modern master Steve Reich and even-more-modern masters David Lang and Evan Ziporyn, as well as ongoing collaborations with hepcat Björk producers Matmos, the 20-something quartet has discovered a bold new voice: their own.
Called “astonishing and entrancing” by Billboard, “brilliant” by the New York Times, the discovery is perfectly appropriate. Coming together in New Haven at Yale’s graduate program, So Percussion was created to give fresh voice to what co-founder Jason Treuting calls “funky contemporary music.” Devoted to the conceptual dreamscapes of Reich, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, and others, So Percussion established a disciplined work ethic, learning pieces whole—memorized and absorbed—instead of merely read. A blind call to Bang on a Can founder David Lang yielded a commission. Called “a must-hear” by Billboard, their self-titled debut featured Lang’s “the so-called laws of nature.”
In 2004, realizing Steve Reich’s nine-part Drumming as a quartet, they made one small step for music, one radical step for a percussion group: they overdubbed—and to great success. Having explored the past, in the form of Reich’s classics, and the present, in the form of Lang and Ziporyn’s freshest, it was time for So Percussion to start exploring the future.
In that vein, their newest CD/DVD Amid the Noise began as an after-hours project. Eager to expand their palette, the members of So Percussion experimented with glockenspiel, toy piano, vibraphones, bowed marimba, melodica, tuned and prepared pipes, metals, a wayward ethernet port, and all kinds of sound programming. The resulting idiosyncratic tone explorations were synchronized to Jenise Treuting’s haunting films of street scenes in Manhattan and Tokyo.
“If you’re sick of the sounds you’ve got, you go and find more,” declares Sliwinski of the group’s sonic philosophy. “There’s always something to hit or rub or whatever.” It is an approach they have taken with them to countless educational programs, ranging from teaching adolescents to master classes with student percussionists and composers at Juilliard, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Texas, the University of Toronto, The Moscow Conservatory, and many other schools. It also has inspired them to commission dozens of composers to write for this most eclectic of instrumental groups. With the list spanning such notables as David Lang and Paul Lansky to emerging talents Cenk Ergun, Dennis DeSantis, and Suzanne Farrin, this unique repertoire has been heard at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and The Knitting Factory in New York; the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco; Montreal’s Le National; and elsewhere.
With an audience comprised of “both kinds of blue hair . . . elderly matron here, arty punk there” (as the Boston Globe described it), So Percussion makes a rare and wonderful breed of music that both compels instantly and offers vast rewards for engaged listening. Edgy (at least in the sense that little other music sounds like this) and ancient (in that people have been hitting objects with sticks for eons) So Percussion is nothing if not itself.
Kitundu is a sound/visual artist, graphic designer, composer, and instrument builder. He uses an interdisciplinary approach to develop compositions-installations-instruments that blur the boundaries between media. He has constructed elemental turntables that rely on wood, water, fire, and earthquakes for their power and pitch. Kitundu is the creator of a family of Phonoharps, beautifully crafted multistringed instruments made from record players. He strives to reconnect the technology of new music to fundamental principles drawn from the natural world.
Kitundu has an ongoing residency at the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco. He has recently been in residence at Eagle Rock School in Colorado, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Singapore Science Centre. Kitundu is developing a Geologic Sound Casting project for volcanically active regions and was granted a five-week artist residency at Skriduklaustur in Eastern Iceland in September 2004. He was raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Tickets to Matmos/So Percussion/Kitundu are $20 ($16 Walker members); and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.