Golden Hornet Project Percussion VII
This concert of new music was driven by experiments with rhythm and sound
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 5, 2011
Golden Hornet Project Percussion VII
ND at 501 Studios, 501 N. I-35
Given the instruments clustered on floor of ND at 501 Studios last Saturday night, we looked to be in just another music club. But once the Golden Hornet Project's Percussion VII concert started, it was clear that we were really locked inside a laboratory with bass drums, snares, timpani, marimbas, a vibraphone, glockenspiels, and cymbals standing in for the Bunsen burners, Tesla coils, and Erlenmeyer flasks of a scientific lair, and GHP masterminds Peter Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds, along with their percussion-adept colleagues Thomas Burritt, Chuck Fischer, and Owen Weaver, filling the roles of mad scientists. Throughout the program, these musicians consistently pushed past the frontiers of traditional musical patterns and instrumentation in search of new sounds and new ways to make them.
The tone was set as soon as Stopschinski knelt in front of a snare and began brushing foliage across it. The amplified sound was light-years from Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, or whoever represents your generational touchstone of great drumming, and it went even further afield as he beat the drum with the branch until leaves flew off it. And he struck a bell that he'd set on the drumhead so hard that it was repeatedly catapulted off the stage. The piece was erratic, eccentric, and intriguingly new.
Not everything that followed was as aggressively offbeat – literally and figuratively – as "Dillrod," but everything was intriguingly new. All 14 pieces on the program were original, either composed by Stopschinski or Reynolds or commissioned by them from other composers. Sometimes the experimental nature of a work came from the instrumentation, as with Reynolds' "Orange Cans," during which he drummed on a large, rusted metal can and a small propane tank, and "Boards and Blades," a piece he wrote for Weaver employing three wooden boards and a series of circular-saw blades purchased from Home Depot to beat rhythms on. "Less Than a Fat Baby" by Reed Wallsmith of Portland jazz combo the Blue Cranes, which performed earlier this year at Fusebox Festival, required Fischer to play a bass drum turned on its side with duct tape (smoothed down and then ripped off) and little balls like marbles or ball bearings rolling around under clear bowls. Its climax also offered the night's most theatrical moment: With the balls rolling loose across the drumhead, Fischer began pounding it with mallets, sending the little projectiles bouncing high and far out into the audience.
In a similar vein, Stopschinski took a traditional instrument but had it played in such a nontraditional way as to sound unfamiliar: By scratching a drumstick across the underside of a snare drum, Weaver approximated the sound of an old-school turntable scratcher. It was so invigorating that you wanted to hear it again – and Stopschinski let you, following the solo "Rubbur" with "Rubbur 5-Way," which repeated the piece but with additional percussion by the other four musicians, taking it from an intense little chamber work to something full and symphonic.
Sometimes the sense of experimentation came from the play of rhythm and tone, as with "Rondo-Scherzo," a piece by recent high school graduate Zerek Dodson that used marimba, vibraphone, and glockenspiel in movements that alternated between a sort of Russian lyricism à la Prokofiev and an antic cartoon score from the mind of Raymond Scott. The rhythms were infectious but entirely unpredictable. (Dodson was not the only high school composer on the program, either; the Apple Trio, a threesome from McCallum Fine Arts Academy, was represented by the fetching "Trio," a piece as sweet as the group's namesake fruit.)
The pieces more often had the feeling of sketches rather than fully developed musical ideas, but that didn't matter in the end. What drove the evening was the pure, propulsive nature of the experimentation itself and the restless pursuit of fresh sounds and cadences by these expert innovators. And that carried you all the way. By the end, my body had absorbed so many new rhythms that my poor heart didn't know what way to beat.