So Percussion (Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, Lawson White)
There was a line and So Percussion crossed it. They’d never been just another modern performance ensemble anyway. That Amid the Noise might be the glacially luminous headphone trip-out of the season is beside the point. 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, the20-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 the green pastures of 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 established a disciplined work ethic. Pieces were learned whole -- memorized and absorbed -- instead of merely read. In performance, music stands were jettisoned for a stunning live dynamic. 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.” Their newest effort Amid the Noise began as an after-hours project. Eager to expand their palette, So members Treuting, Adam Sliwinski and Lawson White began experimenting. Films were watched (mostly documentaries by Treuting’s sister, Jenise), and poems were considered. Phrases from Basho, Max Ehrmann and an anti-war protester the group encountered were excerpted by Treuting and used as structural springboards to idiosyncratic tone explorations. White programmed, stripping away layers, Sliwinski adding them elsewhere. On glockenspiel, toy piano, vibraphones, bowed marimba, melodica, tuned and prepared pipes, metals and a wayward ethernet port, the trio shaped melodies. Rhythmically rich, the dozen cuts on Amid the Noise chart an inner emotional course, equally soothing and unsettling. White synchronized it to Jenise’s haunting street scenes of Manhattan and Tokyo. 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 many eons), the members of So Percussion are themselves, imaginary lines or not.
Matmos is comprised of 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 DJed at proms for homeless teenagers. Their first album, Matmos, was released in 1998 to which was said “A must buy containing untold wonders . . Electronics Valhalla . . . material structures captured and folded into tunnels of sonic amazement” (the Wire, UK). Their other albums include Quasi-Objects, The West, California Rhinoplasty EP, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, Matmos Live with J Lesser, The Civil War, Rat Relocation Program EP and, the most current released this year, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast. A new 3 song EP will shortly be available which is entitled For Alan Turing and is a tribute to the British mathematician, philosopher, cryptographer and homosexual martyr. Matmos has also created a very limited CD of Work, Work, Work from their Yerba Buena residency, i.e. the jewels hauled from the bog of Matmos’ 97 hour-long performance marathon inside an art gallery. Other collaborations and/or splits albums include Tony Labat and Anna Novakov, Piano Magic Motion and Wobbly. 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 have scored the soundtracks for five gay porn films, one pinball machine, and one NASCAR television commercial.