So Percussion plays Steven Mackey’s It Is Time at AIR: From time to space… and back

Yesterday night, So Percussion was having a release party for Steven Mackey’s It Is Time (Cantaloupe).

Hosted by AIR (Art International Radio) in lower Manhattan’s historic Clocktower Gallery (how à propos), the show was actually taking place right beneath the clock, in an intimate space featuring a curvy steel and Plexiglas structure. The room was quite packed when the clock stroke 7 and the concert began.

So Percussion

It Is Time is a quadruple percussion concerto written by Steven Mackey, one of the most badass living composers out there. The concerto is divided in 5 movements: Metronome, Steel Drums, Marimba, Drums, and Epilogue, for a total duration of about 40 minutes.

The first movement started with an analog metronome ticking, soon echoed by imitative syncopated rhythms on temple blocks. The high pitched wooden ticks filled the space with a rare sense of urgency as a micro gamelan of small bells entered. The syncopation got wilder and wilder, slowly blurring the pull of the metronome that ended up disappearing. The rigid textural space created in the first movement was followed by a more resonant and metallic one, centered on the steel drums.

So Percussion - Josh Quillen on steel drums

Josh Quillen on steel drums

The subjective perception of time really got altered by these lush, free passages on the steel drum and—as if the contrast was not strong enough—the introduction of a microtonal steel drum finished to liquefy the notion of time (the projected video by Mark DeChiazza was then showing drops of white liquid slowly dripping in a white tank). The metronomic pulse reappeared as a Newton’s cradle, but this time it was more perceived as an echo, a consequence, than really a guiding force.

The marimba (played by Adam Sliwinski) entered, for the third movement, and shaped some beautiful echoing waves. The echo was not due to the space itself but written in the score, and one might think that the composer wanted to focus more on the audience’s awareness of the auditory space. From time to space. Seamlessly, the drums emerged and Jason Treuting delivered an incredible fourth movement that was free, controlled, and sometimes outlining a melody on the crotales in the middle of a break. I personally felt that the movement culminated in a sick drums/cowbell duet that would’ve taken Bruce Dickinson’s fever away. From space to time?

Steven Mackey, Jason Treuting and Josh Quillen chilling after the concert

Overall, the piece offers some quiet, introspective, very suggestive moments and infectious grooves flirting with jazz, rock or, as Mackey’s bio states:

vernacular music from a culture that doesn’t actually exist.

The CD comes with a full DVD by Mark DeChiazza which goes beyond a simple video recording of the performance, and adds a layer of interpretation to this already rich piece. Here’s a trailer:

So Percussion: Steve Mackey's IT IS TIME

Do you have a favorite Mackey piece? Or a So Percussion album? Please, feel free to post a comment or find us on Twitter: @icareifulisten