April 04, 2005
math can be beautiful
I have been way into Steve Reich lately. I admire the uncanny way he is able to combine incredibly interesting concepts with remarkably listenable and engaging music. Often it seems like when art is conceptual or based on something that is more of an idea than an emotion, it becomes stale and lifeless or sometimes even plain old ugly. Mr. Reich does not have this problem.
I went to the Gardner Museum two weekends ago to see So Percussion perform several Reich pieces, including his incredible 1971 masterpiece 'Drumming'. This piece is so hard to play and so freaking cool that it turned a bunch of pudgy, super dorked-out 20-somethings into gods for the evening. I could go on and on about what it is that makes the piece so interesting, but I really want to get this posted soon!
The piece is over an hour long and there is only one thing that happens the entire time. There is one rhythmic motive that repeats literally for the entire duration. It is played by up to a dozen musicians in and out of phase with each other, and the tonal qualities are shifted throughout by moving from tuned bongos to marimbas to glockenspiels, but nonetheless, there is only one thing going on. I'm serious; there are essentially no melodies, and no harmonic shifts. Sounds boring, eh? I challenge you to listen and come away saying that.
I have found that when you go to concerts by yourself, there are hidden benefits, such as not having to worry if your companion is having a good time and more importantly, having the ability to sit in those single seats that pop up in good locations. It is safe to say that I wasn't early to this concert, though with a little effort and aimless wandering through the general admission setup at the Gardner, I managed to secure myself a seat in the front row. As in NOTHING in front of me but for the musicians, ten feet away. I am pretty familiar with 'Drumming', but seeing it played so expertly right in front of my eyes was another experience entirely. I could actually see the phasing of the instruments with each other as well as hear it. The blur of sticks and mallets added a new dimension that the cd does not provide. And it was remarkable that the performers didn't get inextricably tangled up with each other as they piled multiple players on a set of bongos and a singular marimba.
It was really refreshing to be at such an incredible performance surrounded by teenagers and octogenarians alike. It was loud and raucous and fun and simple and complex and difficult and all around the expression a genius.