- It Is Time
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Steve Mackey is a composer who can be counted on to produce music that crosses genres without inhibition and that's immediately appealing, and So Percussion's performances are consistently imaginative in choice of repertoire and eagerness to stretch the parameters of traditional concert music. The result of the collaboration, It Is Time, is everything this combination of talents promises to be: a dynamic and unconventional but thoroughly engaging new work that doesn't sound quite like anything else. The piece is in four movements (plus a brief epilogue) -- "Metronome," "Steel Drums," "Marimba," "Drums" -- each featuring one of the quartet's players, although the movements are unified by considerable timbral and rhythmic and motivic overlap. Mackey creates an intricate layering of textures using both precisely notated rhythms and pitches performed by the players, and mechanical devices that produce rhythms independent of the live performers, such as old-fashioned wooden pendulum metronomes (the first sound of the piece is the mechanical winding up of a metronome), kitchen egg-timers, and Newton's cradles (the swinging-ball desk toys commonly known as "executive ball clickers"). The effect is fascinating, unpredictable (but not random-sounding), and often just plain lovely. As excellent as the audio experience of the CD is, the DVD that's included is even more fun. It's true of almost any music (except perhaps purely electronic music where the only visual element is stationary speakers) that the experience is richer when watching the musicians' physical movements. It may be even more true of percussion music, for a couple of reasons. The nature of the instrumental set-up requires a certain amount of choreography that engages the whole body in a way that's usually more visually expressive than the movements of a wind player's fingers, for instance. Also, percussionists use such a wide variety of instruments, including, in many works, virtually any type of object capable of producing an audible sound when struck, blown, or rubbed, that it's intriguing to see the source of sounds that aren't part of the listener's routine musical experience. The DVD of It Is Time has the additional element of a mesmerizing video by Mark DeChiazza
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The quartet So Percussion, Ensemble-in-Residence at Princeton, have recorded Princeton faculty member Steve Mackey's "It Is Time" on CD and DVD. The piece is a little under 40 minutes long, and allows each member of So Percussion to perform as a virtuoso soloist, with each movement of the work acting as a "mini-concerto". A metronome is wound up and set to click, and two performers begin tapping out syncopated rhythms on a second metronome, using the "stick" ends of mallets. One performer (Eric Beach) oversees a multi-percussion set up, and as he plays, the ticking metronome is suddenly heard with a delay/reverb effect. The other members of the group each get their own instrument to overtake: Josh Quillen follows on steel drums, Adam Sliwinski on marimba, and Jason Treuting on drum set. Each of the movements of the piece flow into the other, and the concept of time is altered by the fact that the once-rigid tempo dissolves away, and the players explore the piece in varying tempi. Along with traditional percussion instruments, So Percussion employ a pump organ, kitchen timers, small wind-up toys and, on the DVD, an impressive video backdrop on a large screen, showing various images behind the performers. As exciting as the CD is to listen to, the DVD is even more impressive. The listener/viewer is given the option to hear the piece in stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The video performance of "It Is Time" is expertly produced and choreographed, and the performers explore the stage and, at times, even control the times the other performers may move, via percussive cues. In some instances, the performers are "blurred" as they move about the stage, creating a hallucinatory effect, which works well with the music. Music students and new music fans that are looking for something innovative and fresh in the percussion repertoire need look no further. This is intelligent music, with a little bit of comedy relief thrown in for good measure. Easily recommended.
Steve Mackey continues to fascinate me as I hear more and more of his music and discover how it has developed over the years. The California native who presently teaches at Princeton University. Additionally, Mackey has a growing reputation as a teacher of young composers and is well versed on the history and development of contemporary American music. His views on the marketing of modern music and the role of critics in new music scene are both refreshing and spot on! His latest disc proves these points perfectly. "It is Time" was written for the absolutely stunning and consistently innovative percussion ensemble So Percussion. (Canteloupe Music CA21076) I have always enjoyed the kinetic energy inherent in percussion ensemble music and Mackey's new work "It is Time" is a very entertaining and well written ensemble work Actually, the best part of this release is that it comes with two discs - an audio CD as well as a DVD with So Percussion performing the work. "It is Time" was inspired by the composers thoughts on being a new father and the passage of time. Additionally, Mackey reports some connection to the poem "Time is Time" by the African poet Isaac Maliya. As a starting point for a percussion piece the concept of time utilizing the instrumental voices whose primary and historical role is to keep time (including a metronome as an instrument) is highly creative. The work is divided into five movements connected somewhat by a melody that emerges first in the steel drum movement. The sections that also describe that voice that serves as the focal point are : Metronome - Steel Drums - Marimba - Drums - Epilogue. I must say that it is always fun to listen to a work like this on CD and try to identify the various instruments and follow the rhythmic patterns but having the DVD live performance is more enjoyable. It offers a whole new dimension to the experience and there is not denying the talent and stage excitement of So Percussion. Accompanied by an interesting video backdrop showing various objects move, fall, respond in time designed by Mark DeChiazza and Oliver Jevremov is an interesting touch. I have to say that this might be my favorite Steven Mackey piece. I am familiar with his Dreamhouse and Beautiful Passing and like those as well but there is something about the raw energy within It is Time that I found very compelling and the dual format is a big reason why! Highly recommended!