- Timber, for 6 percussionists
Michael Gordon's "Timber," a commission from Dutch percussion ensemble Slagwerk Den Haag, grew out of a collaboration between the composer and the performers. After Gordon presented his initial concept to the ensemble he and the players decided on using six simantras, an instrument developed by Xenakis that is basically a two-by-four plank, and that decision determined the character and development of the work. The simantras have a sharp, bright attack but are surprisingly resonant, and each generates a variety of overtones. "Timber" is performed with the instruments arranged in a hexagon, and one of the work's most striking elements is the way the music travels in canonic waves around the circle of players. The stereo recording manages to convey the circularity of the movement beautifully and the sound is crisp and immaculate. The music consists of rhythmic ostinatos that move from player to player and evolve into layers of polyrhythms of dazzling complexity, creating a shimmering, magical web of sound. In the nearly hour-long piece, the pulse changes only once, a tiny shift slower that starts toward the end of the third track; it's remarkable in a piece of this length with such long stretches of music of unvarying pulse that Gordon is able to keep the listener constantly engaged. The key may lie in his skill in creating a continual ebb and flow of energy that feels inexorable but is not predictable. The score does not specify simantras of any particular pitch but each does produce a definite fundamental pitch, and although the perception of the pitch is secondary to the impact of the percussive attack, its subtly shifting melodic contours (and even an understated melodic counterpoint) are as beguiling as its rhythmic intricacies. Apart from the surprising sensuality of the sound itself, "Timber"'s appeal and strength are evident in the richness and depth it reveals on repeated hearings. Slagwerk Den Haag plays the staggeringly difficult score with uncanny precision and attention to the infinitesimal gradations of dynamics that the piece requires to make its full impact; it's a remarkably assured performance. Highly recommended of any fans of new music or music for percussion.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I should preface this review by saying I'm a huge Michael Gordon fan. If there was a cult to join I might be blindly sucked in, if a light show was included. I only feel that way about a handful of living composers and here is why concerning Mr. Gordon. The music is like a stare that you can't look away from. It is a stare where all you see are the eyes, no other features-no mouth, nose, or cheeks. It is the stare of God that sees all your ridiculous foibles and you are stuck like Adam, frozen in the garden clutching a fig leaf. 'Timber' is that 'stare' x 100, with 6-pitched 2x4s that makes for a very focused experience. I have to say if I really listened to this entire CD intently, I would cut off all my appendages and join the priesthood, live in silence in the basement of some forgotten monastery. If you listen less intently, it is like a bath for the soul where you are cleanse of the memory of any 12-tone music, bad lounge acts, or ump-pah-pah bands you might have kicking around in the inner sanctum of your mind. If you listen even less intently and do your bills or taxes, then you are doing your bills in space in some kind of capsule that seems sure to run out of oxygen. Given the limited musical articulation tools, all Gordon has to play with are harmonic rhythm (usually undulating tremolos faster and faster), texture (created by louder or softer playing) and actual notated rhythms or motives of the 16th/8th note variety. The first section starts with the tremolos and ends with a typical Gordon sped up harmonic rhythm climax- which then goes back to the opening, only simpler, long undulations of single pitches (Mt. 2). By now it's the overtones that are impeding ones ability to think clearly. Muscles start to seize inexplicably. A slight tick in the eye. Oh my God, I'm only at 14 mins. -how I'm I going to get through this. A tightness in the chest around 16 mins.---I wish I had electrodes attached to a mountain of monitoring equipment, so I could record exactly what time each one of my organs exploded. Those overtones. Anyone see that 1950's sci-fi movie based on the Tempest-what was the name of that movie -I can't think -there was a robot somewhere, a dark inky cloud also. Harmonic rhythm speeding up but in waves now. If you happen to be doing your taxes now you're going to prison for some highly inaccurate, self-preservation math. The undulating waves turning to granular synthesis, textured climax. I'm at part 3-long held notes that suddenly move to a climax. My breathing is relaxing slightly but let's not get too optimistic. There is an underling tension and menacing foreshadowing, that says it's not going to get better. We are back to the undulating harmonic rhythms, which become extended to identifiable notated rhythms. Mt. 4 moves logically to the articulated 8th notes triplets (?) enveloping louder and softer. The 6 pitches overlap one another in all the possible permutations. Each permutation has different overtone sequence-which again I'm back in that space capsule counting sheep in order not to go mad. Gradually stuck note quarters invade. Once again the harmonic rhythm is speeding up -more shortness of breath. Then 16th notes squash the quarter notes. This music is very intense as it clashes with what could be eighth note triplets-I can't tell anymore. Another climax at the end of movement 4. I'm at the fifth movement and I'm trying to find out if there are any AA meeting going on right now in m