Album review: Perpetulum

August 10, 2019
by Graham Rickson

“a beautifully produced and stunningly engineered double album”

Think minimalism and you think tuned percussion, though Philip Glass’s Perpetulum is actually his first work specifically written for percussion ensemble. Beginning with several minutes of unpitched shakes and rattles, it’s hugely enjoyable, confirming my suspicion that Glass is at his best when writing on a small scale. Who’d have thought that percussion music could be so expressive and emotionally involving, Perpetulum upbeat and menacing by turns. There’s a mind-bending cadenza; how can this much noise be generated by just four players? Glass’s chord progressions are naively simple at times, though they’ve an extra sharpness and oomph when delivered on marimba and xylophone. The work’s soft fade is enchanting, and phenomenally played. Gavin Bryars’ The Other Side of the River is a rhapsodic treat, the occasionally cheesy themes deliciously incongruous played on tuned percussion. This is a beautifully produced and stunningly engineered double album, though disappointingly short on actual information about the pieces played.

Three other pieces are composed by members of Third Coast Percussion. Longest is David Skidmore’s seven-movement Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities. Skidmore makes entertaining use of supplementary electronics, and it’s a surprise to hear a drum kit bashing away in the second section. Peter Martin’s Bend features what sounds like bowed percussion, making the instruments breathe. And Robert Dillon’s Ordering-Instincts explores the full gamut of what a percussion ensemble can do, its deep basso rumblings set alongside high taps and scrapes. I’ve no idea what any of these titles mean, but no matter. Each work is impressive, though the same group’s last album Paddle to the Sea makes for a more involving introduction to these players’ abilities.

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