“…[an] acutely sensitive approach to sound…”
June 25, 2018
by Pwyll ap Siôn
Gone are the days when percussion players would spend their time counting empty bars at the back of the orchestra. The percussion section now plays an integral part in any symphony orchestra’s sonic armoury. Yet the most exciting work continues to take place away from the conductor’s podium through percussion groups and ensembles. These highly flexible and adaptable mini-multi-orchestras form a natural tributary for today’s many stylistic cross-currents. Western, non-Western, classical, folk, jazz, avant-garde or pop — such diverse influences converge and connect in these more flexible contexts, resulting in inventive cross-fertilisations and creative collaborations.
Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion epitomise this new dynamic new breed. Following on from their award-winning disc of music by Steve Reich (Cedille, 6/16), Paddle to the Sea showcases the percussion quartet’s talents as composers and performers. The central work is the group’s evocative soundtrack to the Academy Award-nominated film Paddle to the Sea, produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1966, itself based on Holling C. Holling’s 1941 children’s book of the same name.
The score, which makes use of a bewildering array of instruments ranging from marimbas, vibraphones and drum kit to glass bowls, tuned cowbells, pitched desk bells, ceramic tiles and sand blocks, could have easily resulted in a dense textural tangle laden with special effects. However, Third Coast Percussion’s acutely sensitive approach to sound yields a work that glides effortlessly and subtly between animated rhythmic sections and moments of serene, tranquil reflection.