November 27, 2017
by Peter Margasak
Chicago’s remarkable Third Coast Percussion spent several years working on this challenging work by French composer Philippe Manoury, a demanding piece for tuned percussion of rigorous post-Boulez complexity. It’s an interesting project for the group, who have proactively pushed the sounds of contemporary percussion music away from the academy toward a more mainstream listenership. But the music of Manoury—who often works in electro-acoustic contexts—is a long way from Steve Reich or Augusta Read Thomas. That the group is able to essay these difficult works with such deceptive ease and genuine clarity, giving The Book of Keyboards a glistening appeal, speaks to their technical mastery. Five of the six movements, as well as an epic complementary piece, “Métal,” are actually scored for a percussion sextet, and on those pieces the group is joined by Gregory Beyer of Ensemble Dal Niente and Ross Karre of International Contemporary Ensemble.
Those movements feature a variety of expected instruments like marimba and vibraphone, but they also require the ensemble to play hard-to-find Thai gongs and versions of a microtonal homemade instrument called a sixxen, originally conceived of by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Yet ultimately, it’s the exacting score, which asks the musicians to play with fluidity and grace while navigating thorny, hyper-difficult passages—both in terms of rhythm and melody—that are part of a score that largely dispenses with transparent structures, although the music itself is intensely structured. Manoury’s facility with electro-acoustic works is apparent in the use of overtones, a virtual extravaganza of ringing resonance, even on “Marimba Duo” between Robert Dillon and David Skidmore, and “Vibraphone Solo” played by Peter Martin.
Read about the other albums featured in this edition of Bandcamp Daily here.