October 6, 2014
by Britt Robson
The third season of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series began with a bang — and a clang, a pebbly shake, and the unmistakable noise caused by unstuck tape.
That just scratches the surface of the fascinating sonic and physical choreography involved in “Wild Sound,” a 43-minute composition that tickled the ears and teased the imagination of a sold-out crowd at the Music Room at SPCO Center in St. Paul Sunday night. It was the second-ever performance of the piece, following its world premiere at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, and will be reprised in the Music Room on Monday.
Composed over a six-year period by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche in collaboration with his fellow Chicagoans from the Third Coast Percussion quartet, much of the music in “Wild Sound,” is derived from integrating the sounds of making and unmaking the instruments being used. It puts a clever twist on the phrase “work in progress.”
The first of the composition’s four movements, “Wilderness,” has the four Third Coast Percussion members (Kotche does not perform in the piece) sawing, snapping and shearing wood and metal, filling cans with rice and banging on the spokes and chains of an upturned bicycle.
Ambient audio is included from field recordings made by Kotche. Video images consonant with the performance are projected on a large screen. But neither seem vital enough to divert attention from the four performers who never stop moving their arms and legs throughout the piece. The ingenuity of the concept makes their intricately interwoven activities riveting enough, as the execution of a laudable gimmick.
The glory of “Wild Sound” is that the composition delivers the musical goods — there is a wide swath of shifting textures and timbres, rhythms and moods. It is infused with an inspirational sense of fun and curiosity.
The middle two movements are “Rural” and “Industrial,” and are borne on the fuller sound of the now more-advanced instrumentation, such as the squares of metal hung on coat-rack like structures for easy clanging, and wood blocks clustered by rope. Electric drills are prominent during “Industrial.” For the final movement, “Modern,” the quartet touches special keyboards designed specifically for the piece by engineers at Notre Dame, that are glued to plastic squares and hung on the coat racks. The four create a beautifully orchestrated chiming weave on these keyboards. Yet this fourth movement is more static in its metamorphosis than what has come before.
The first half of the program contained five shorter works — two by Kotche, two by renowned modern minimalist composer Steve Reich, and an opening song by Brazilian Joao Gilberto. A highlight was an energetic drum duet by Kotche and Third Coast Percussion member David Skidmore on Reich’s “Music For Drums.”
But “Wild Sound” was the ballyhooed centerpiece of the performance and lived up to the hype. The credo for the Liquid Music series is that it “expands the world of classical music through innovative new projects, boundary-defying artists and unique new presentation formats.”
No performance in the series’ brief history fits that criteria better than “Wild Sound.”