October 5, 2014
by Andrew S. Hughes
SOUTH BEND — Glenn Kotche’s “Wild Sound” couldn’t exist without today’s technology.
With its superimposed live and pre-recorded videos; an audio track of such sounds as a barreling locomotive, rain falling and traffic in a city; microphones embedded throughout the stage and in instruments; and its Plexiglas synthesizers for its finale, technology’s an essential part of performing and experiencing “Wild Sound.”
And yet, as Third Coast Percussion showed in its world premiere performance Friday night at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, “Wild Sound” is a deeply human, organic work at heart that, over and over, turns everyday sounds into music — grains of rice, for example, or the rubber of a bicycle tire that produces a delicious, warm bass note or a drum made from a large cardboard tube with packing tape serving as the drumhead.
Moreover, Third Coast’s musicians — Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore — spend much of the performance constructing their instruments, and that, of course, contributes to both the humanity and rawness of “Wild Sound” by making a visceral connection between performer and instrument that the audience witnesses come into being. It must be seen to be heard.
“Wild Sound,” and its accompanying video scenes, describes wilderness, rural, industrial and urban settings as the piece builds from primarily rhythmic themes to melodic and harmonic themes, although the sound of friction also plays a relatively large role in “Wild Sound,” perhaps best when a violin bow is used on a miked table top.
Although Kotche develops his themes, the piece rarely lingers over a single groove for very long — the music, like the videos, has a kinetic sensibility — and often consists of two or three sounds playing what seem to be distinct parts simultaneously even though the work has a sturdy unity to its construction.
But at other times, two, three or all four of Third Coast’s members play in unison.
A trio consisting of xylophone, tuned wooden blocks and vessels made from ceramics, glass and metal, for example, creates an exquisitely beautiful, idyllic section with its melody and harmony parts.
At two points, Third Coast also involves the audience in the making of the music, with a member of the quartet encouraging people to rub their hands together, clap and play a rhythm pattern on their thighs while another member wields the wide, thin metal sheets Foley artists use to create the sound of a howling wind. Taken together, it adds up to quite a storm.
Later, the audience is instructed to tear apart the piece of wood it was given upon entering and to scratch the serrated cut edges against each other to a rhythm pattern.
For the finale, the quartet plays synthesizers designed by a team of students from the College of Engineering working under professors Jay Brockman and Douglas Hall.
Made from Plexiglas and sensors using Arduino technology, they recall analog synthesizers from the early 1980s that approximated the sound of an instrument and had a definite electronic timbre to them, unlike today’s digital synthesizers that use samples of real instruments for perfect replication.
The music here emphasizes melody, harmony and, at times, dissonance, while the sound itself has a genuine warmth to it in many places and a wholly electronic presence in others that recalls Pete Townshend’s synthesizer work on “Who’s Next.”
The first half of Friday’s concert consisted of five works played by combinations of Kotche, the drummer for Wilco, and Third Coast’s members.
Varied in sound and style, these works by Kotche, Joao Gilberto and Steve Reich provided an entertaining and, especially in the case of Kotche’s dystopian-sounding Drumkit Quartet #51, thought-provoking prelude to “Wild Sound.”