“Percussion music,” declared John Cage back in 1939, right in the middle of his stint at Seattle’s Cornish College, “is revolution. Sound and rhythm have too long been submissive to the restrictions of 19th-century music. Today we are fighting for their emancipation.”
No question: The emergence of percussion-centered composition over the last century has opened up a new universe of creative possibilities. And the Seattle Percussion Collective (SPC) gives state-of-the-art demonstrations of this brave new world of musical liberation. Since first appearing on the local scene in 2009, the SPC it has developed an eager following with its intriguing blend of avant-garde pioneers like Cage and contemporary composers.
This flexible chamber ensemble of locally based musicians, which also collaborates with other soloists and artists from different fields, has a knack for highlighting the kaleidoscopically ranging colors and theatrical flair of percussion music. On offer for their spring concert on Friday (April 1) are three world premieres by Seattle-based composers, three works by well-known mavericks, and a pair of pieces by American composers Roger Zahab and Larry Polansky. The concert is one of the wonderfully adventurous happenings presented by the Wayward Music Series at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford — a vital contributor to Seattle’s new-music scene.
The brand-new works include "Music for Magnets" by the SPC’s own Paul Kikuchi (inspired by “rhythmic phenomena such as rain sounds and old radiators as well as drumming traditions of Cuba and Tahiti); a percussion trio by Sarah Bassingthwaighte ("Letters from the Earth") that promises to travel “from the cacophonous world of industrial society” to “the natural world that exists just outside the boundaries of our urban existence”; and a trio for drums, vibraphone, orchestra bells, and maracas by Nat Evans titled "Transition."
As a tribute to the recently deceased Milton Babbitt, the collective has programmed his marimba solo "Beaten Path." Two pieces from the early 1960s will also highlight the mind-boggling diversity of postwar experimentalism: Giacinto Scelsi’s mesmerizing "I Riti: Ritual March" and "In Memoriam…Esteban Gomez" by American maverick Robert Ashley. The latter is a graphic score (realized by four players) that was inspired by the explorer credited with mapping the eastern shore of North America.
If you go: The Seattle Percussion Collective performs at 8 p.m. Friday (April 1), at the Chapel Performance Space of the Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, fourth floor. Suggested donation: $5-$15.