Complexity should be seen and not heard, or maybe felt but not heard would be more apt. It's fine, complexity is, but if that's the primary takeaway from a piece of music, it runs a very real risk of seeming busy and fussy. Complexity is a coat rack; without textures and colors hung from it, it appears barren and ridiculous.

Sandbox Percussion
© Carlin Ma

Andy Akiho’s Seven Pilllars – composed for, recorded by and, on 7th and 8th April at the Baryshnikov Arts Center's Jerome Robbins Theater on Manhattan's West Side, performed by the quartet Sandbox Percussion – is a decidedly complex composition, a sort of long palindrome segmented by pieces for soloists. There is much more to it than that, of course, but what matters is that the work, for the most part, survives the cerebral context. It almost finds beauty in spite of itself.

There was no end of ideas at play in the opening night performance. The pillars were represented by LED posts, initially positioned across the back of the stage, capable of flashing at seizure inducing intensities, disrupting the attention, or become the focus of it. The mind was repeatedly lulled into a frenzy by strobes and heavy polyrhythms. The musicians moved the pillars to complement different percussion stations (snares and chimes, marimbas, vibraphones and glockenspiels) through the eleven movements of the piece. The lights themselves had a seemingly endless variety of colors and patterns. The flashing lights as the players moved about the stage gave the illusion of a busy, slightly fussy dance.

Sandbox Percussion
© Carlin Ma

If that all sounds like a bit too much, it may well have been for some (although the ovation at the end suggested otherwise). But for a listener willing to submit to sensory overload, it was fairly intoxicating. It wasn't all executed at rapid tempi, though much of it was, and even the slower, more melodic moments were fairly loud. As a live experience, it may have been a little long at some 80 minutes. The mind wandered at times through the onslaught of information, of aural and visual patterns, but time and again was called back by passages of fairly beautiful, well, complexity.

What Akiho has done is to seize the primordial part of the drum while embracing the melodic possibilities of tuned percussion and stitched them together into a cohesive and even exuberant whole. What he has working in his favor is a quartet ready to master the work.

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