On Thursday night, I left a concert longing for a tranquilizer, but at Saturday night’s Man Forever/Sō Percussion concert, I began wishing for sedatives about three minutes into the first set. Before the performance, the audience sat entranced by a subtle humming drifting through the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The serene audio was paired with a view of softly glowing lights and seven or eight drumsets sitting quietly on the stage. We had no programs to distract ourselves or warn us of what was to come. The only word giving us an indication of what to expect was “punk”, projected amid the purple-green lights onto the back of the stage. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent special exhibition “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” features high fashion, including a shirt made of a plastic bag, inspired by the subculture. The music was meant to tie in with the theme, though for the most part it didn’t, and rather stuck with its avant-garde, classical, and folksy origins.

So Percussion © David Andrako, 2011
So Percussion
© David Andrako, 2011

I generally enjoy concerts featuring enough percussion equipment to weigh down an aircraft carrier, but the first piece was distressingly loud and therefore not very enjoyable at all. Every muscle in my body was taut and on the defensive as five of the drumsets were hammered upon by the members of Sō Percussion – Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Beach – in addition to John Colpitts, a.k.a. Kid Millions, a.k.a. Man Forever. The five New York-based musicians are undoubtedly some of the best percussionists on the planet, and their passion for noises and sounds of all types was palpable. They struck their instruments and wailed into their microphones with a furious abandon, as if their lives depended on it. But without any context, the music seemed mostly to exist as an assault on our senses. During the ebb and flow of rhythms – banged out on snare drums, bongo drums, and every other drum you can think of – I found it difficult to focus on the unintelligible teleology of the piece.

Not that directionality is a requirement in a piece of music; the musicians’ second collaboration was repetitive to the point of being meditative. There was no telling when it would end or when the rhythmic patterns would shift, and that was more than okay with me. The only hiccup occurred when Mr Colpitts dropped one of his drumsticks, but he recovered smoothly and the music continued to build over and under itself, lulling us into a trance with the addition of drone-like vocals. While this piece was nearly as uncomfortably loud as the first, it felt more purposeful and didn’t drive me to bite my fingernails in angst.

The second set consisted of Sō Percussion performing Dan Trueman’s five-movement composition neither Anvil nor Pulley. The work, for laptop/percussion quartet and turntable, involved so many instruments used so many different ways that much of the time I genuinely had no idea what was going on – and that was fine with me. From the recurring recorded fiddle tune wafting fuzzily over our heads to the melodicas, triangle, xylophone, and drumsets played by the four members of Sō Percussion, these sounds were much more engaging and intricate. I found myself smiling rather than gritting my teeth, following the musicians with eager eyes as they migrated from station to station. The lighthearted interlacing melodies of the first movement were followed by a pulsating static sound that interacted with the non-tuned rhythms of the second. The turntable crackled intermittently: the musicians deftly traded roles. The piece – with its collisions and conjunctions of electronic and live music – was a true joy to lose oneself in, and the performers were a delight to watch as they scurried around the stage. There were whirs, whooshes, a doctored bass drum, a simulated string orchestra, a noise that sounded like Chewbacca getting tearful. For the final movement, Mr Colpitts returned to his drumset, and the music propelled to its finish as the lights twinkled in the background. The five musicians had kept up the intensity and imagination of the work from beginning to end, and Mr Trueman's incredible and almost incomprehensible opus certainly merits a second (and third, and fourth) listen.

***11