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Percussion Music Is Revolution! - The playlists: 1

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

"Percussion Music Is Revolution!" is a series of one-hour long mixtapes of percussion music liberally picked from any area, age or cultural belonging. The Mixcloud pages where they appear often don't allow for a fully detailed playlist, or in-depth commentary, and for this reason they are embedded here in this blog.

The title of the series is a quote from John Cage (the exclamation mark is mine), one of my percussion music heroes. I’ve always loved the ring of that statement, even when isolated from its historical context. You’ll find me, elsewhere on the web, discussing freewheeling this unlikely and seemingly anachronistic concept; but here, let’s get on with the music.

I’m deliberately going to jump from popular music around the globe, to jazz, composition, incidental and rock music in these mixtapes, in a loose, yet persistent attempt to identify the basic human compulsion that is at the root of all these different expressions. Don’t be therefore mislead by any one choice I made along the progress of this series: there will be a lot of diverse stuff, at times obvious, because classics are such for a reason; many other times unexpected, because I’ve listened to tons of this shit in my life.

Here's the tracklist:

- Abissal E Os Caboclos Envenenados - O Maracatu Várzea Do Capibaribe (instrumental) - album: “Várzea Do Capibaribe”, 2003

- Pierre Favre Ensemble - Carnival of the Four - album: “Singing Drums” - ECM 1984

- Peter Gabriel - San Jacinto - album: “IV”, Charisma 1982

- Wolfgang Schliemann, Michael Vorfield - Drei - Gerade aus, Bärbel - album: “Alle Neune: Rheinländer Partie” - Creative Source Recordings 2007

- Max Roach - For Big Sid - album: “Drums Unlimited” - Atlantic 1966

- John Cage; perf. Quatuor Helios - Amores - album “John Cage - Works for Percussion” - Wergo 1991

- Billy Cobham - Snoopy's Search - album: “Spectrum”, Atlantic 1973

- David Lang; perf. Evelyn Glennie - The Anvil Chorus - album “Drumming” - Catalyst 1996

- Sven David Sandstrom; perf. Kroumata Ensemble - Drums - album “Play Music by Jolivet, Harrison, Cage & Sandström” - Bis 1984

Here below is a track-to-track commentary, if you still have a penchant for reading, and if you think you'd enjoy the company of my thoughts for twenty minutes or so.

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There might end up being a lot of maracatu on these mixtapes. Large groups of unison big drums will invariably instil excitement and awe on anybody who’s got ears and bones, but maracatu is something else still. For me it certainly is. It doesn’t sound like anything else on earth, and yet I remember the first time I heard it it felt like I was witnessing out there something that’s been in my mind all along, like an inert seed.

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I found this one during one of my unsurprisingly costly visits to Jean-Claude Thompson’s If Music shop. There’s some great stuff in this album, and this is easily my favourite track. It’s quartet music; Paul Motian and Nana Vasconcelos are here too.

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I know this one might sound out of place, but Peter Gabriel’s fourth solo album was such a cardinal thing to listen to when it came out and I was beginning to study percussion, and I might as well start getting you accostumed to my prog-rock heart right away rather than later. There’s a massive amount of sampling in this album, and pretty much every single sound on it is the result of hundreds of hours spent around junk yards, hitting exhaust pipes, smashing tv screens, sledge-hammering car doors. Which incidentally is one of my favourite pastimes too.

Not that it was ever really under-rated, but memory may fade too soon on the importance of this work as a crucial episode in the development of Western modern percussion music.

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More junk, only this time undisciplined, uncostrained, liberated from the duties of subjecting to the human aesthetics of order.

I know Michael Vorfeld from Berlin; this is an album I like a lot, which I’m probably going to play more from in the next mixtapes. It’s a duo work with another German percussionist, Wolfgang Schliemann. One of the things that fascinate me more about Berlin is the amount of musicians who put the majority of their time and focus into developing their own unique idiom on their instrument. There’s never a hidden agenda of trying to offer more than the competition, because in the case of improvised music or modern composition we’re talking about a form of music organisation which is non-hierarchical by definition. So what we have is a myriad of musos constantly exchanging ideas and surprising each other, in a passionate chase for new, hitherto unheard sounds; a scene where everybody is at once unindispensable and absolutely unreplaceable.

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No introduction necessary; I think.

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This is a four-part piece; what I’ve always found fascinating about it is that the two central episodes are so hushed, so fragile, that their presence is only justified and made possible by the two prepared piano pieces at the beginning and at the end. They almost seem to be there to guard and protect the two central pieces from external noises, to screen them in time, and create a zone of silence where they can safely live their brief, vulnerable and ephemeral existence.

This is the Quatour Helios version. First I wanted to put here the Kroumata Ensemble’s version, then I thought of making a mixture of the movements I like the most from each version, but that didn’t feel polite of me… They’re both excellent and worth listening, and I chose this one because there is other music from the Kroumata crew in this playlist; and chances are I’m going to play their version of Amores on one next mixtape…

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I have never been able to find a certain source for this information, but I am quite confident that this piece was played on an early synth-drum of some sort; I’d be really surprised if it was otherwise. It matches Billy’s style, and it is anyway one of four short solo pieces which serve as introduction to four of the album’s full length tracks.

The mystery remains, but this is a great piece of rhythm music, whatever it has been played on.

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There’s going to be quite some Evelyn Glennie here in these playlists, and why should I try to avoid it? The thing is that she played so much of the percussion music written in the last decades, and in a disarming number of cases she played the best version available. What I love about this piece is the way the writing cleverly creates an impression of differently paced pulses taking place simultaneously - which is what happens in fact, but the skill, and the fun, is to have it written as a piece for one player only.

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Here’s the Kroumata Ensemble; I think this piece was written for them, but I’m not sure. More massive drums. A lot of what I love about them, percussion music and rhythm is condensed very eloquently in this piece.

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