New Focus Recordings FCR348 (newfocusrecordings.com)
Border Loss - Listen to YouTube
Side by Side: I. Part 1 - Listen to YouTube
Side by Side: II. Part 2 - Listen to YouTube
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American percussionist Greg Stuart’s practice embraces improvisation, electronics and the classical experimental music tradition. At the same time he actively bucks conventional solo percussionism by cultivating an anti-virtuoso performance mission, a stance related to his focal dystonia which limits his motor function in one hand.
This seeming limitation has, however, served as a springboard, inspiring Stuart to explore alternative soloist paths, specifically in developing meaningful collaborations with several composers.
Subtractions reflects Stuart’s personalized mastery of the contemporary percussion idiom in works by composers Pisaro-Liu (side by side) and Sarah Hennies (Border Loss). The album highlights a particular sonic focus: the magnification of intimate sounds through layered recording. Electronic sounds and field recordings also make appearances.
Hennies’ 22-minute Border Loss explores irregular percussive textures, granular, swarm-like sounds and slowly shifting arrays of timbral categories. Sometimes the music evokes the crackling of a fire. Other times high-pitched bells and wind chimes add pitch elements, though waves of sonic continuity are always the focus here.
Pisaro-Liu’s side by side is in two parts, the first scored for bass drum and cymbals, the second for vibraphone and glockenspiel. There is a kind of aural alchemy at work here. Part I is characterized by the sounds coaxed from the skin of the bass drum and a deliciously slow crescendo on a rolled cymbal, morphing into rich near-orchestral static textures. To this listener, Part II’s aphoristic melodic phrases on the two sustaining metallophones conjure a peacefully contemplative atmosphere. It’s a welcome respite during these challenging early days of winter.