When: Sun., Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. 2011
Composer Michael Gordon, cofounder of New York-based contemporary-classical presenter Bang on a Can, has frequently worked with minimalist materials, but his recent piece Timber takes that approach to a wonderful new extreme. He wrote it for Dutch percussion group Slagwerk Den Haag, scoring it for nothing but six simantras—an instrument used most famously by Xenakis, it consists of a length of two-by-four played with mallets, creating a sound that's a bit like a damped marimba key. Gordon uses boards of different lengths, so that each one resonates at a different pitch, but the first time I listened to the Cantaloupe label's recording of Timber, the piece's narrow timbral and tonal range initially seemed like it would make for some rough going. Surprisingly, though, six pieces of beaten lumber can create a glowing mass of overtones, and as the players' rapid polyrhythms and dense canons overlap, it hangs in the air, slowly morphing. The result is a shimmering, gentle cloud of sound that rises as if by some sort of alchemy from a busy barrage of brittle percussion. Timber is roughly an hour long, and its microscopic changes and incremental developments—executed on ridiculously restrictive instruments—demand intense concentration from the musicians. But the holistic effect is so hypnotically compelling that you might never notice how fastidious they are. New York's Mantra Percussion will perform the work's Chicago debut. —Peter Margasak Bassist Darin Gray (Grand Ulena) opens with a solo set.