Thursday 26 October 2017

Hot metal & seductive timbres: The Book of Keyboards from Third Coast Percussion

Third Coast Percussion - The Book of Keyboards
Philippe Manoury Le Livre des Claviers, Métal; Third Coast Percussion; New Focus Recordings
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Seductive yet complex sound-worlds for tuned percussion

On this disc from New Focus Recordings, Third Coast Percussion (Gregory Beyer, Owen Clayton Condon, Robert Dillon, Ross Karre, Peter Martin and David Skidmore) address themselves to the challenges of Philippe Manoury's Le Livre des Claviers (The Book of Keyboards) for percussion sextet. The disc also includes Manoury's Métal.

Philippe Manoury (born 1952) studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, and the Conservatoire de Paris and joined IRCAM in 1980.  His early music was influenced by Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis.

Le Livre des Claviers was written in 1987 and consists of six movements for tuned percussion played by six players. The first movements uses marimbas and thai gongs, the second movement is a marimba duo, the third movement uses six sixxen, the fourth is a vibraphone solo, the fifth uses marimbas and thai gongs, the sixth uses six sixxen. Sixxen are microtonal instruments invented by Xennakis and usually home-made (those on the disc are of varying lengths of industrial aluminium U-channel).

Third Coast Percussion - The Book of Keyboards
The sound world that Manoury gets is very seductive, and for all the use of thai gongs and marimbas in tandem, what strikes you is how even the tone colours are in each movement. This is not percussion music where the composer delights in manic timbral variations, instead Manoury explores his chosen colours and mediums. The music is complex and challenging, and in the case of the large ensemble movements, must require a great deal of co-ordination to cope with Manoury's complex rhythmical structures.

One of the fascinating things about the music is how naturally it all flows, yet it is clear that for a involving six men hitting a variety of objects, there must by a great deal of underlying structure and cohesion. A similar factor comes into the pitches of the sixxen, as these are not specified in the instruments, but so carefully is the work thought through that the pitch development seems natural as well.

Another area of fascination is that there is a degree of uncertainty with each pitch, the sheer physics of hitting things means that we do not hear the pitch with the clarity of, say, a stringed instrument and this gives a lovely aura to the music. The sixxen in particular have a very oriental sound, and I generally found a feeling of the East in the work.

Manoury's writing is complex, relying mainly on sophisticated rhythmical combinations, creating fluidly intersecting lines. The writing is not highly polyphonic, and the way the music flows Manoury seems to take great delight in allowing a single line to blossom, or a complex structure to evaporate.

The final work on the disc is Métal for a sextet of sixxens. At 22 minutes this is a substantial piece, getting on for as long as the six movements of the previous work. This might be percussion music, but the writing is notable for its austere clarity, with some surprisingly aetherial moments. Again, the sheer timbre of the instruments makes the music sound Eastern, and Manoury's fluid constructions, single notes moving into an urgent flurry of notes, or simultaneous yet independent lines.

The CD container is a thing of great beauty, a single piece of card which folds up, origami-like,
I enjoyed this disc immensely, and it introduced me to a sound-world of which I had hitherto been woefully ignorant. Manoury's music requires time and concentration, but there is something seductive too in the timbres and sound-worlds which the players create.

Philippe Manoury (born 1952) - Le Livre des Claviers (1987)
Philippe Manoury -  Métal (1995)
 Third Coast Percussion (Gregory Beyer, Owen Clayton Condon, Robert Dillon, Ross Karre, Peter Martin and David Skidmore
Recorded at Northern Illinois University Recital Hall January 2011,  January 2013
NEW FOCUS FCR187 1CD [50.00]
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