Standard fare for a
reviewer of classical music includes
a wide variety of styles of music written
by composers of varying amounts of fame.
It can be a great many things, from
string quintets or wind ensembles to
organ and keyboard performances. As
a general rule though, even the largest
ensembles or loudest organs are not
aggressive enough to cause any sort
From the time that
you read the warning on the label, you
know that this is not standard fare.
"Warning: This recording covers
an extreme dynamic range. Damage could
result to speakers or other components
if this CD is played back at excessively
high levels." Primal shouts, rhythmic
acrobatics, pitched percussion, whistle
blasts, and occasional forays into the
realm of humor all are markedly prevalent
throughout. Part Kodo, part Stomp, Strike
is a very talented New Zealand based
percussion ensemble that seems to have
a bit of a brazen streak. Often in the
realms of what most consider classical
music, that is a negative. Here they
rightfully wear their brashness on their
The opening is a technically
difficult offering by Gareth Farr incorporating
tom-toms, whistles, brake drums, and
a variety of other instruments. The
packaging claims that Volume Pig
is the name of a species of swine
found in the Southland bogs of New Zealand,
or is a colloquialism describing a composer
of loud music. Assuredly the latter
is true. Through the first seven minutes
it sounds very like a Japanese drum
group, complete with rhythmic shouts.
Then, in one of the breaks, an accordion
player seems to wander in from the outside.
This alien intruder is then removed
with, quite literally, a .44 Magnum
handgun. In the booklet, the members
of Strike assure the listeners that
"no pigs or accordion players were
harmed in the making of this recording."
However, this cheekiness mixed with
multi-instrumental facility and rhythmic
dexterity sets the mood for the rest
of the album.
The following track,
Ricochet, is played on three
sets of identical percussion equipment.
Included in each set is wood, metal,
skin, and "junk" percussion,
played with bamboo sticks. It is an
exercise in the tradition of Steve Reich,
flowing from synchronous to asynchronous
rhythms and back again. It is a truly
interesting work to listen to in headphones
or a widely-set stereo system, as the
sound moves constantly for the entirety
of the work.
After the first two
exercises in rhythm, the group then
turns to a gamelan influenced melodic
work: Iron Tongues. The idea
is for each member to play off one another,
trying to be the loudest and most virtuosic
player, using a different instrument
defined by its inherent characteristics.
There are the marimbas, brake drums,
tom-toms, and kick drum trading off
melodies performed in varying ways.
Often the shape of the melody is familiar,
but there is no way to reproduce the
actual pitches. The result is a truly
interesting and fairly unique work.
Work Songs follows
in three movements. It is a pattern
piece for cowbell, wood block, snare
drum, and floor toms where the members
play in several time signatures simultaneously,
or occasionally (according to the liner
notes) pantomime passages where the
performers "misplace" their
sticks. This again seems to be a work
with its roots in Steve Reich’s and
Terry Riley’s percussion pieces from
the 1960s through the 1980s. The patterns
are obvious, but the beauty is in the
synchronicity of the performance. It
would be an interesting piece to watch,
as the sections of pantomime obviously
do not render well to audio recordings.
The overall effect is still somewhat
Painting with Breath
changes pace yet again, introducing
long bamboo poles as instruments. At
this point, the group begins to sound
a bit like the recordings of Blue Man
Group, sans electronic instruments.
Most of the music is made by slinging
the bamboo sticks through the air as
one would a sword. Additionally, as
the performers "play" the
sticks, they begin to breathe more heavily,
and their breath becomes part of the
sound. Once the traditional percussion
is added to the sound-play, the piece
becomes something truly intriguing.
It becomes evident just with what precision
the percussionists are working together.
The sound engineering on this particular
song must be commended in and of itself,
as the wind ropes, bamboo poles, and
performers themselves are all audible
and cleanly recorded. Considering the
wide range of movements that are required
to make the sounds, and the needed closeness
of the microphones to the sound sources,
this is truly a feat of note.
The next 23 minutes
contains a 5 movement work built around
continuous movement and choreography.
Cube is apparently a work of
audible choreography as much as anything.
Alas, due to the visual nature of the
work, it comes off as one of the least
interesting audibly. Not to say that
it is without merit. It simply is comparatively
simple and quite long. The work does
become somewhat hypnotic in several
places, but active listening is quite
difficult at times. It does finish strong
with the last movement containing an
interesting hemiola, suggesting 7/8
but with the low bass drums staying
in 4/4 in places, or building itself
around multi-metric duple/triple meters.
However, considering the relative simplicity
of these metrics for this group of percussionists,
even as it increases in volume and tempo,
there is little to get excited by.
The conch shell being
sounded and the vocal shouts signal
the end of Cube and the beginning
of Taku Manu E, a collection
of traditional drum rhythms from the
southern Cook Islands. The inspiration
is a bird flying from one group of islands
to another. The implementation is energetic,
a little raw, and really enthusiastic.
It changes tempo several times, and
contains the largest ensemble on the
album. All seven performers act as a
single player, regardless of tempo,
able to shift seamlessly and instantly.
While the work is not experimental in
the way that many of the other tracks
are earlier in the album, it is probably
the most entertaining.
The album, when complete,
is definitely a showcase for Strike.
They are obviously very versatile and
engaging. Even the liner notes add to
the entertainment value. The music is
both well performed and tends to be
well selected. Fans of percussion music
or other drum ensembles are encouraged
to give this album due attention. Just
make sure you don’t turn it up too loud.