Simple Songs

Douglas Perkins - percussion

Doug Perkins: Simple Songs


Doug Perkins’s “Simple Songs” on New Focus represents his solo debut recording, and is a wonderful document of the dynamism that exists in the constantly growing percussion repertoire. Praised as a “percussion virtuoso” by the New York Times, Doug has assembled a kaleidoscopic collection of works for solo percussion, focusing on the extremes of virtuosity on one hand and percussion music's penchant for the art of tinkering on the other. From the haunting meditation of vibraphone and one-bit music in Tristan Perich’s Momentary Expanse to the quirky noises of David Lang’s Unchained Melody, and ending with Michael Gordon’s  monolithic XY, the range of the record is reflective of the vast scope of interests captivating the contemporary percussionist.  


Beau Sievers’ Spatial Network for Percussion extends experimentation to the compositional process itself.  Beau’s computerized score “knows” Doug’s setup but gives him an entirely unique realization within those parameters for each performance.  This recording represents just one realization of an infinite number of possibilities. At the heart of this record both conceptually and personally is Simple Songs of Birth and Return by critically acclaimed composer, percussionist, and New Focus labelmate Nathan Davis (FCR120). Nathan and Doug’s friendship extends back for over 15 years, having gone to the same school, lived in the same apartments, and shared personal milestones (Doug was Nathan’s best man; “A Tale Begun” was written so Doug could practice as his newborn slept). It is at once a sonic exploration worthy of an indie venue and an intimate gift to a good friend. In the brotherly spirit of the transaction, the recording session for Davis’ work took place over two nights in Doug’s sauna in his New England home, temporarily retrofitted in true contemporary percussion DIY style as a recording studio for the occasion.
    Capturing the personal nature of the project, Doug commissioned a comic book in lieu of program notes from music writer, composer, and comic book artist, Matthew Guerrierri. The percussion world is a club of sorts, and knowing about the inordinate and unique logistic hurdles that practitioners face is the barrier to entry.  It seems fitting for a recording by a young veteran of this world to describe the works through a veneer of humor, undoubtedly the same veneer that comes in handy when packing up one’s gear alone after yet another show.

“…percussion virtuoso…” New York Times
“…terrific, wide-awake and strikingly entertaining…” Boston Globe

Doug Perkins is active as a chamber musician, soloist, producer, and conductor.  He founded So Percussion, the Meehan/ Perkins Duo and performs regularly with groups such as the International Contemporary Ensemble, Signal,  Camerata Pacifica, and eighth blackbird.  Doug's productions of large-scale percussion works have been named Top Ten Performances in 2010 and 2011 by the New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Time Out NY.  As an educator, Doug is Director of the Chosen Vale International Percussion Seminar, Artist-in-Residence with eighth  blackbird at the University of Chicago and served on the music faculty at Dartmouth College.  

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Track Time Preview Cost +Add
1 Nathan Davis: Simple Songs of Birth and Return: A Tale Begun 3:24 $0.99
2 Nathan Davis: Simple Songs of Birth and Return: Two Shadows 6:24 $1.49
3 Tristan Perich: Momentary Expanse 4:32 $0.99
4 Beau Sievers: Spatial Network for Percussion 6:20 $1.49
5 David Lang: Unchained Melody 8:49 $1.99
6 Michael Gordon: XY 17.40 $0.00 Not available for download.

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Album of the Week - February 11, 2013

Compared to Doug Perkins's former bandmates, any musician's career would seem "quiet" – since he stepped off the thrill ride that is So Percussion – but all the same, the sudden arrival of a Perkins solo album is a delightful surprise. Less surprising: Perkins has, like So, brought together an impressive body of repertoire for his debut, "Simple Songs."

The "liner notes" – an exceedingly silly minicomic by outstanding critic Matthew Guerrieri (of The First Four Notes fame) – tell us that Nathan Davis wrote the eerie title piece, Simple Songs of Birth and Return for mbira (a plucked African "thumb piano") with Perkins's son in mind. One hopes that this story refers more to the tender first movement than to the second, in which the sound of the instrument is overtaken by wails of unsettling electronic sound.

Tristan Perich's interlude Momentary Expanse, for non-vibrato vibraphone, once again demonstrates Perich's mastery at matching the warm sound of acoustic instruments with ultra-primitive digital bleeps, whereas Beau Sievers's Spatial Network for Percussion incorporates computer technology into the act of composition itself: the piece doesn't exist on paper, but instead as an always-changing "open score" generated in real time for each performance.

The album concludes with a pair of first-rate premieres from the Bang on a Can collective. David Lang's Unchained Melody,which liberates seven notes from the glockenspiel – only to re-shackle each of them to seven unspecified instruments – begins as a study in restraint straight out of early John Cage, but evolves into a statement of more drama and passion than Cage would ever have permitted himself.

But the meat of the disc is XY by Michael Gordon. For five tuned drums, XY demands extreme polyrhythmic precision, but Perkins also brings the piece a profound musicianship, taking what could have been a lesson in arithmetic and instead creating an emotional experience. The drums sing, moan – even howl, as their reverberating overtones gradually come to the fore. Simple Songs may be as concise as its title implies, but it is nevertheless a satisfying listen on every conceivable level. 

- Daniel Stephen Johnson


Perkins demonstrates that the percussionist’s solo repertoire extends to electronics. Davis’ Songs pits mbira against electronics processing. For A Tale Begun, the African thumb piano stays afloat, whereas for Two Shadows, it eventually drowns under controlled feedback. Perich’s Momentary Expanse balances reverberant vibraphone with similar pure (also called one-bit) simple waves. Sievers’ Spatial Network also adds electronics, but the form of the piece can change per performance. Each pitch in Lang’s Unchained Melody is actually associated with a non-pitched sound. The effect is something like a duet or prepared piano. XY perpetuates the percussionist’s need to hit things. The subtlety here is that the hands must operate at different rates and dynamics. Instead of notes we get an amusing 12-page comic book by Matthew Guerrieri.