Grammy winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion releases a recording of two landmark works by French composer Philippe Manoury, Le Livre des Claviers and Metal. The otherworldly sonic landscapes created in these works come from a selection of keyboard instruments, including "sixxen", a set of six metal instruments built from scratch. Manoury's fascinating blend of chaos and precision is interpreted with virtuosic commitment by the musicians of Third Coast Percussion.
Le Livre des Claviers
|01||I. 6 Thai Gongs, 2 Marimbas|
I. 6 Thai Gongs, 2 Marimbas
|02||II. Marimba Duo|
II. Marimba Duo
|04||IV. Vibraphone Solo|
IV. Vibraphone Solo
|05||V. 6 Thai Gongs, 2 Marimbas|
V. 6 Thai Gongs, 2 Marimbas
Grammy winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion releases their newest recording of two landmark works by acclaimed French composer Philippe Manoury. Manoury’s work is aligned with the modernist French tradition as articulated by Pierre Boulez; his music is imbued with values shared with the world of research and marked by ambitious instrumental challenges. His work has been particularly informed by his expertise in electro-acoustic composition and real-time interaction between acoustic instruments and computer generated sounds. In these two remarkable acoustic pieces, Le Livre des Claviers and Metal, Manoury explores the rich world of tuned keyboard percussion instruments, a category he broadens to include low pitched Thai gongs and a fascinating set of six homemade instruments called sixxen, originally imagined by pioneer Iannis Xenakis. Xenakis specified some sonic parameters for sixxen, but gave no specific instrument designs. Notably, pitch is not a fixed parameter in the design specifications for sixxen, so it is up to the performers to build instruments that create an engaging pitch landscape. The sixxen works, therefore, are shaped by Manoury’s compelling rhythmic writing and elegant sense of contour, and a listener might be tempted to muse on ways the piece would sound different, or the same, with another set of sixxen. While Xenakis’ use of these instruments was somewhat brutal, in Manoury’s hands, they also display a ritualistic, ethereal side, sounding occasionally like clanging church bells from the worship house of an exotic theology. Two movements for thai gongs and marimbas, a marimba duo, and a vibraphone solo represent the rest of Le Livre des Claviers, containing precise, demanding music that nevertheless avoids the kind of dramatic resistance often associated with writing of this complexity. The dynamic between the rigors of the mallet percussion movements of Le Livre des Claviers and the sixxen movements amounts to a kind of refraction of Manoury’s vision through a distorting lens, particularly as it pertains to pitch. Present throughout all of these movements and in Metal (his expansion on the potential of sixxen after writing Le Livre) is a natural, unencumbered flow underlying Manoury’s phrases, even in the most virtuosic passages. This is, of course, a testament to Third Coast’s well documented expertise, but also suggests that an affect of detached effortlessness may be shared with or influenced by his work in the realm of computer music. Perhaps it is consistent with Manoury’s role as a researcher — he observes and creates phenomena with a carefully cultivated balance of detachment and wonder.
Produced by Third Coast Percussion
Session Producers: Robert Dillon (track 4), Peter Martin (track 2), Michael Lewanski (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6, 7)
Engineer: Dan Nichols
Assistant Engineer: Jim Schram
Editing, Mixing, and Mastering: Dan Nichols
Third Coast Percussion is: Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, David Skidmore
Addtional guest performers on this recording: Owen Clayton Condon, Gregory Beyer, Ross Karre
Recording Location and dates: Northern Illinois University Recital Hall, January 5, 2011 (track 4); January 10, 2011 (track 2); January 26-27, 2011 (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6); January 13-14, 2013 (track 7)
Edited and Mixed at Aphorism Audio
Art and Design: Sonnenzimmer LLC
Liner Notes: Robert Dillon
Publishers: Le Livre des Claviers AMPHION Éditions Musicales 1988 (ASCAP); Métal Editions DURAND 1995 (ASCAP)
This album is made possible in part by a grant from The French-American Fund for Contemporary Music, a program of FACE with major support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, SACEM, Cultures Frances, and the Florence Gould Foundation. Additional support comes from a VCUarts Faculty Research Grant.
Third Coast Percussion is a Grammy Award-winning, artist-run quartet of classically-trained percussionists hailing from the great city of Chicago. For over ten years, the ensemble has forged a unique path in the musical landscape with virtuosic, energetic performances that celebrate the extraordinary depth and breadth of musical possibilities in the world of percussion. The ensemble has been praised for “commandingly elegant” (New York Times) performances, the “rare power” (Washington Post) of their recordings, and “an inspirational sense of fun and curiosity” (Minnesota Star-Tribune). The four members of Third Coast are also accomplished teachers, and since 2013, have served as ensemble-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Third Coast Percussion has commissioned and premiered over 40 new works, including music by Augusta Read Thomas, Donnacha Dennehy, Glenn Kotche, Lei Liang, Chris Cerrone, and Gavin Bryars.
Third Coast Percussion is: Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, David Skidmore
Philippe Manoury (born 1952, Tulle) is regarded as one of the most important living French composers and a forerunner in the field of live electronics. His work as a composer and researcher at IRCAM in Paris included collaboration with mathematician Miller Puckette on the development of Max/MSP, a widely-used programming language for interactive live electronics. Manoury has held teaching positions for the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Conservatoire de Lyon, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and Académie Supérieure de la Haute École des Arts du Rhin, and served as Composer-in-Residence for the Orchestre de Paris and the Scène nationale d’Orléans. He is professor emeritus of the University of California San Diego where he taught composition from 2004 to 2012, and has held his own academy of composition as part of the Festival Musica in Strasbourg since 2015. Manoury was named Officer of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture, and is a member of the honorary committee of the French- German Fund for Contemporary Music/Impuls Neue Musik and the Berlin Academy of Arts.
For its third release on the New Focus label, the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion presents works by the French composer Philippe Manoury in an album of intriguing tone color studies called The Book of Keyboards. The group employs instruments that range from the conventional vibraphone and marimbas to the more exotic Thai gongs and the Sixxen, a collection of microtonally-tuned keyboard instruments devised by Iannis Xenakis. Manoury is best known for his work in electronic music, both as a composer and researcher at IRCAM, and some of his compositions owe their textures and effects to electronic music, though for this CD, Third Coast Percussion plays only acoustic instruments. To some extent, the six movements of Le Livre des Claviers and the stand-alone piece Métal evoke the virtuosic percussion sextet Pléïades by Xenakis, though Manoury’s timbral palette also incorporates bell-like effects reminiscent of Indonesian gamelan. The performances have a hypnotic quality, and Third Coast Percussion delivers plenty of atmosphere, though the ensemble’s playing is clearly well-rehearsed and precise, and the players’ subtlety is evident in their graded dynamics and the variety of their attacks, which are cleanly reproduced in the recording made at Northern Illinois University Recital Hall. — Blair Sanderson, All Music, 8.28.2017
“The Book of Keyboards” – it’s one of the newest albums released this month by “New Focus Recordings”. Album had been recorded by “Third Coast Percussion” ensemble which members are David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors. The ensemble is one the most famous percussion ensemble in the world. They had been played and recorded many works of Donnacha Dennehy, Glenn Kotche, Lei Liang, Gavin Bryars, Christopher Cerrone, Timo Andres, Marcos Balter, Ted Hearne and other famos composers of contemporary music. The ensemble also had won “Grammy” for the best chamber music album of the year in 2017. The music of the ensemble has original and effective sound. Organic and dynamic sound, high variety of percussion instruments, precisely, creative and innovative playing of the musicians are the main element which make them music to sound interesting and innovative. The ensemble had recorded compositions by France composer Philippe Manoury. Philippe Manoury is academic avant-garde and experimental music composer. His musical language and composing style is based on many different music elements integrated together in one composition. He masterfully combines various types of acoustic instruments and electronics, electro-acoustic instruments, computer sounds and special
“The Book of Keyboards” – it’s one of the newest albums released this month by “New Focus Recordings”. Album had been recorded by “Third Coast Percussion” ensemble which members are David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors. The ensemble is one the most famous percussion ensemble in the world. They had been played and recorded many works of Donnacha Dennehy, Glenn Kotche, Lei Liang, Gavin Bryars, Christopher Cerrone, Timo Andres, Marcos Balter, Ted Hearne and other famos composers of contemporary music. The ensemble also had won “Grammy” for the best chamber music album of the year in 2017. The music of the ensemble has original and effective sound. Organic and dynamic sound, high variety of percussion instruments, precisely, creative and innovative playing of the musicians are the main element which make them music to sound interesting and innovative. The ensemble had recorded compositions by France composer Philippe Manoury. Philippe Manoury is academic avant-garde and experimental music composer. His musical language and composing style is based on many different music elements integrated together in one composition. He masterfully combines various types of acoustic instruments and electronics, electro-acoustic instruments, computer sounds and special effects. The composer try out many different playing techniques, musical expressions and styles. His music is similar to Pierre Boulez, one of the most famous academic avant-garde composer.
“Le livre de Clavier” and “Metal” are recorded in this album. These compositions are based on percussion instruments and electronics. Many different and colorful timbres, singular sounds, peculiar and strange noises, dynamic and active rhythmic and subtle melodies – all these elements are the main part of these compositions. The composer try out all available playing techniques to achieve original and interesting sound. There’s not just traditional playing techniques, but also modern and innovative. These playing techniques create the diversity of various timbres and sounds. The music is based on academic avant-garde, modern classical music styles and experimental music. There’s also heard very much of various improvising music styles – experimental jazz and some of modern jazz elements. The melodies and musical episodes don’t have strict form or harmony. The variety of different music elements synthesis blow free and dynamic. The musicians are playing expressive, dynamic and interesting. Even though they are playing absolutely different melodies and sounds, all these elements combine in one big composition very gently and organic. Original composing style, interesting and colorful instrumentation, the high variety of percussion instruments and outstanding playing of “Third Coast Percussion” ensemble musicians make effective and modern sound of this album. — Avant Scena, 8.10.2017
New works of distinction for various vibraphone, marimba and sixxen ensembles, not so far distant from the world of Iannis Xenakis. Imagine the mailman, in his normal course of delivery. He delivers the mail at one house as per usual. But at the next, he meticulously tears up the letters and makes a small pile on the porch, which he lights on fire. As you watch from the window, he proceeds down the block following what appears to be a deliberate design. Occasionally he deviates, delivering normally at three straight houses. But the former pattern re-emerges. Here in the box, there in a smoldering pile left on the porch. This would be a spectacle of great interest and mental engagement. You would not get bored as you awaited with some interest his arrival at your own mailbox. Make the scenario stranger, though. Instead, imagine the mailman shape-shifting at every house, disappearing and reappearing randomly as a lawn ornament or a raccoon or wafting balloon. An initial intense interest would weaken as the changes become rapid and arbitrary. The predictive function of the mind would turn off and dream-like instantiations of the mailman, now transmogrified into a crow holding a knife, would eventually be felt as a vast boredom. The release at hand, the Book of Keyboards, avant-garde works for percussion, plays out between these two poles, from the defiantly strange to the completely unintelligible. The entire body of music on display here refuses to do what 99% of music does: connect in some way with listeners’ expectations, represent motion, or a feeling-world, or narrative structure. That is to say that it is New Music with a vengeance, for a narrow audience, which may just possibly include some of our readers. The following short list of criteria may help in this determination. This music may be for you if: You have an especial appreciationfor mallet instruments. The sonority of marimba and vibes goes directly to your brain with potent effect. -- Fritz Balwit, Audiophile Audition, 8.31.2017
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).
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.
— Robert Hugill, 10.28.2017, Planet Hugill
Chicago’s remarkable Third Coast Percussion spent several years working on this challenging work by French composer Philippe Manoury, a demanding piece for tuned percussion of rigorous post-Boulez complexity. It’s an interesting project for the group, who have proactively pushed the sounds of contemporary percussion music away from the academy toward a more mainstream listenership. But the music of Manoury—who often works in electro-acoustic contexts—is a long way from Steve Reich or Augusta Read Thomas. That the group is able to essay these difficult works with such deceptive ease and genuine clarity, giving The Book of Keyboards a glistening appeal, speaks to their technical mastery. Five of the six movements, as well as an epic complementary piece, “Métal,” are actually scored for a percussion sextet, and on those pieces the group is joined by Gregory Beyer of Ensemble Dal Niente and Ross Karre of International Contemporary Ensemble.
Those movements feature a variety of expected instruments like marimba and vibraphone, but they also require the ensemble to play hard-to-find Thai gongs and versions of a microtonal homemade instrument called a sixxen, originally conceived of by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Yet ultimately, it’s the exacting score, which asks the musicians to play with fluidity and grace while navigating thorny, hyper-difficult passages—both in terms of rhythm and melody—that are part of a score that largely dispenses with transparent structures, although the music itself is intensely structured. Manoury’s facility with electro-acoustic works is apparent in the use of overtones, a virtual extravaganza of ringing resonance, even on “Marimba Duo” between Robert Dillon and David Skidmore, and “Vibraphone Solo” played by Peter Martin.
— Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily: Best of Contemporary Classical, 11.2017
If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.
Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay, Second Inversion, 12.27.2017
The CD case of Third Coast Percussion’s new album on New Focus Recordings of music by Philippe Manoury, The Book of Keyboards, is just as intricate and fascinating as the music itself inside. The thick paper cover opens up like a puzzle, with different fonts and graphic designs revealed with each unfolded layer. This is the work of Sonnenzimmer, a Chicago based art studio run by Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi, and is the first clue as to the care and attention Third Coast Percussion has taken in all aspects of this aural “book.” Both the six movement Le Livre des Claviers (The Book of Keyboards) and the final piece on the CD, Métal, take the listener on a journey into a world that is alternatingly chaotic—filled with kinesthetic energy and bursting with a kaleidoscope of metallic color—and meditative; melodically brooding around compositional concepts.
Third Coast Percussion’s abilities as soloists and as a group mean that their commissioned composers can write for a virtuosic level of player in their pieces. Though the French composer Philippe Manoury didn’t write The Book of Keyboards for Third Coast Percussion, his visionary style and demanding writing makes this pairing of writer and performer a good match from the beginning. Born in 1952, Manoury studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and Paris Conservatory before joining IRCAM as a composer and electronic music researcher in 1980. His oeuvre is massive; operas, concertos, chamber music, and orchestral pieces are all well represented. From the works on this album, you could correctly guess that his aesthetic is deeply influenced by Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis, and visual artists like Jackson Pollock.
Manoury’s music in both The Book of Keyboards and Métal make a big ask of musicians when it comes to procuring the actual instruments necessary for performance. Robert Dillon’s clear and engaging liner notes describe how these works are scored for sixxen, “a set of six instruments which must be built from scratch,” and originally imagined by Xenakis who specified their sonic parameters but never made specific designs. Looking like a large 19-note keyboard made of straight-from-Home-Depot materials (think thick metal sheeting and wood 2 by 4s), each of the six sixxen is purposefully out of tune with the others, which leads to the palpable rainbow of tonality that is generated by these pieces. Their function all together as one instrument immediately brings to mind the workings of a Gamelan, but the collective sound of the six DIY instruments reminds me of a much different sound: the large wind chimes my mother hung on the back porch of our house during my childhood.
The chime-like sixxen easily produces the vibrant and bombastic sonic textures that nearly overstimulate the mind in movements 3 and 6 of The Book of Keyboards, but this is well-balanced with movements like #4, where Peter Martin’s performance of this pensive, delicate music is both tender and exacting. The second movement, a duo performed by Robert Dillon and David Skidmore, is humorous and obstinate, the lines of their parts chasing each other, at times a well-placed tremolo suggesting a thumbed nose or a tongue stuck out in jest. Manoury’s own program notes describe the sixth movement as a play on the notion of “thickness of sound,” with homorhythmic sequences, polyrhythmic textures, and an increasingly deepening world of sounds vacillating the music between the simple and the complex.
The album ends with Métal, also for sixxen. Here, Manoury uses events of different energy levels to create a compelling musical structure. Changes between moods and texture happen in an instant, and even forceful, exuberant moments are handled with delicacy and control. The sixxen’s ever-present resonance is what makes it sound like an enthusiastic chorus of wind chimes dancing from the rafters of a front porch in a storm, but the endlessly ringing nature of this instrument is also what makes it tricky to play: if the unison mallet-work isn’t completely unison, and if the balance between performers weren’t carefully thought out in rehearsal, the music would quickly become a muddy mess and Manoury’s intricate lines blurred beyond repair. For this reason, Métal’s 22-minute journey into the many facets of the sixxen sound brings to stark relief the perfection with which Third Coast Percussion plays. The delicate complexities of this music would be lost in an instant if the performers were not playing with a fathomless focus.
With each listening, the music on this album becomes easier to “see.” The rainbow of sixxen sound separates itself into all different shades of color, the musical structures become progressively visible, and the methodical manner of Manoury’s writing comes into sharp focus. Though the very nature of writing for instruments that only exist now in a few places on earth makes performances of the music on this album by other percussion ensembles quite impossible for everyone outside the uber-enthusiastic (and those with excellent carpentry skills), knowing these pieces and seeing the work that has been put into Third Coast Percussion’s performance is excellent motivational fodder for any percussion group looking to expand their knowledge of repertoire and improve their handling of substantially demanding music. Truly, Third Coast Percussion had the right idea with the packaging here; just as the wrapping of the CD opens up like a puzzle, so too does their presentation of this music present the many layers of Manoury and his sixxen as a riddle that can be solved with careful unfolding.
— Stephanie Ann Boyd, 1.18.2018, I Care if You Listen
French composer Philippe Manoury writes percussion music that is brutally demanding, in terms of both the technical requirements it places on the musicians, and the technical requirements for simply getting ready to play it. The six-movement title work (and the 22-minute Métal, which follows it on the program) require not only traditional percussion instruments like marimbas, vibraphones, and Thai gongs, but also the construction of a multipart instrument called the Sixxen. But although the music is hugely demanding of the performers, it’s quite accessible and enjoyable for the listener. The dense flurries of notes are impressive but also beautiful, and there are strong nods to familiar genres like gamelan and 20th-century minimalism in the mix. Strongly recommended to all libraries.
© 12.01.2017, Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, Rick Anderson