Percussionist Christopher Whyte releases Cold Stability, a collection of works for different percussion instruments that explores paths to quietude through sound. Featuring works by Toshio Hosokawa, Sarah Hennies, Lou Harrison, and Whyte himself, the album travels through a variety of timbres, most of which inhabit a space which subverts the expectation for a bombastic percussion recording.
Oregon based percussionist Christopher Whyte releases Cold Stability, a collection of works that explore different paths to stillness through sound. From the undulating marimba rolls in Toshio Hosokawa’s Reminiscence, to the psycho-acoustic exploration of Sarah Hennies’ Psalm 1, to Whyte’s own polyrhythmic/polytextural centerpiece, and finally to Lou Harrison’s gamelan- inspired, just intonation work Solo to Anthony Cirone, Whyte examines textures that ask the listener to slow our minds and focus on component materials of sound. Whyte’s album lives within what some might consider a West Coast new music milieu — one in which the elements of timbre, tuning, and sonic phenomena are brought to the fore for contemplation.
Toshio Hosokawa is perhaps the most influential Japanese composer of his generation, merging both canonical and contemporary influences he obtained in his time studying in Germany with those from his native country, including concepts drawn from Zen Buddhism. His Reminiscence for solo marimba revels in that instrument’s rich low register, rolling mysterious harmonies and mining them for their unique colors and character profile. Hosokawa alternates between sinewy arpeggiated phrases and taut accented chords, providing relief for the ear to contemplate the pitch material against a momentary “canvas” of silence.Read More
A significant strain in Sarah Hennies’ work is her acute attention to the unique acoustic properties of instruments. Psalm 1 is part of a series of works for vibraphone that zoom in on this overtone rich instrument, using repetition to reveal hidden phenomena inside its timbre. Partially inspired by Alvin Lucier’s scientific approach to sound, Hennies establishes musical parameters that illuminate acoustic realities. In Psalm 1 we hear a series of intervals, each with its own sonic profile, conjuring auditory illusions that can produce sounds that go beyond what is literally being played.
Whyte’s title piece A Cold Stability draws inspiration from wine making, dividing the piece into four sections that correspond to the different stages of the process. First we hear the ripe grapes just before harvest, expressed here in percolating, polyrhythmic textures on skinned drums. Next we hear the mechanical precision of sorting machines, captured by virtuosic, modular passagework on pitched percussion instruments such as glockenspiel, vibraphone, and tuned thai gongs. Whyte evokes the patient period when the wine settles and evolves in wood barrels with swells on woodblocks in a duet with cyclical figures on marimba. Finally, we hear the luminosity of the bottling process in shimmering bowed wine glasses and bottles. Within these sections, Whyte finds contrasting expressive areas in pace, tempo, and material, mimicking the organic nature of the wine making process, an ever evolving transformation of source material into an irreversible modification of itself.
Lou Harrison’s Solo to Anthony Cirone is scored for tuned pipes, tempered in just intonation. Like his West Coast contemporaries, Harrison was fascinated with tuning systems that established a direct connection with the overtone series. This meditative piece is comprised of a series of ritualistic phrases outlining a pentatonic scale. The resonance of the tuned pipes reveal a panoramic pitch halo that veritably glows and pulsates through the speakers. It is a fitting close, a final prayer of sorts, to a recording that has so effectively drawn the listener’s ears into a wide range of sonic paths towards stillness and contemplation.
– Dan Lippel
All tracks engineered by Branic Howard
Editing for Reminiscence, Psalm 1, & Solo to Anthony Cirone by Branic Howard
Editing for A Cold Stability by Christopher Whyte
Mixed & Mastered by Branic Howard at Open Field Recording, Portland, Oregon
Reminiscence, Psalm 1, & Solo to Anthony Cirone recorded at Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, October 2021
A Cold Stability was recorded at Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, Oregon, December 2021
Called “hypnotic, enthralling…dynamic” (Oregon ArtsWatch), Christopher Whyte (b. 1983) is known for his wide-ranging artistry as a percussionist, timpanist, collaborator, composer, and educator. He has presented recitals, concerts, and masterclasses internationally in Asia, Europe, Canada and throughout the United States.
As an original member of the Portland Percussion Group, he is dedicated to fostering percussion performance through dynamic concerts, engaging collaborations, and the creation of new music. Through their call for scores project, the Portland Percussion Group has provided the impetus for over sixty new works for percussion chamber ensemble. In October 2020, the quartet made its European debut performing a full-length concert at the GAIDA Festival of Contemporary Music in Vilinus, Lithuania in addition to collaborating on Steve Reich’s iconic Drumming with the Colin Currie Quartet.
He is a founding member and resident faculty of the International Percussion Institute, a summer percussion performance and research institute, marimba competition, and composers workshop held annually in Aberdeen, Scotland. Recent projects of the Institute include a collaboration with British composer Joe Duddell and the Sound Festival to develop new works through shared experiences between young composers and Institute percussionists. Whyte also performs as percussionist with Third Angle New Music Ensemble, collaborating with a wide range of musicians and composers to advance the development and performance of new music. He has collaborated closely with composers Gabriela Lena Frank, Pauline Oliveros, Sarah Hennies, William Kraft, Allen Strange, Stephen Taylor, Michael Johanson, Mendel Lee, and Angélica Negrón, among others as an active commissioner of new music for percussion.
He regularly performs with the Oregon Symphony, including on their Grammy-nominated recordings Spirit of the American Range and Aspects of America: the Pulitzer Edition, as well as with the Portland Opera Orchestra, Oregon Ballet Theater, 45th Parallel Music, fEARnoMusic, The Bach Cantata Choir, Portland Symphonic Choir, and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Additional performance credits include the Vancouver Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, Astoria Music Festival, Atlantic Symphony, New Bedford Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Newport Symphony, ALEA III contemporary music ensemble, and the Boston Civic Symphony. He most recently appeared as concerto soloist with the Missoula Symphony, performing Pascal Le Boeuf’s Triple Concerto, and has performed with arx duo in performances of Dominic Marcott’s Harmonic Canon. Whyte recently released “Cold Stability,” his debut solo recording on New Focus Recordings, featuring works by Lou Harrison, Sarah Hennies, Toshio Hosokawa, and an original composition for percussion and electronics, commissioned by Third Angle New Music and inspired by the process of winemaking so intertwined in the life of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
A dedicated teacher, Whyte is currently Percussion Area Coordinator at Portland State University, and has served on the faculty of Western Oregon University. He serves as the director of the Portland Summer Percussion Academy, a week-long educational gathering of high school percussionists focused on a broad range of western and non-western percussion instruments. The Academy annually brings together students and faculty from around the United States. Whyte has served as a member of the Percussive Arts Society Percussion Ensemble Committee and University Percussion Pedagogy Committee, and is currently President of the Oregon Chapter of the PAS. He has performed or presented at the Other Minds Festival of Contemporary Music, Connecticut Summerfest, New Music Gathering, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the College Music Society (CMS), Northwest region NAfME conference, The Midwest Clinic, nienteForte Festival, Oregon Music Educators Association Conference (OMEA), the PICA Festival, New York’s Fringe Festival, and Music for All National Chamber Music Festival.
Whyte holds degrees from the University of Oregon (B.M., M.M.), and Boston University (D.M.A.) and his former teachers include the late Charles Dowd and Boston Symphony Principal Timpanist Timothy Genis. He is a Yamaha Performing Artist, and proudly endorses Vic Firth Drumsticks, Remo Drum Heads, Zildjian Cymbals, and Black Swamp Percussion Instruments. His compositions are published with Tapspace, MSC, Matrix, and Bachovich publishing.
Chris lives in Newberg, Oregon with his wife Charlotte and their son Forrest.
Just as Posey includes a work by one famed composer on his recording, percussionist Christopher Whyte (born 1983) places a piece by someone of some musical standing on a New Focus Recordings CD. This is Solo to Anthony Cirone by Lou Harrison (1917-2003). It is the final and shortest work on the disc – a delicate piece for tuned pipes in which the sound of the pipes rather than any inherently musical elements of rhythm or harmony is the piece’s reason for being, creating a kind of trancelike state in listeners who focus on Harrison’s aural world. Harrison’s brief work (six minutes) follows one by Whyte himself that is far more extended (23 minutes, nearly half the total length of the disc). Called A Cold Stability, Whyte’s piece has an extramusical reference, to stages of winemaking. But knowing that is not necessary for listeners to appreciate the sounds-for-their-own-sake elements of the four-section work. Drums and steel drums, vibraphone and glockenspiel, woodblocks and marimba, all have their places within this sound world, and all can – and really should – simply be heard as aural elements to which listeners can tune in and from which they can tune out, according to their mood. As a structured work, Whyte’s piece goes on much too long; but as an immersive sonic experience, it is effective as long as one does not try too hard to follow its underlying narrative purpose. Also on this CD are Reminiscence by Toshio Hosokawa (born 1955) and Psalm 1 by Sarah Hennies (born 1979). Hosokawa’s work is for solo marimba and is a journey through the instrument’s sound-generating capabilities, especially those involving its lower register. It can be thought of as mood music, background music, or simply a kind of sonic canopy whose resemblance to music is largely irrelevant. Hennies’ piece, for vibraphone, offers an interesting aural contrast to Hosokawa’s while sharing some of its aesthetic: the instrument’s sound is the whole point here, its swells and near-constant repetition serving to lull the ear into accepting its world as the world, which it becomes for its 10-minute time span.
— Mark Estren, 11.09.2023