Greg Stuart: Subtractions


Percussionist Greg Stuart releases Subtractions, featuring solo works by Sarah Hennies and Michael Pisaro-Liu that reframe virtuosity, inviting vulnerability and dialogue into the context of brilliant performative display. Through his collaboration with both composers, Stuart draws analogies with the politics of agency and democracy in how their dialogue was established, embedding respect for the performer's body and preferred modes of expression into the compositional process.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 51:55
01Border Loss
Border Loss

side by side

Michael Pisaro-Liu
02I. Part I
I. Part I
03II. Part II
II. Part II

On Subtractions, percussionist Greg Stuart presents an album that documents a current arrival point along his journey of examination into the nature of solo percussion repertoire. Stuart has long cultivated an anti-virtuosic stance that was shaped by his unease with how virtuosity is defined and who gets to define it. His struggles with focal dystonia limited his motor function in one hand but also forced him to forge an alternative path as a solo percussionist. As he has evolved along that path, he has developed meaningful collaborations with several composers including the two featured on this recording, Sarah Hennies and Michael Pisaro-Liu. Subtractions reflects Stuart’s forays into a new, personalized virtuosity borne out of close work with these two artists and his own qualities of seeking and exploration.

Hennies’ work Border Loss is organized into ten “states,” each mining a different sonic profile from various combinations of percussion instruments. Border Loss favors tactile, granular sounds over sharp, angular, and discrete sounds, and ends up moving in swarms of sound, gradually migrating from one timbral area to another. Hennies describes her notational approach as “totally free rhythm through instructions that still cause rhythm.” Subtle political undertones spin out from the title of the work — the diffuse crossing of boundaries from one section to the next is akin to how borders often actually function. Despite the formalized official border, one often sees influences of adjacent cultures influencing the social climate on either side of the line, sometimes creating a hybrid paradigm.

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Border Loss opens with dry, irregular sounds, reminiscent of kindling crackling in a fire. While there aren’t discernible repeating rhythmic patterns, Hennies facilitates a realm of rhythmic activity, an ecosystem for these sounds to evoke and eventually shift. High pitched chimes enter near the five minute mark, adding a pitch element to the texture, albeit one that is irregular. The piece increases in density and intensity near the nine minute mark, with clangoring gestures across several contrasting instruments. The remaining eight minutes of the piece return to more finely granulated textures and draw the listener into waves of activity that occur inside of sonic continuity.

The process of composing and creating side by side was decidedly democratic, with Pisaro-Liu and Stuart consulting closely on the content every step of the way. Once again, the virtuosity at play in this piece is defined by what the performer does as opposed to what they should be able to do. side by side is divided into two parts: Part I is scored for bass drum and cymbals, and Part II for vibraphone and glockenspiel. Static textures are punctuated by tolling hits on the skin of the bass drum in Part I, as register becomes a structural stand-in for more discrete pitch. Friction and scraping sounds exist in conjunction with more articulated struck sounds. A slow building crescendo on a rolled cymbal frames the dramatic final minutes of the movement. Pitch becomes a more salient parameter in Part II, as Pisaro-Liu weaves melodic fragments and over-ringing verticalities into a meditation. Silence also plays a major role in the piece, dividing up the prayer-like phrases with contemplative consideration.

Subtractions then is Greg Stuart’s virtuosic anti-virtuoso statement — the assertion that the path to arriving at a meaningful level of instrumental and musical demands in a new collaborative work runs through the individual performer’s unique personality on the instrument. Sarah Hennies and Michael Pisaro-Liu prove to be the perfect partners in Stuart’s journey, open to a liberated vision of the commissioning process and hungry to nevertheless find their way to a substantial and compelling final product.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded December 14 & 17, 2021 at the University of South Carolina School of Music, Columbia, South Carolina

Production: Greg Stuart

Recording, mixing, and mastering: Jeff Francis

Design: Marc Wolf (

Wall images: Dan Wayman (

Greg Stuart photo: Forrest Clonts

Liner notes: Marianna Ritchey

Subtractions is dedicated to Audrey Stuart

Greg Stuart

Greg Stuart is a percussionist whose work draws upon a mix-ture of music from the experimental tradition, Wandelweiser, improvisation, and electronics. His performances have been described as “a ghostly, gorgeous lesson in how close, concentrated listening can alter and enhance perception” (The New York Times). Since 2006, he has collaborated extensively with the composer Michael Pisaro-Liu, producing a large body of new music for percussion, often in combination with field recordings and/ or electronic sound. In February of 2020—with La Jolla Symphony Orchestra conducted by Steven Schick—Stuart premiered Pisaro-Liu’s Umbra & Penumbra for amplified percussion and orchestra. Alongside fellow percussionists and sound-makers Tim Feeney and Sarah Hennies, Stuart is a member of the trio, Meridian, whose performances and recordings explore unstable acoustic and rhythmic phenomena.

Recent work by Stuart includes: a trio of recordings with violinist Erik Carlson, performing music by Jürg Frey (Edition Wandelweiser), Clara de Asís (Elsewhere) and Eva-Maria Houben (self-released); Sarah Hennies’ Reservoir 1: Preservation (Black Truffle) composed for Meridian and pianist Phillip Bush; Terra Incognita, an installation co-created with visual artist Naomi J. Falk presented at 701 Center for Contemporary Art comprised of 2x4s, textiles, and 6-channel sound; collaboration with the experimental hip-hop group clipping. for their album Visions of Bodies Being Burned (Sub Pop), which features Stuart’s distinctive approach to percussion on the track “Invocation (Interlude);” and Stuart’s installation, Swales & Sloughs, exhibited at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center at Congaree National Park as part of the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Water/Ways,” which dynamically combines fifty location recordings with hundreds of photographs, all made/taken throughout the park by Stuart.