Experimental percussion ensembles at The Mothlight this weekend

Western North Carolina-based ensemble 10-can Percussion is one in a growing network of advocates for newer musical works. Be aware: Those sounds might be greener on the vine and more challenging to a listener than standards of classic minimalism. On Sunday, March, 10-can Percussion presents a selection of some curious and transcendent works for a percussion ensemble at The Mothlight alongside a set of pieces performed by the New York-based Mobius Percussion.

“I think contemporary music is far too often imprisoned in academic settings,” says Corey Denham of 10-can Percussion, “We want what we do to be very accessible and personal and we’re interested in exploring performance in as many diverse venues as we can.” Denham, with Emory Hensley and Justin Mabry (the other two members of the group), are among a generation of new musicians who straddle the line between DIY art culture and that of the concert hall.

Because of a certain pioneer mentality toward performing and their willingness to explore alternative instruments, ensembles like 10-can or Mobius Percussion are becoming increasingly free from the standard venues of academia and the logistical difficulties of schlepping any number of marimbas from place to place. “Many of the pieces we play require us to build or find things that would not previously have been considered instruments,” says Denham. “The idea that percussion is all around us drives us all creatively.”

“Shi” (2008) by Alexandre Lunsqui is one work 10-can is featuring on its program that employs an ensemble of atypical instruments, such as a grill tray. The piece fluctuates through subtle polyrhythmic episodes, voiced in a collective buzz of woody and metallic microtones. The piece brings to mind such master exercises in compositional restraint as David Lang’s “the so-called laws of nature,” in which four players ruminate on phasing iterations of sounds for wood, bells and mallet instruments. While keeping pace with the rigorous formal schemes of contemporary work like Lang’s, “Shi” balances this theoretical intensity with an aura of ancient reflection reminiscent of composer Harry Partch’s ambitious ritual theater works of the 1960’s.

Amid this set of new explorations for percussion (some as recent as 2014), Mobius Percussion will also be performing Steve Reich’s 1973 composition, “Music for Pieces of Wood” – a work that, as Sunday’s program states, “is a staple of the percussion repertoire and an early example of minimalism.”

The program is made up of pieces that could, by conventional standards, be considered challenging. But the fact that a listener can sip a gin and tonic at The Mothlight’s bar or play Mortal Kombat between pieces sets a tone of ease and openness for 10-can and Mobius ensembles. Even if the music is esoteric, the experience is the audiences to claim for itself.

WHAT: 10-can Percussion with Mobius Percussion
WHERE: The Mothlight
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 9 p.m. $5

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About Alec Sturgis
Alec Sturgis is a composer, arts organizer and music journalist based in Asheville, NC. Along with his experiences in academic music, studying at the Conservatory at Baldwin-Wallace University, Sturgis also participated in the management of Asheville DIY art-space, Apothecary.

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