FEATURE ‌ The New New Thing 

Of original new music, phased percussion, New York sensibilities, and amplified cardboard tubes

click to enlarge The NMCs Laura Ball, Ron Wiltrout, Philip White, David Heywood, and Nathan Koci
  • The NMCs Laura Ball, Ron Wiltrout, Philip White, David Heywood, and Nathan Koci

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Friday, at the Wando High School Performing Arts Center in Mt. Pleasant, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra will be working its way through the world's umpteenth iteration of three classic symphonic works, two of which date roughly to the tail end of the Civil War and another that emerged from the Great Depression. At exactly the same moment, downtown at Redux Contemporary Art Center, an upstart group of young, brash, professionally trained musicians known as the New Music Collective will be presenting a concert of an altogether more contemporary nature.

Three of the pieces in the evening's presentation, collectively entitled "Workers' Union," are in fact premieres of original works that the members of the NMC commissioned from two New York composers and local composer Philip White. One is called 23, by composer Ted Hearne. Another, Vega, for horn and percussion, was written for them by Jody Redhage, a composer and cellist living in Manhattan who'll be in town for the premiere.

White's new piece, untitled so far, involves a mixed ensemble spaced throughout the labyrinthian Redux facility. 

"It's an event-based work," explains NMC member and director Nathan Koci. "We'll use stopwatches to play certain things at certain times, and each musician will be in a different room, utilizing the studios, nooks, and crannies of Redux."

The ambitious work requires the assembled talents of pianist Laura Ball, Ron Wiltrout on percussion, White on guitar, Koci on horn and accordion, David Heywood on flute, Ray Evanoff on drums, and local vocalist Bill Carson, also on guitar.

"While we definitely love playing 'classic' new music works," Koci continues, "like those from Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, and many others, it's a goal of ours to build a repertoire of truly new works that we ask people to write for us. It's really exciting for us to be able to make a space for brand-new works and premieres."

If the CSO has the repertory of the classical masters pretty well sewn up, Koci's group carves out a niche for itself from the kind of music — much of it not even composed yet — that locals generally see only once a year, during John Kennedy's Music in Time series for the Spoleto Festival.

A highlight of the evening will be a performance by New York percussionist David Cossin, who'll be performing his original Video/Piano Phase, an interpretation of minimalist master Steve Reich's Piano Phase, originally written for two pianos.

In Reich's original composition, two pianists play exactly the same pattern of 12 notes — a constant stream of 8th notes at a steady rhythm. The two performers start the piece in unison, but one of them speeds up ever so slightly, creating a "phase" between the parts, until the second performer is exactly one note ahead of the first. They continue this until the two parts come back around to unison. Such phasing is a standard element of Reich's minimalist work, and it's remarkable how effective the technique can be, musically.

"What David has done is to arrange two sets of MIDI drum pads on either side of him," explains Koci. "He has the notes of the piece programmed on them, so he can play the pattern on the pads. He then filmed himself playing this apparatus at a steady tempo. The performance consists of him sitting behind a scrim with this setup. The video is projected onto the scrim in front of him, playing the steady-tempo version. Behind the scrim, he performs the phasing part, speeding up, so that you get an amazing visual representation of what the piece is essentially doing. And it looks like he has four arms."

Cossin will also be performing an improvisation on an instrument he created, the amplified cardboard tube.

The final piece the group will be playing is called Workers' Union by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, written "for any loud-sounding ensemble" of any number of instruments the players wish. 

"Every performer reads off of identical music," Koci says. "In the music, everything is notated: rhythm, dynamics, tempo, articulation, etc. The only thing that's not notated are the actual pitches. There's not a traditional five-line music staff, only a one-line suggestion of a staff, with the notes indicating only when to go higher or lower. Each performer chooses his notes as he wishes, creating an awesome cluster of rhythm intensity. It's awesome."

"The community thing for me is the bottom line," says Koci, "for people to be creative and share that creativity and to collaborate with other people and other groups here in Charleston and elsewhere. That's what it's all about. Everyone needs a show and tell — there's so many creative people in town. The key to starting that community is bringing all those people together."


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