Thursday, October 25, 2018

Starkland Releases Percussion Suite by Garland

This past Friday Starkland released its latest album, The Landscape Scrolls. The album is also the name of the only composition included, a 50-minute suite by Peter Garland for solo percussionist, whose full title is The Landscape Scrolls (2010–2011). That title denotes the period of time during which the suite was composed; and, on its premiere recording, the percussionist is John Lane.

The suite consists of five movements, each of which has been composed for different percussion resources. Those movements track the passing of a single day through the representation of five distinctive intervals of time. Thus, the overall structure of the suite’s instrumentation and the names of the movements is as follows: “mid-day” (drums), “sunset” (rice bowls), “after dark” (triangles), “late” (glockenspiel), and “early morning” (tubular bells). The drums for the first movement are both Chinese and Native American, meaning that the overall allocation of resources draws upon both Asian and North American sources.

The array of rice bowls used for the “sunset” movement of The Landscape Scrolls (2010–2011), courtesy of Naxos of America

Garland was a student of James Tenney and Harold Budd. However, listening to “sunset,” it is hard to avoid thinking of Lou Harrison’s use of tuned rice bowls in his “Varied Trio.” Both composers grasped that, when one works with a limited number of pitches, any sense of structure is established through just the right combination of rhythm and permutation. However, Garland ups the ante because each of his five movements involves its own limitation of pitches. The result is a single language of minimalism, so to speak, in which, by varying instrumentation, the “utterances” of each movement assume their own respective individualities. While most of those individualities are abstract, the use of tubular bells in the final movement unavoidably suggests connotations of a Christian congregation summoned to a morning service by church bells.

Structurally, the overall duration is partitioned into segments alternating in duration. Thus, the overall plan (with the track timings) is as follows: “mid-day” (10:20), “sunset” (5:27), “after dark” (10:30), “late” (4:11), and “early morning” (19:50). To some extent these durations reflect the extent to which each movement defines its own space of permutations. However, it also suggests that judicious consideration has gone into how much attention a listener is willing to grant before the urge to “move on to the next thing” arises. Thus, the attentive listener will be readily absorbed by not only the movements themselves but also the logic behind their progression. The only way in which the experience could be more absorbing would be to have the opportunity to experience this suite in performance.

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