“…the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism.”
Excerpts from Interview and Feature Article by David Patrick Stearns,Philadelphia Inquirer
The musical instruments look like something you’d see in the lumber department of Home Depot. Playing them requires great skill and stamina, but no special alchemy.
Yet there’s one element that’s more conjured than contrived in Michael Gordon’s new percussion work, Timber: It has a halo, an ethereal aura of sound…
…for those who know Gordon from his best-known work, the cult film Decasia – which consists of decaying archival footage with a highly atmospheric film score – Timber is a retreat into sounds that might seem too simple to be magical. Read More
“…one of the things that makes “Timber’’ so compulsively listenable is the way Gordon structures each player’s crescendos and decrescendos, creating waves of sound in the performance space. Contact microphones are attached to each simantra, to bring out the overtones in each instrument. The changes in timbre and rhythmic pattern are so subtle that they seem more like natural occurrences than conscious decisions on the part of composer and performers.”
"The glorious overtones produced from this limited array has to be heard to be believed. A spine-tingling shimmer caroms from east to west in the listener’s headphones…The sextet breathes these polyryhthms in and out of existence with subtlety, losing itself in ripples of the space-time continuum. In the liner notes, Gordon describes his artistic intent as akin to shamanist author Carlos Castaneda’s pilgrimage into the desert, wiping the brain clear to "bring on visions." Minimalist compositions tend to have that effect, but it’s been ages since we’ve blissfully zoned out to such a degree."
Michael Gordon, composer
Touring Group: Mantra Percussion (Six Percussionists)
Project Name: Timber
Originally created as a work for 8 dancers and 6 musicians and called Pinball and Grace, TIMBER was premiered by Slagwerkgroep Den Haag (Percussion Group The Hague), and it is now available as a single work with the New York based percussion ensemble MANTRA. As a work with Dancers it was a collaboration between Slagwergroep Michael and Club Guy Roni dance company.
Pinball and Grace
World Premiere: Groningen Schouwburg, the Netherlands, October 6, 2009
Michael Gordon’s music merges subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power embodying, in the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism.” Over the past 25 years, Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work, ranging from large-scale pieces for high-energy ensembles to major orchestral commissions to works conceived specifically for the recording studio. Transcending categorization, this music represents the collision of mysterious introspection and brutal directness.
On Saturday, September 15, Michael Gordon’s newest work, Rushes for 7 bassoons, was premiered by the Rushes Ensemble at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, NY.
The new work is a 60+ minute tour-de-force that takes some inspiration from his recent work for percussion, Timber. In the new work Gordon shifts polyrhythmic material not only through timbre and dynamics, but by weaving melodic lines into the kaleidoscopic waves of rhythmic texture.
Gordon comments about the piece:
"The title comes from the tall grass that is reminiscent of the reeds that the bassoon players use, but I also like the title because it refers to an ecstatic rush, or a euphoria, that I’m trying to build in a slow, long landscape that you enter into. This is a very special sound that these 7 bassoon players create. It’s not a sound or a combination of instruments that people know much about or that people have explored a lot. It’s a very different, very beautiful place."
"I wanted to create something that was an environment or a spectacle that was very visceral for the players — they are basically playing non-stop for an hour. There’s a sense of intensity and concentration."
"It’s pretty exciting to be working on Rushes for this group of 7 bassoon players. The bassoon is unexplored territory in a certain sense, it’s been under appreciated."
The Rushes ensemble (Dana Jessen, Saxton Rose, Rachael Elliott, Jeffrey Lyman, Lynn Hileman, Maya Stone, and Michael Harley)
Hailed by the New York Times as “…finely polished…a fresh source of energy,” Mantra Percussion is dedicated to performing groundbreaking works for large ensemble, commissioning music from emerging and established composers to substantially expand the future of percussion, and performing classic percussion works to remind us why we are here.
Mantra has been featured on the Moving Sounds Festival, Ear Heart Music Festival, F(x) Miami Marathon, Hi Fi Music Festival, Music on MacDougal Series, and Make Music NY and has performed at some of today’s most forward thinking music venues including new music hot spots Le Poisson Rouge, and Tenri Cultural Institute. Members of Mantra Percussion have performed at concert series and festivals such as the Lucerne Festival, Bang on a Can Marathon, Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute, Darmstadt, the International Ensemble Modern Academy, and Tanglewood and have performed with groups such as the San Francisco Contemporary Players, the Lucerne Festival Percussion Group, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, Sospeso Ensemble, Either/Or, Philadelphia Virtuoso Society, Red Light New Music, S.E.M. Ensemble, Argento Chamber Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Wet Ink Ensemble, Zs, and Hi Red Center. Recently they collaborated with Dither Guitar Quartet in a commissioning project for new works for electric guitar quartet and percussion quartet. Mantra will give the U.S. premiere of Michael Gordon’s Timber which they co-commissioned with Slagwerkgroep.
Mantra has recorded with the Aaron Siegel Ensemble on Peacock Recordings, as well as music by composer Michael Fiday on Innova Records, which UK Gramophone recently praised as “a disc to treasure…”
Deeply passionate about the sonic potential of the traditional orchestra, Gordon’s orchestral works include Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a radical reworking of the original, commissioned by the 2006 Beethoven Festival in Bonn and premiered by Jonathon Nott and the Bamberger Symphony; and Sunshine of your Love, written for over 100 instruments divided into four microtonally tuned groups. Under the baton of composer/conductor John Adams, The Ensemble Modern Orchestra toured Sunshine of your Love to seven European capitals in 1999. Gordon’s string orchestra piece Weather was commissioned by the Siemens Foundation Kultur Program, and after its tour was recorded and released on Nonesuch to great critical and popular success. His interest in exploring various sound textures has led him to create chamber works that distort traditional classical instruments with electronic effects and guitar pedals, including Potassium for the Kronos Quartet and Industry for cellist Maya Beiser. Also for Kronos, The Sad Park, written in 2006, uses the voices of child witnesses to September 11th as its subject. Gordon’s monumental, 52-minute Trance, originally written for the UK-based group Icebreaker, was debuted in 1997 and recently performed twice in New York City by the ensemble Signal.
Michael Gordon’s special interest in adding dimensionality to the traditional concert experience has led to numerous collaborations with artists in other media, most frequently with filmmaker Bill Morrison and Ridge Theater. In Decasia, a commission from Europaischer Musikmonat for the Basel Sinfonietta, the audience is encircled by the orchestra and large projections. A large-scale, single-movement, relentlessly monumental work about decay – the decay of melody, tuning, and classical music itself – Decasia has become a cult favorite since its premiere in 2001, frequently performed at music festivals, art museums and film festivals around the world. Gordon and Morrison’s works together also include two film symphonies centered on cities: Dystopia (about Los Angeles) in 2008 for David Robertson and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Gotham (about New York City) in 2004 for the American Composers Orchestra.
Works for theater and opera include What To Wear, a collaboration with director Richard Foreman, which premiered at the REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles; Aquanetta, about the 1940s B-Movie starlet for Oper Aachen; Lost Objects, an oratorio for baroque orchestra in collaboration with David Lang, Julia Wolfe and director Francois Girard, which was seen at the 2004 Next Wave Festival at BAM; and Van Gogh, vocal settings from the letters of Vincent Van Gogh, recorded by Alarm Will Sound. Most recently, Gordon again collaborated with Ridge Theater on the multi-performer song cycle lightning at our feet, co-commissioned by Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston and the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the 2008 Next Wave Festival. lightning at our feet straddles arts media, giving Dickinson’s poetry mobility in music while encompassing her words in a world of visual imagery.
Gordon’s music has been featured prominently in the dance works of Emio Greco | PC, Wayne McGregor (for Stuttgart Ballet, Random Dance), Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Heinz Spoerli (for Zürich Ballet), Ashley Page (for The Royal Ballet and The Scottish Ballet) and Club Guy & Roni. His recent project [purgatorio] POPOPERA is a guitar piece written for seven dancers from the Emio Greco|PC company who, before originating the piece, did not know how to play guitar. The resulting 75-minute work debuted in 2008 at the Holland Music Festival and will tour the US this fall. The music was recently released as an EP on the Cantaloupe label.
Gordon has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Settembre Musica, the Holland Music Festival, the Dresden Festival and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, among others. His music has been performed at the Kennedy Center, Theatre De La Ville, Barbican Centre, Oper Bonn, Kölner Philharmonie and the Southbank Centre. The recipient of multiple awards and grants, Gordon has been honored by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His recordings include Weather (Nonesuch), Light is Calling (Nonesuch), Decasia (Cantaloupe), (purgatorio) POPOPERA (Cantaloupe), Van Gogh (Cantaloupe), Trance (Argo/Cantaloupe), and Big Noise from Nicaragua (CRI). Gordon’s music is published by Red Poppy (ASCAP) and distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer. Formed in 1983 as The Michael Gordon Philharmonic and renamed The Michael Gordon Band in 2000, Gordon’s own ensemble performed across Europe and the United States at venues as diverse as Alice Tully Hall and the punk mecca CBGB, on the Contemporary Music Network Tour and at the Almeida Festival in London.
Born in Miami Beach in 1956, Gordon holds a Bachelor of Arts from New York University and a Masters of Music from the Yale School of Music. He is Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the internationally-renowned Bang on a Can Festival.