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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 7. 19 April 1972

Les Percussions de Strasbourg

Les Percussions de Strasbourg

Les Percussions de Strasbourg gave a concert here in the Town Hall last year during their N.Z. tour. They were good, and they're better on this record. They've chosen a group of 'revolutionary' compositions all composed in America (thus the title), and they play them brilliantly.

Les percussions de strasbourg

Ionization is the most famous of Varese's compositions. Varese was radically anti-traditionalist, and his music was uncompromisingly revolutionary. (The main reason for Zappa's great admiration of him - along with Stockhausen, Varese is Zappa's favourite name-drop. Both good choices!) Varese's aesthetic comes from Futurism and Bruitism: a music of the urban related to the sounds of machinery and the whirling vortex of modern life. Like the Bruitists his musical emphasis was on sheer sonority drawn from a total sound spectrum. Varese recognised the need for new, electronic instruments to open up sound for a new world. His sonorities are placed in complex rhythmic constructions which we frequently base on strong and primitive patterns. The music of Ionization is tense with power, which is both primitive and sophisticated. He used basic physical energy principles as conceptional and contructional catalysts, and the music has an incredibly violent but controlled energy as great spatial planes and quanta of tensile rhythmic sonorities thrust at each other and seem to shatter, or interfuse with each other.

Listen to it at full volume - it's got guts.

Carlos Chare is the grand old man of Mexican music. His Toccato is good stuff. Like the sculpture of the Aztecs and Mayans its full of primitive power controlled by a piercing severity. It's a primitive ritual unleashing the powers of nature, and all contoured within an austerely controlled style.

Tambuco does not work as well. The rhythm construction of this work is both complex and subtle, showing complete mastery; but the construction is so cerebral and sophisticated that the relatively simple sonorities he is using create a juxtaposition making for the banal. It's a good groove if you want to listen to complex rhythm.

John Cage is the composer who made the large and final step from the literary mechanistic past to the total electronic present. He was the creator of the first Happening and the disseminator of chance as a compositional process. He was working in electronic multi-media environments when Warhol was still painting Coca-Cola bottles, (He is also an expert on the many and mysterious properties of mushrooms).

When Cage wrote First Construction (in Metal) he was working towards the idea that music is all sound (as well as sight, touch etc). In this construction he uses sound sources as varied as a tam-tam, thundersheets, and automobile brake - drums. From these and other percussion instruments Cage builds up an incredible landscape of sonorities which is unique in my listening experience. If you listen to music to learn new and fascinating experiences this piece alone makes the record worth buying It's really worth sitting down and concentrating on the sounds as they avoke strange images from your mind. Oriental influence (especially through Zen is apparent in this music both in its suspension of individual expression and in the eastern sound of the rhythms and sonorities.

The performances on this record are excellent, and the engineering is beautiful. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the record I got is poorly pressed and marred by a fair bit of background noise, which is a drag with a record that becomes better as more power is put through it. And you may be surprised at the sounds an all percussion group can make.

Rex Halliday.