New Percussion in 11 Movements

ANDY AKIHO
SANDBOX PERCUSSION
SEVEN PILLARS

Pillar I, Amethyst, Pillar II, Pillar III, Spiel, Pillar IV, mARImbA, Pillar V, Pillar VI, carTogRAPh, Pillar VII.
Aki Rhythm Productions ARP-R001

Edgar Varese’s groundbreaking piece for percussion ensemble, Ionisation, shook the world in 1931, and in 1976 Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians brought vibraphones and marimbas to the fore.

Now a new composition joins the ranks of percussion masterpieces: Andy Akiho’s Seven Pillars, here performed by Sandbox Percussion. It’s a perfect match: Akiho is redefining how percussion instruments sound and are played, while Sandbox Percussion’s recordings and videos demonstrate mastery of their craft. Their sheer discipline and virtuosity shine throughout this recording.

Akiho’s multi-movement composition calls for tuned and non-tuned instruments, some made of wood, some of metal, some tiny as a glass bottle, some large as an orchestral bass drum, some complex as a five-octave marimba, some simple as a metal pipe. Across the 11 movements, densities, textures, and tempos vary. One can imagine a tap dancer here and there. Musicians play a vibraphone with brushes, a glockenspiel with wires, a marimba with a violin bow.  Akiho calls for harmonic overtones to complement pure sounds, sounding for all the world like computer processed samples.

Each movement is notated with the precision of a Dutch master engraver. Ocean sprays of rhythms, showers of sprinkles, glistening sparkles. Here and there a suggestion of late 1990s laptop music (think Squarepusher).

Although one will appreciate this music without knowing its formal structure, the liner notes speak at length about the composition’s form, even to the extent of including a removable die-cut paper assembly that can be arranged into a 3-D model of the 11 movements, which form a palindrome: Pillar 4 forms the centerpiece; the instrumentation of Pillars 3 and 5 parallel each other, as do 2 and 6, and 1 and 7. Four solo pieces fill out the package.

As a lifelong amateur percussionist I greatly enjoyed this release. It has opened my ears to what percussion ensembles can do. And I recommend reading Zachary Woolfe’s December 2 NY Times feature One Composer, Four Players, ‘Seven Pillars’.

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