Yes In My Backyard: An Exclusive First Listen To So Percussion’s BAM Next Wave Piece “Imaginary City”


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

New York’s bang-on-a-everything ensemble So Percussion are unleashing their most ambitious work to date tomorrow, October 14, as a part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Imaginary City is a meditation on city life, a drums-and-wires piece that tries to capture the bustle, insanity, and joy of living in American metropolises via music plonked out on various pipes, pencil sharpeners, paper, plastic, and poppers. With the 70-minute composition, So Percussion are drawing parallels between New York’s fried synapse universe and other cities, exploring their intertwining relationships with tons of Negativland-style sample work and a collaboration with video artist Jenise Treuting. This first taste, “Extremes” was recorded live during an August rehearsal in Montclair, N.J.’s Kasser Theater. A rapid, Morse-code pulse penetrates a slow moving, melancholy clang; brief Koyaanisqatsi smears of action sound like a flurries of sidewalk activity juxtaposed with the sparkling respite of lunch breaks and clock-outs.

So Percussion on “Extremes”

What is “Extremes” about?

Jason Treuting: The premise was pretty simple–on the verge of stupid. I wanted to explore the verticality of a city and thought [of] dealing with extremes of pitch and rhythm–just high notes and low notes with nothing in between–and fast-moving lines on top of slow-moving lines with not much in the middle there either. The rhythms and stuff came by translating city names into rhythms–Denver, Helena, Houston, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Burlington–and their zipcodes into pitches. I like random structures.

Tell me about some of the “homespun instruments” you’re going to be using for this performance.

Josh Quillen: We are using posterboards with contact mics on them to amplify the sound of rhythmic writing, a game of monopoly, homemade metal/tuned pipes, a drill, computer keyboard, several styles of dictaphones, trash, “popper” firecrackers–the kind you throw on the ground, old records, the insides of a toy piano…
Eric Beach: …music box, greeting cards, a little children’s bellows organ, Stylophone, alarm bell, electric pencil sharpener, aluminum cans, tuned wine bottle…
Treuting: In a lot of ways, the sounds for this project have come more from gathering than creating. Much of it is about finding sounds to use and frame in new ways, like a station of office-supply stuff as a noisy, loopy event or random sounds that I hear in the park near my house. We’ve also approached sampling in a similar way, taking things from TV, radio, random record stores, streets, peoples voices… We’ve approached the sounds a bit like a collage, taking from anywhere we hear something interesting and finding a way to incorporate it or frame it in a way that is interesting.

What inspired you to focus on city life? Is New York your favorite city?

Beach: Cities are just a really rich resource to look at a lot of different issues, and since New York is our home, it’s a great place to start from. I know that I personally was really interested in looking for the fleeting moments of calm that can happen in the midst of chaos. It’s when you’re in the crush of people on the subway, and yet you find yourself completely peaceful for a few minutes–how does that happen?
Treuting: I used to compare everywhere we went to New York and see the differences so clearly, and the more we tour the more I have started to zone in on the similarities. The scale is always different, but many of the intricacies translate from place to place and the more you zoom in on any corner, the more you find the similarities. That hypothesis was a jumping off point in the project… And hey, for me right now, I’d have to say Brooklyn is my spot.

Industrial bands like Einsturzende Neubauten would use various idiophones to show the ugliness of their city, but your piece is about its beauty…

Beach: I’m not sure I think about it as the beauty of the city. It’s more like the beauty in spite of the city. The little things that endure in spite of the craziness.
Adam Sliwinski: One of the themes we try to draw out is that the city’s ugliness and ruthlessness creates moments of beauty and connection between people. We like to meditate on how community exists in so many disparate situations.

What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
Treuting: I just ate at Five Leaves in Greenpoint today and loved it. My go-to breakfast is Egg in Williamsburg.
Sliwinski: Aurora in Williamsburg.
Beach: One of my favorites is Kunjip in K-town… 24-hour Korean food, can’t beat that. Also been really into Fette Sau in Williamsburg, Ippudo, Joe’s Shanghai–the one in Chinatown, Zenkichi, and Village Yokocho is a great place to just hang.
Quillen: SMac in the East Village. Gourmet macaroni and cheese restaurant. Love it. Take your special someone there, eat a ton, and fall into a food coma. What a date…

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“Imaginary City” plays at Brooklyn Academy Of Music from October 14 to October 17, 2009. Tickets are $20-$35.