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Michael Gordon: Timber / Slagwerk den Haag and Michael Gordon

Album Summary

>Gordon, Michael : Timber, for 6 percussionists
Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Timber is an evening-length tour de force. Scored for six graduated wooden Simantras - percussion instruments devised by French composer Iannis Xenakis - the work brings the physicality, endurance and technique of percussion performance to a new level. In this new work, Gordon shapes the music in both polyrhythmic and dynamic waves of textures - often each players' hands are in separate rhythmic 'worlds', each traversing a different dynamic contour from loud to soft to loud, similar in some respects to his solo for percussion, XY. Packaged in a real wooden box, Timber had its world premiere at the Korzo Theater in the Netherlands on June 16, 2011 with a performance by Slagwerk den Haag. Its US Premiere will take place at Bowling Green State University in Ohio on October 14, 2011 with a performance by Mantra Percussion. Michael Gordon is the co-founder of Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music.

"Listeners are treated to an astonishing array of playing techniques, from a pitter patter of ricocheting attacks resembling rain fall to passages that accelerate and slow down to thunderous unison thwacks. Gordon’s penchant for polyrhythms and rhythmic canons keeps the musical textures varied and buoys a fascinating narrative that remains instense throughout the piece’s fifty-five minute long duration... Not only is this release musically pleasing, it’s easily one of the coolest packaging designs for a CD we’ve seen in a while." -Sequenza21

"Music collectors are suckers for creative album packaging, and with Timber, composer Michael Gordon has a winner. It comes entombed in medium-density fiberboard, laser-etched with a starburst of 3-D planks. Thankfully, the Bang on a Can cofounder’s latest is as musically compelling as its mantel-ready wooden case... 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." -Time Out Chicago

"You can think of “Timber” as Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” gone mad, with gradual rhythmic evolution and good old-fashioned compositional manipulation rather than Reichian phasing as its engine. Mr. Gordon has six percussionists beat rapidly on a simantra (a wooden slab) to create a magnificently tactile texture in which densities and implied harmonies unfold, often surprisingly, over five movements lasting 55 minutes." -The New York Times

The Classical Review
Despite beginning with the slenderest of resources, in Timber Michael Gordon has created something with an incantatory power that is, in the truest sense of the word, mesmeric. The spacious recording, in the Dutch radio studios in Hilversum, is excellent, especially when heard on headphones.

Michael Gordon's Timber is a fascinating work... The performance by the six master percussionists of Slagwerk Den Haag is stellar and the recorded sound is of audiophile quality.

National Public Radio
This wins our 2011 packaging prize. The disc of Michael Gordon's mesmerizing 55-minute composition for six two-by-fours is nestled snugly in a handsome wooden box, which is decorated with images and lettering that could have been rendered by a vintage woodburning kit. Who would have thought that six guys banging on Home Depot items could sound so amazing? The shifting field of overtones produces its own kind of melody.

Apart from the surprising sensuality of the sound itself, Timber's appeal and strength are evident in the richness and depth it reveals on repeated hearings. Slagwerk Den Haag plays the staggeringly difficult score with uncanny precision and attention to the infinitesimal gradations of dynamics that the piece requires to make its full impact; it's a remarkably assured performance. Highly recommended of any fans of new music or music for percussion.

Collectors will be interested to know that physical copies of Timber - as opposed to the download versions - are packaged in very smartly designed, special wooden boxes made out of inch-thick, medium-density fibreboard - a very cool and appropriate presentation. And audiophiles will appreciate that the sound is demonstration-quality. You know if you want this.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Hilversum, Netherlands (04/27/2010-04/28/2010).


Michael Gordon/ Slagwerk Den Haag/ Timber/Cantaloupe
I should preface this review by saying I’m a huge Michael Gordon fan. If there was a cult to join I might be blindly sucked in, if a light show was included. I only feel that way about a handful of living composers and here is why concerning Mr. Gordon. The music is like a stare that you can’t look away from. It is a stare where all you see are the eyes, no other features—no mouth, nose, or cheeks. It is the stare of God that sees all your ridiculous foibles and you are stuck like Adam, frozen in the garden clutching a fig leaf.

‘Timber’ is that ‘stare’ x 100, with 6-pitched 2x4s that makes for a very focused experience. I have to say if I really listened to this entire CD intently, I would cut off all my appendages and join the priesthood, live in silence in the basement of some forgotten monastery. If you listen less intently, it is like a bath for the soul where you are cleanse of the memory of any 12-tone music, bad lounge acts, or ump-pah-pah bands you might have kicking around in the inner sanctum of your mind. If you listen even less intently and do your bills or taxes, then you are doing your bills in space in some kind of capsule that seems sure to run out of oxygen.

Given the limited musical articulation tools, all Gordon has to play with are harmonic rhythm (usually undulating tremolos faster and faster), texture (created by louder or softer playing) and actual notated rhythms or motives of the 16th/8th note variety. The first section starts with the tremolos and ends with a typical Gordon sped up harmonic rhythm climax- which then goes back to the opening, only simpler, long undulations of single pitches (Mt. 2). By now it’s the overtones that are impeding ones ability to think clearly. Muscles start to seize inexplicably. A slight tick in the eye. Oh my God, I’m only at 14 mins. –how I’m I going to get through this. A tightness in the chest around 16 mins.---I wish I had electrodes attached to a mountain of monitoring equipment, so I could record exactly what time each one of my organs exploded.

Those overtones. Anyone see that 1950’s sci-fi movie based on the Tempest—what was the name of that movie –I can’t think –there was a robot somewhere, a dark inky cloud also. Harmonic rhythm speeding up but in waves now. If you happen to be doing your taxes now you’re going to prison for some highly inaccurate, self-preservation math. The undulating waves turning to granular synthesis, textured climax.

I’m at part 3—long held notes that suddenly move to a climax. My breathing is relaxing slightly but let’s not get too optimistic. There is an underling tension and menacing foreshadowing, that says it’s not going to get better. We are back to the undulating harmonic rhythms, which become extended to identifiable notated rhythms.

Mt. 4 moves logically to the articulated 8th notes triplets (?) enveloping louder and softer. The 6 pitches overlap one another in all the possible permutations. Each permutation has different overtone sequence—which again I’m back in that space capsule counting sheep in order not to go mad. Gradually stuck note quarters invade. Once again the harmonic rhythm is speeding up –more shortness of breath.
Then 16th notes squash the quarter notes. This music is very intense as it clashes with what could be eighth note triplets—I can’t tell anymore. Another climax at the end of movement 4.

I’m at the fifth movement and I’m trying to find out if there are any AA meeting going on right now in my neighborhood. There’s a bottle of Irish whiskey in my top self beside the fridge. We’ve gone to paired sets of 3 players playing slow envelopes
louder and softer using 16th notes. Triplets invade. Sometimes drinking is a reward after a very stressful day trapped in the lunar module. I deserve a drink—what’s one drink anyway. My chest is very tight. Hopefully, the Pentagon doesn’t get a hold of this CD. If they used this at Waco it would of all turned out so different. There’s counterpoint of multiple rhythms that I bet my oxygen mask is all eventually going back to the opening tremolos. Knowing how things turnout is a calming delusion. But instead we come to sections of slower and slower unisons. It’s the uber-primal, stone-age, Rite of Spring. 4 mins. left til that drink. Just one. Promise. Minute and 30 seconds and it’s a fade!!! on 16th notes. The module gradually spins out of sight—tinier and tinier.

Seriously folks, I don’t know how Slagwerk Den Haag played that so accurately---with barely ever a clam and how bout the level of concentration and sustained intensity. Shows what 30 years of intense, Dutch Minimalism can produce. This is an earth shattering, life-changing recording. Get it and prepared to be dazed, confused and cleansed when it goes to silence. Do not purchase if you have a destructive weakness for alcohol.

Submitted on 10/26/11 by Mike Maguire 
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Works Details

>Gordon, Michael : Timber, for 6 percussionists
  • Ensemble: Percussion Group The Hague
  • Notes: Hilversum, Netherlands (04/27/2010-04/28/2010)
  • Running Time: 8 min. 33 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary