by Peter Margasak
I’m usually allergic to collisions of contemporary classical practice with pop and electronic music. In my experience that marriage almost always dumbs down both sides of the equation, making for pop or dance music that’s toothless and a bit too self-aware, while neutering the structural rigor and conception of long-form composition. I approached this new collaboration between composer Matt McBane, who works almost exclusively with such stylistic marriages, and the open-minded Sandbox Percussion, warily. With many current percussion ensembles, part of the job description is endless research, developing techniques and sounds in collaboration with a composer who, ideally, finds a valuable way to place them. But as the title of this eight-movement suite—which refers to the topography of the ocean floor—makes plain, there’s a nice conceptual underpinning that lends depth to these sonic blends.
McBane’s monophonic Moog, outfitted with patches of his own design, provides the seabed; his low-end tones, rippling patterns, tremulous drones, and even cycling basslines imitate the way water motion can modulate or distort sound. Sandbox blends conventional percussion including vibraphones and drums with all manner of random objects meticulously mined for their sculptural, tactile sounds. They all play with McBane’s aqueous ambience, providing fascinating interplay both in the match of timbres and the way the synth reshapes some of the sounds. It would be easy to accept this as a kind of chill-out music—and it does go down easy—but the real pleasure is getting lost in the details.
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