Sunday July 24, at Caramoor Music Center in Katonah, NY, Michael Gordon’s Field of Vision is premiered by conductor Doug Perkins and the University of Michigan percussion ensemble along with So Percussion Summer Institute Fellows. The work continues up the East Coast to PS 21 in Chatham, NY on Monday July 25, then to North Adams, MA on July 29 for Bang on a Can’s LOUD Weekend at Mass MoCA.
Field of Vision is a large-scale, outdoor work for 36 percussionists. Performed on specially-constructed tuned percussion instruments, industrial metals, and gongs, Field of Vision is performed on extremely resonant instruments that produce a complex spectrum of overtones and resonances. The large number of percussionists and the vast playing field highlights the perspective and the architectural movement of sound.
“This piece uses a lot of industrial metals,” Gordon tells Resonance FM’s Future Classical. “I use twenty-four brake drums in the piece—an automobile part that, when a car is junked, is usually discarded. People typically strike them. But I found with experiments that if you roll on them with yarn mallets, they produce a really beautiful sound—they have a lot of overtones that are very rich, it’s almost otherworldly.”
I think of this perspective of sound a bit like moving from two-dimensional art to three-dimensional art. Sound isn’t a flat line — in Field of Vision it takes on multiple roles in space and time. The resulting waves of moving sound and varying densities are meant to induce a quasi-meditative, almost ecstatic state, in the listener as well as the performer.
I’ve been fortunate to work with the great American percussionist Doug Perkins, who teaches at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and who has given me his percussion ensemble to experiment with. It’s fantastic to work with an orchestra of percussion. Percussion is so open—it’s really the golden age of percussion, and it has been for fifty years. Percussionists are so flexible, and even the definition of percussion is—what is percussion? Anything you can bang on, or rub, or slide your hands across, or kick; things that are finely-made instruments, or just the pots from the kitchen. It’s a world to discover, and it’s a world that is still open with possibilities.
Field of Vision is part of a series of works for single instrument groups composed by Gordon that use spatial arrangement to explore the physical and perceptual experience of music and sound. Previous pieces include 8, for eight cellists; Timber, for six percussionists, performed on 2x4s; Rushes, for seven bassoonists; and Amplified, for four electric guitarists. Each of these works toys with the listener’s perception, using subtle movements of notes through time and physical space, their interactions reveal new sounds beyond their instruments’ standard timbral palette. Taken as a whole, these discrete elements and the environment in which they are embedded form the architecture of a larger structure—one in a state of slow but unrelenting flux, in which no two moments are alike.