Eight Pieces in Suspended Time was recorded in three sessions in New York City the summer and fall of 2002: an initial two-day block in July at the late, great recording engineer Sasha Victory's Long Island City studio; a follow-up session on September 9 to fill what I perceived to be sonic and emotional gaps in the evolving suite; and December 15 solo performance at Blaise Siwula’s C.O.M.A. series at ABC No Rio, which produced the happy gift of track 7.
The musical approach used during all three sessions resulted from several imperatives:
• A desire to produce “hard art” along the lines of Richard Serra or the ritual music of Tibetan Buddhism, art that is resistant to the elements, that is immovable as the mountains.
• Paradoxically (or not, if we take hard art to be the antithesis of prefab, ethereal “spiritual” art), a desire to work toward what Hazrat Inayat Khan called “the sound of the abstract plain” – the music of the spheres or what have you, which, physically speaking (viz the shape of the drums and cymbals), it is.
• A desire to explore the kind of deep harmonic interaction typical in the work of two of my formative musical heroes: “Father of Minimalism” La Monte Young and industrial percussion legend Z’ev. La Monte’s influence on my musical life went far beyond the series of voice lessons I undertook with him in the late 1980s, opening up my ears to the extremes of complex harmonic interaction. The influence of Z’ev runs equally as deep, as I can credit his album Elemental Music with making me pick up my first pair of sticks and start tapping. Rather than following his approach – large, heavy, metallic objects struck loudly, or smaller metallic and plastic objects roped or chained together and flung about with intense physicality, all to produce complex interactions between sonic phenomena – I worked with a largely fixed set, positioning and tuning the instruments for optimal harmonic interaction and sometimes setting unmounted cymbals in motion on the drumheads. Embarrassingly (or not), I may have emulated the Z’ev approach too well, as revealed by his later comments on hearing the work: “It was on in the background, and a couple of times I found myself thinking, ‘When did I record this?,’ and then remembered that it was you — very wild.”
Oddly (or not), my studies of Iranian classical percussion also had a profound influence on the physical execution of these pieces, as (a) the playing technique of the tombak (goblet drum) is built around a rapid shift and overlapping of magisterial bass notes, sharp trebles, and midrange rolls that are as fluid as the purring of a cat; (b) Persian rhythms are characterized by an almost tidal sense of the beat — rather than a mechanistic rat-a-tat, Persian rhythms sound as if they were slowly striking the shoreline, then receding out as an undertow; and (c) the construction of the large Kurdish frame drum known as daff (a staple instrument in Persian music) gave me an appreciation for sympathetic, supplemental vibrations — in the daf’s case produced by the dozens of short chains that line its shell, in my percussion kit’s case by several metal arcs attached to the drums, their edges lined with tiny metal ringlets.
For teaching me tombak, I owe a deep debt to the great tar and tombak player Kavous Shirzadian, who more than anyone else counts as my musical master.
Other teachers came before. Layne Redmond taught me my first lessons in Arabic frame drum and tambourine. Glen Velez added some refinement to my techniques but was primarily influential in teaching me to feel overlapping rhythmic cycles. The great Latin drummer John Amira was my teacher of Haitian and other Afro-Caribbean styles concurrently with my studies with Glen and Layne, resulting in my forever wanting to apply a clave to Arabic and Turkish rhythms. A valuable thing, I think. Finally, Jamey Haddad taught me what little South Indian rhythm as I was able to learn — but more importantly, he taught me several vital lessons: (1) don’t try to be an encyclopedia of rhythms, just play the ones you know well; (2) look for the essence of a rhythm before you even think about adding ornamentation; (3) look for your own sound; (4) don’t be wimpy about it; and finally (5) it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
The following were also vitally influential: crickets, cicadas, frogs, blowing leaves, tide over seashells, construction, waterfalls, fountains and geysers, glaciers and seiche tones, bamboo, chain-link fences, stones and masonry, miscellaneous engines and generators, iron and brass, gagaku and samulnori, the creaking of ships' lines, highway overpasses, elevated trains, wind on mountain lakes, boats against piers, fire and crumpled newspaper, bricks poured from dump trucks, men with sacks of cans, men at a forge, Man with a Movie Camera, humpback whales, power tools, blizzards and hurricanes, hardware stores, foghorns, sirens, soil, and silence.
Instruments used were as follows:
Track 1: Two large stainless steel handbells constructed from kitchen bowls, light chain, and wooden handles.
Tracks 2-7: Percussion kit comprised of one 20-inch Leedy kick drum, one 24-inch Remo bodran (mounted), one 16-inch Remo roto-tom, one 11-inch Mapex piccolo snare, 10- and 12-inch Sabian Evelyn Glennie “Garbage” cymbals, 17-inch Sabian Carmine Appice China cymbal, antique 10-inch China splash, antique 14-inch Turkish crash, 5- and 6-inch Chinese bells, two children’s hand cymbals (mounted), handmade tambourine low-hat, one Pete Engelhard reco-reco, one antique temple block, two Vaughcraft woodblocks, one small brass frying pan, two Chinese and two Tibetan cymbals (unmounted, and courtesy of the great percussionist Hearn Gadbois, under whose bed they lived for years), one 12-inch Sabian China splash (also unmounted), one hanging Indian bell, and one antique tin tray.
Track 8: Four brass maracas, one Pete Engelhard tambourine shaker.
No effects were used except a touch of reverb at the end of tracks 4 and 5.
This music is emblematic of mid- to late 2002. The years 2004 and beyond have a much different sound.
--Matt Hannafin, Portland, OR, January 2013