Kyle Gann rode into town Saturday, his loaded Prius serving as mode of transportation, briefcase and suitcase, unplugged and ready to play. He was here for two reasons: a Composition Seminar called “Great Rhythms of the 1990s” and a performance of his Snake Dance No. 2 by the Philidor Percussion Group.
A high-mileage briefcase is an absolute necessity for anyone who carries around as many scores and recordings as Kyle does. A seemingly tireless proponent of the music he loves, he showed the students pieces by Michael Gordon, Mikel Rouse and John Luther Adams, as well as a few choice samples of his own work, all in a discussion of the polyrhythms that dominated the Downtown scene at the end of the last century. Students practiced performing 9 against 8, saw different ways of notating complex rhythmic relationships, and sampled some of the sonic diversity these rhythmic resources engendered, from heavy metal to blithe transcendence.

The evening concert, subtitled “The American Experimental Tradition,” featured music by Henry Cowell, William Russell, John Cage, Lou Harrison and Kyle Gann. Gann’s piece was easily the most viscerally enjoyable of the group, with four percussionists and the composer playing unison and interlocking rhythms in a constantly shifting pulse – like a heavy groove morphing through a dozen tempos per minute. Formally, the piece alternated between what Gann called poetic and prosaic modes, in a way that is difficult to describe but immediately recognizable. Best of all was the opportunity to watch the composer play his own music – synching up to all the wild metric shifts on his sampler keyboard.

Another treat was William Russell’s Four Dance Movements, three of which were composed in 1933, and the fourth, a tango, in 1990. I wasn’t familiar with these pieces — they are truly gorgeous, in a twisted way. Particularly fun were a waltz in 7/4 and a haunting march in 3/4.

Also on the program: Cowell’s Ostinato pianissimo and Return, Cage’s Trio and Three2 and Harrison’s First Concerto for Flute and Percussion. The members of Philidor – John R. Beck, Rob Falvo, Wiley Sykes – and their guests performed the music admirably, with insightful commentary along the way.

And now I have had the truly weird experience of meeting and spending extended time with someone I felt I already knew, having read Kyle’s blog for about three years now. You know what? It may have been weird, but it was also very pleasant. Conversation over lunch, dinner and postconcert repast ranged easily through many of the same topics each of us has posted on the ether many times before. He was a very gracious, easygoing guest.

And he’s probably over at postclassic right now, denying he was ever here.

picture: Kyle Gann (second from right) rehearsing with Philidor Percussion Group.

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