So Percussion Summer Institute


At the beginning of August I got back from the So Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI) at Princeton University. I’d applied to the course not really knowing what to expect. I’d never written for percussion before, been on a course in the States or worked with American musicians. There was a lot of unknowns. At the very least I’d certainly never expected to be performing blindfolded with Matmos in a Brooklyn bar…

The course was a mix of performance, lecturers practice and demonstrations and the theme of the course was percussion and electronics. The faculty and speakers were peppered with people who are straddling the electronic and acoustic worlds. Princeton composers such as Dan Trueman showed us examples of the electronics playing an active role in the musical performance. Each of his piano etudes causing the performer to work within the framework of the electronics and adapt to them in a different way.

Jeff Snyder in particular caught my attention with his custom made instruments, not for the adventurousness of the instruments or the vastness of the soundworlds he was creating. For the polar opposite in fact, because he was taking pains to deliberately limit his instruments to provide for a more constrained approach to electronic music. He explained how he wants the method of sound production to be appreciable by an audience, instead of being a black box of sound. The dynamic duo of Matmos stole the show with their on stage chemistry and their curious blend of the intellectual and asinine.

Matmos' talk at the So Percussion Summer Institute

Matmos dishing out the music/cooking/life advice

As part of SoSI I got the opportunity to have two new pieces performed, both of which were my first attempts to write for percussion. The first was a percussion quartet for So Percussion themselves and the other was for the student percussionists on the course with the interesting stipulation of being for smaller instruments. When I heard about this I decided to go back to an idea I had in the past to write for household glass and delftware and ended up writing it for two bowls. The piece is called jaunt and I got to work with two of the participant performers, Evan Sadler and Will Bennett, to bring it to life.

Evan Sadler and Will Bennett performing 'jaunt' by David Collier

Evan Sadler and Will Bennett performing jaunt (Photo by Dylan Greene)

I was particularly impressed with the attitude of everyone at SoSI with the members of So Percussion leading the charge. There was a palpably effort to create an intensely involved learning environment and the attitude seeps through at ever level. You can feel it in each of the talks, the rehearsals, masterclasses and the conversation over dinner. There is a real sense of community at the course and a bond developed between the participants very quickly.

It was a very supportive atmosphere to be in but there was no sense of complacency. I was definitely pushed farther than I would have on my own. I hadn’t expected to be performing at all let alone performing with Matmos in New York. There was a similar experience when I got to play John Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes No. 4, something I never would have volunteered to do on my own.

The intensity of the programme can’t be overstated and I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what went on in these few paragraphs. The days ran from 8am to about 10pm most nights. It made for a full throttle learning experience. The whole thing reminded me of a metaphor I’d heard used to describe studying at M.I.T. “It’s like trying to drink from a firehose.” It’s going to take me a while to process all that went on and I’m sure there are going to be things I’ll be revisiting for some time to come.