Pansophical Cataract is comprised of two eighteen-plus-minute tracks that are in fact reduced versions of thirty- and forty-minute live performance pieces. A bit more rock-ish than what generally passes for modern classical music, but way more esoteric than your average rock ’n’ roll, this material rewards close scrutiny but works best when allowed to wash over the listener in tsunami-like waves. Let’s put it this way: Listening to this cranked up on a good hi-fi is more like riding among a herd of a thousand buffalo than sitting in front of Gene Hoglan’s bass drum at a Testament concert.
Composer/performer Kid Millions (given name: John Colpitts) is well known among the New York avant-rock scene for his work with the band Oneida and a plethora of other demanding groups. In 2010 Kid related to the New York Times how, after being inspired by a chamber performance of Lou Reed’s infamous long-form noise fest “Metal Machine Music,” he wanted to explore what “a mass of carefully tuned drums in collision with each other” sounded like. An initial foray into these dark waters was made by Millions alone; this year’s model features likeminded drummers Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Ryan Sawyer (Stars Like Fleas), and Greg Fox (Guardian Alien). (Live performances have included a larger number of drummers.)
The basic structure of these pieces involves multiple drummers playing single-stroke rolls in fluctuating unison, including two players performing simultaneously on one drum. As the players slip out of phase with one another, unique patterns emerge that tweak the ear in odd and unexpected ways. Long stretches of time go by before other drums, then occasional bass and distorted guitar notes, enter the fray, providing just enough color to…well…perhaps to keep you from going a bit nuts—at least if you’re new to this kind of thing. Marathon minimalist drumming is not an entirely new concept, after all, and has its followers. Art music fans could trace the concept to La Monte Young and Steve Reich’s experiments in the ’60s, while world music aficionados would say that you’d have to go back through the centuries to the origins of West African ceremonial music. Either way, even the most ardent modern drumset players are generally used to working within much smaller chunks of time, and with more obvious variation, and listening to minimalist music without being totally prepared for it can be a maddening exercise. But like the first time you watch an Ingmar Bergman movie or try yoga, once you put your expectations on hold and stop fighting the structure, it can be powerfully mind-expanding.
Another interesting wrinkle here is Brian Chase being credited for “tuning” in the liner notes. Chase has been long interested in focusing on micro aspects of drum and cymbal sounds, and it would be enlightening to learn more about what he actually did on these recordings. Stay tuned for more on that, but in the meantime, check out Man Forever’s page at thrilljockey.com for a taste of this bold drum music.
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