Beyond the drum

When percussionist Greg Stuart performs he’s more likely to use a bass bow or a bowl of rice than drumsticks or mallets. “I don’t think there is a percussionist in this part of the country who uses a bow more than I do,” he says with a chuckle.

That’s because Stuart has ventured far from the standard percussion repertoire into the realm of experimental music, a style with roots in the mid-20th century that radically rethinks the relationship between composition, performance and listening.

With experimental music the listener can experience the numerous silences of the American composer John Cage or the drones of French composer Eliane Radigue.

Stuart’s work with experimental music started as a student at Northwestern University where the percussionist was exposed the music of Cage and others. But his determination to play outside of the various standard ensembles for percussionists was a force that pushed him into the sometimes-hard-to-pin-down-genre. “I certainly enjoyed performing in orchestras and percussion ensembles,” he says, “but I was also interested in alternate ways of making music. The process of following one piece to the next outside of these more traditional spaces led me to my current work. It’s been an interesting and surprising path to have taken.”

Stuart, who teaches in the School of Music and the South Carolina Honors College, and his longtime collaborator Michael Pisaro, a California-based composer whose work is familiar to Midland’s residents, will share their latest works throughout Columbia Feb. 17-21. They will present a trio, a work for large ensemble and electronics, a lecture, and a film.

“A mist is a collection of points,” a work for piano, percussion and sine tones written in three parts, is an outgrowth of field recordings made in Congaree National Park by Pisaro and Stuart during a previous tour of the area.

They will also lead 30 UofSC Honors College and School of Music students in a performance of Pisaro’s “anabasis (3),” an hour-long composition. The instrumentation for the piece calls for real, virtual or abstracted versions of the sounds of waves, shark teeth, grass, autos, pavement, insects, the drift of particles and shadows, among various other sounds. A diverse collection of poetic texts is also part of the mix.

“‘anabasis (3)" is a kind of movement,” Stuart says, “that goes from one point to another, in the same way that one might go from one key area to another in the development section of a sonata. But here the motion is, along with moments of stasis and fusion, punctuated by all sorts of ruptures and discontinuities.”

Stuart’s work is a reconsideration of what percussionists do. “If you asked ten percussionists about my performances — you know, “Is this percussion?” — it’s quite likely that the responses would vary greatly. But I find this kind of indiscernibility fascinating.”

He describes his approach to percussion as an expansion of the German term for percussion, “schlagzeug,” which translates as “hit stuff.” “Percussion is a way of interacting with material. It could mean striking and that is perhaps our most common association with percussion,” he says, “but it could also mean friction, or sympathetic vibration, or the ‘uncontrolled’ collisions made by dropping small grains on a surface. These non-striking techniques form a large part of my work.”

Experimental music events Feb. 17-21

Feb. 17 -- Concert: “A mist is a collection of points.” 8 p.m. Columbia Museum of Art. This concert features a composition for percussion, piano and sine tones and is an outgrowth of field recordings from Congaree National Park. Performers are Greg Stuart, percussion; Philip Bush, piano; and Michael Pisaro, sine tones. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $8 for Columbia Museum of Art members, and $5 for students. For information, call 803-799-2810.

Feb. 20 -- Music and Culture Colloquium Series: “Continuum Unbound: Environment, Collaboration, and Contingency in Experimental Music.” 2:30-4 p.m. School of Music, room 210. Composer Michael Pisaro from the California Institute for the Arts and Greg Stuart from the University of South Carolina will discuss their past collaborations and the development of their newest composition “anabasis (3),” an evening-length work for 30-piece ensemble and 4-channel electronics. Free.

Feb. 20 -- Concert: “anabasis (3).”7:30 p.m. School of Music recital hall. UofSC School of Music professor Greg Stuart and a large ensemble of South Carolina Honors College and School of Music student musicians present Michael Pisaro's “anabasis (3),” an evening-length work for ensemble and 4-channel electronics. Drawing inspiration from a diverse collection of poetic texts, the composition presents the listener with a continually transforming world of sound — what the composer terms "discreet continuity" — with acoustic, electronic, and various hybrid sounds coalescing and evaporating. Free.

Feb. 21 -- Concert: “Congaree Nomads.” 8 p.m. Conundrum Music Hall (626 Meeting St., West Columbia). This concert combines sound and video from Congaree National Park with a large-scale instrumental score. "Congaree Nomads" uses 24 three-minute field recordings overlaid with percussion harmonies and video footage from the Cedar Creek River trails. The concert is sponsored by the Friends of Congaree Swamp. Free.

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