THE NEW YORK TIMES, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1988
An Evening of Drums
By ALLAN KOZINN
Art and commerce met in a quirky way on Monday evening at Marymount Manhattan Theater when members of Gageego, an avant-garde ensemble, joined forces with the Percussion Group and several independent drummers to present a collection of snare drum pieces published under the title "The Noble Snare."
The set came into being after the Noble & Cooley Drum Company sent a handmade snare to Stuart Saunders Smith, a percussionist and composer, for his endorsement. "I needed some new pieces to play on my new drum," he writes in a preface too the collection. "So l asked a number of composers to compose snare drum solos for me."
All told, 17 composers responded, among them John Cage, Milton Babbitt, Ben Johnston and Barney Childs, as well as many whose names are better known to percussionists than to most listeners. The collection, published in two thin volumes, was sold at the concert, and said to be hot off the presses.
For snare drum enthusiasts, this was the place to be, and there was much animated discussion of sound and technique during the intermission. For listeners who normally focus less sharply than snare drum fans on the ends of sticks and skins, the evening offered momentary bursts of illumination and stretches of tedium.
Among the more interesting contributions to the set was William Brooks's "March Peace," a delicate work with a spoken text that sounded at first, like the descriptive rhythmic calls sometimes heard in music of Indian and coalesced into a snippet of Thoreau, on hearing a different drummer. Gordon Gottlieb played it with great subtlety.
Thomas DeLio's "Transparent Wave," played by Cliff Hardison, kept one's interest by using varied textures (for instance, a circular brush stroke punctuated by sharp rhythmic figures) in a brief monologue.
Alexander Lepak's "Classically Snared" (played by Thad Wheeler) made its effect through dynamic gradations. And the coloristic and almost contrapuntal complexities of Milton Babbitt's "Homily" (played by David Smith), Siegfried Fink's "Jongo" (played by Kevin Norton) and Barney Childs's "Blazer" (played by Benjamin Toth) gave the listener something to focus on, and offered a few riveting moments.
There were novelties, too. Dan Senn's "Peeping Tom," played with brushes, had an amusing narrative text delivered by James Culley in the deapan style of Laurie Anderson. And the Cage piece, "Improvisation"-- printed on two pages dense with instructions, but without notation -- was played loudly and energetically by Brian Johnson.
Many of the pieces, however, were unmemorable collections of rhythms and rolls that drummers may find useful as technical drills, but that make for rather dull listening, particularly when heard one after another. This is by no means to disparage the abilities of these players: as anyone who has tried to produce smooth, quick roll has discovered, it is no easy task, and the 15 drummers who played on Monday were certainly adept. But their skills would be better enjoyed in lusher and more varied timbral surroundings.