new thoughts about new (percussion) music
from Third Coast Percussion

Aug 22

A summer of Wild Sound- South Bend 2014

As part of our Ensemble-in-Residence position at the University’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, we spend about a month each summer living in South Bend, developing the projects that we’ll be bringing to the DeBartolo stage during the come year, meeting with faculty and students, and generally getting our act together.

This year we decided to bring in some guest artists to help further our continued growth as musicians. During our first week at Notre Dame, we had the privilege of working with Musekiwa Chingodza, a world-renowned Mbira player from Zimbabwe.  Musekiwa was in the states for about 6 months, busily traveling around the country performing and teaching, and we managed to get him to South Bend for a few days to work with us on Shona music.

Here’s Musekiwa teaching us “Chamutengure,” one of his signature songs.

And doesn’t that T-shirt look great on him?

It was a really memorable and educational experience for all 4 of us. Thanks to the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center for coordinating Musekiwa’s visit. We hope to work with him again soon!

The following week we had percussion guru Russell Hartenberger out to South Bend to listen to us play, give us feedback, and generally share his experiences from 40+ years playing in Steve Reich & Musicians and the percussion ensemble Nexus, trailblazers in our field. Russ was deeply insightful and great to work with.

Here he is helping us get the perfect bass drum sound for Reich’s Sextet:

It was excellent to take the time for professional and artistic development with these two great guys. It’s something we all agreed we need to make sure we do more often.

The biggest project of our Notre Dame time was working on our new project with Glenn Kotche, Wild Sound.  This project has been years in the making, and has grown into the most elaborate production we’ve ever been a part of. This piece involves pre-made video and audio tracks that accompany the live performance, live video, amplification through a variety of means, and zero ordinary instruments. Every sound comes from a found object, or an instrument we create on stage during the piece, or the sounds of creating those instruments.

We’re incredibly fortunate to have a team of interns at Notre Dame, students with both engineering and music backgrounds, who helped develop some of the more advanced technology that will be used in this piece. Here’s Glenn checking out some of what they’ve been working on with Arduino technology:

And here Glenn’s working with Peter on his “fishing-line violin” part:

And one of the interns, Jonathan, showing us what he can do with an X-Box Kinect:

This piece is going to be really amazing! You can see the premiere October 3 at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, with subsequent performances in St Paul (MN), New York and Chicago. You can also get a sneak peak at a little bit of the piece, and the process behind it, at our "Inside the Composer’s Studio" event with Glenn!

Our gracious host for our 4 weeks in South Bend was a young man named David Matthews. I’ve never met someone who was so passionate about the ongoing revitalization of downtown South Bend. He showed us a whole new side of the city, and we’ve got a few new places on our list to visit during our future time at Notre Dame.

Finally, our summer time in South Bend is our time to cook giant meals for the ensemble.  Here are a couple of highlights:

Migas a la Skidmore

Kung Pao Chicken a la Dillon

Chicken and Dumplin’s a la Skidmore

Cumin Lamb a la Dillon

…and the final feast!  Featuring lemon baked chicken and potatoes from our new South Bend buddy Velvet, Chinese Broccoli a la Dillon, and Gyoza a la Min Park.

Aug 5

Bravo! Vail Residency

What better way to start our 2014-2015 season than a residency at the Bravo! Vail music festival in Vail, CO!?!  Over the course of 11 jam-packed days we played 9 concerts, including: chamber recitals at several chapels throughout the Vail Valley, a presentation on “The Science Behind Sound” at the Walking Mountains Science Center, numerous interactive "Little Listener" concerts at local libraries, an appearance on Good Morning Vail, a late night concert at the Vail Ale House and a thrilling collaborative finale with pianists Gilles Vonsattel and Bravo! Vail Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott that was broadcast live over Colorado Public Radio.  Phew!

When we could remember, we snapped a few photos along the way of performances, rehearsals, schlepping, hiking, eating…


- David, Peter, Rob, Sean

We loaded up the ole box truck to the brim and headed out across the plains to the Rockies.  Nebraska seemed to last forever…

We hit the ground running and played 3 unique recital programs over the course of 4 days with music by some of our favorite composers, including: Timo AndresTobias Broström, John Cage, Clay Condon, Thierry De Mey, Alexandre Lunsqui,  Marc Mellits, Minoru Miki, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Augusta Read Thomas, and our very own David Skidmore.

Edwards Interfaith Chapel was our first concert stop…

 …and then it was on to Vail Chapel where we played two more concerts.  The view out the window of the chapel was of  a babbling mountain creek and hummingbirds darting to and fro.  Too bad Colorado isn’t pretty. 

One of the most exciting collaborations we had during our time in Vail was with the Walking Mountains Science Center as part of  their “Science Behind…” series.   We presented a project developed in conjunction with the College of Engineering at the University of  Notre Dame entitled ND Waves which focuses on the intersection between science and the arts.

As part of the NDWaves project, Professor Jay Brockman and a team of Notre Dame students helped Third Coast design and develop instruments that illustrate basic characteristics and qualities of sound waves.  Peter Martin of TCP then composed a piece for Third Coast and an audience of any size to perform together.

Using technology such as oscilloscopes and spectrum analyzers, we illustrated what technically happens to sound waves when percussionists make changes in pitch, dynamics, timbre, and purity of tone. 

Here’s the gang assembling all of the instruments before the show…

…and the crowd of all ages at Walking Mountains being instructing how to play the instruments during the concert.

Everybody loves those pipes and log drums!

Next up: late night concert at the Vail Ale House as part of “Vail After Dark”.

This concert was just plain FUN.

Interspersed between all of these amazing concerts, we shot out to several local libraries and made music with some very hip, very eager 3 - 7 year olds as part of Bravo! Vail’s Little Listeners series.

Again: just. plain. FUN! 

Our final concert featured landmark collaborative works for two pianos and percussion by Béla Bártok and Steve Reich. 

Unfortunately, Bártok didn’t compose parts for four percussionists.  So while Dave and Rob were rehearsing with Annie Marie and Gilles…

…Pete and Sean got to go for a hike into the Whitewater National Forest.


A big THANK YOU to all of our new friends at Bravo! Vail and the audiences in Colorado for an incredible experience and amazing start to our season!

Dec 8

Chicago Concert Season #2 TONIGHT: “Dark Rooms” @ Constellation

As the first real snow of the Chicago winter falls, we at TCP are making our last minute preparations for the second concert of our self-presented Chicago Season…TONIGHT!  "Dark Rooms" at Constellation will be an evening of extreme sensory stimuli, with music by America’s most innovative and omnivorous young composers.  Click HERE for the link to concert information.

Preparing for a Chicago Season concert requires a special process for us.  We determine every aspect of the event: the repertoire, the venue, the concert theme, etc. This is our chance to explore new works, new directions for the group, and new ways of presenting a concert.  The whole series of events begins months ahead of time during a meeting in which all four of us pitch each other ideas for pieces, concert themes, and possible collaborators and then continues throughout the year as we workshop the music together and a cohesive flow to the event starts taking shape.

We’re particularly proud of the concerts that we develop for our dedicated audience here on our home turf of Chicago, and past programs have included an evening of metallic instruments at the University of Chicago and exploration of pulsars and other stars of the night sky at the Adler Panetarium.  Our last Chicago Concert Season program entitled  "Infinitesimal Machinery"  was also at Constellation and featured music that explored sounds produced by miniscule objects and muted gestures amplified past the point of normal observance.  Here’s a pic of us performing on flowerpots taken by our friend Diedre Huckabay during the concert:so-called laws of nature, mvt. iii - david lang

Tonight’s concert, ”Dark Rooms”, takes the audience on a journey through several different vignettes and musical miniatures that sometimes meld into each other through  smooth transitions and at other points create stark juxtapositions of style and mood.  The experience could be described as walking through several rooms of a musical mansion, with each chamber filled with a unique experience for the wanderer to enjoy.  We’re particularly excited to be presenting a program of music entirely by living composers, including a World Premiere by our compatriot Chris Fisher-Lochhead

Dark Rooms by Guggenheim fellow Marcos Balter is one of our earliest commissions and will be providing the skeleton for the program.  We’ve separated the multiple movements out throughout the evening and adding some, if we do say so ourselves, prit-tee sweeeeet spatial, lighting, and sensory elements to encapsulate the each of this short musical moments.  Here’s Marcos and Rob working on getting just the right sound of a rubbed marimba bar:

rub that bar

Other works on the program include: Pixelated by Daniel Wohl, a NYC-based composer whose group Transit we’re lucky enough to share a concert with at Le Poisson Rouge on January 29; Taxidermy by Pulitzer winner Caroline Shaw which explores how “the detail of the pattern is movement” through flowerpots, keyboards, and audience participation; Thaw by Sleeping Giant composer Ted Hearne, which we’re excited to have just released on Chicago’s very own new music label Parlour Tapes+; On Tenterhooks, a World Premiere of a hyper-complex and hyper-cool work for bottles, metal bars, and other junk by Chicago’s very own Chris Fisher-Lochhead; and the grooving finale Dark Full Ride by Bang-on-a-Can founder Julia Wolfe.

Since all of these composers are active RIGHT NOW, we had the luxury of having them visit our studio, Skype into rehearsals, and exchange e-mails in order to gain insight into the vision they each had for their music.  This program represents one of the things that is a goal for TCP:  championing the music of today and building a repertoire of percussion music for tomorrow.

Also, and maybe most importantly, it’s always fun to just hang out with our friends and play their music for a hometown crowd!

OK, off to drive a truck through the snow to Constellation.  See you there at 8:00 PM for doors and a pre-concert talk by the always eloquent Rob Dillon at 8:30.


Dec 6

Jul 31

Our Residency Begins

TCP began its 5-year long residency at the University of Notre Dame last week.  We packed up our Chicago studio, filled a 20ft Penske truck, and headed down to South Bend, Indiana for our first 4-week stay.   We’ve settled into our new digs and have been falling in love with the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, its staff, and its audiences.  Our new home away from home is the Leighton Concert Hall.   It seats about 900, tops off at about 10 stories tall, and has about an 1800 Sq. Ft. stage. The hall is now our own personal incubator for a month. We are work-shopping new rep for our 13-14 season, recording a new album for New Amsterdam Records, bringing in composers Timo Andres and Glenn Kotche to collaborate on new commissions, creating new outreach programs for the South Bend community in collaboration with the UND Engineering faculty and students, and performing and interacting with University students and other area students to bring the arts and our music closer to our new community here.
All Photos © The University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center

Our first show was last Wednesday, performing on the DeBartolo Center’s ANDkids World Film Festival. We presented a program of silent film - “The Invisible Men” from 1906 was performed with Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s score for percussion quartet and TCP created its own original score for Albert Lamorisse’s famous 1956 film “The Red Balloon”.  This 30 min. film was a blast for us work on and we even created some ways for the children in the audience to be part of the performance.  
We had the kids build some of their own bell instruments, shakers, and kalimbas in a pre-show event, many of which were used as foley instruments throughout the film. Perhaps the best was the paper-bags -100’s of paperbags being blown up and popped in a concert hall is, as it turns out, a pretty amazing sound:). As always, we had everyone come up on stage after the show to check out all of our instruments.
We want to give a big shout out to some of the wonderful people we’ve worked with during our first week:  Sarah Prince, Doug Hildeman, Joshua Ingle, and Tony Costantino for all of their talents and assistance with our tech and production including all the audio, video, and lighting for the ANDKids Festival. I’ll never forget asking Tony about getting a spotlight for our sign holders on the side of stage. He just pulled out his iphone which is connected to the entire system, leveling and positioning the light in about 5 seconds……. we definitely aren’t in our studio anymore:).
The ANDkids show wouldn’t have been a success without our collaboration with Sean Martin, DeBartolo’s Community Engagement Program Manager, who assisted us with designing, building, and working with all of our young audience members with the toy bells, kalimbas, and shakers for “The Red Balloon”.   Many thanks to him for creating such a fantastic and memorable experience for the audience as well as the performers:).  Also instrumental with our audience interaction in “The Red Balloon” were Ted Barron and his daughter Lucy who volunteered to hold up the cue signs during our performance.
And, of course, this residency would not have happened without DeBartolo’s Executive Director Anna Thompson.  Her passion for the arts, music, and our ensemble is inspiring and we’re excited for all of our future experiences here at Notre Dame.


Jul 19

Unknown Symmetry: A Biography of Our Band

Our newest CD, Unknown Symmetry, is days away from being released!   Our sophomore album has been about 4 years in the making, and in many ways it is a history of our group from the beginning to the present.  Fans of TCP might be scratching their heads now - Didn’t we release our sophomore album last season (The Percussion Music of John Cage, 2012)?

…It’s complicated.

Our first EP, Ritual Music, was tracked in a large rehearsal room off-hours - it was all very DIY.   In 2009 we were looking around for more swanky places to record and spent time tracking in some local Chicago studios.   At that point we weren’t even sure what was actually going to be on the next album.   We had a bunch of rep that we had been touring that season and were asking ourselves the same question we always seem to end up at: “how can we make a thematic album with a bunch of non-related repertoire?”  Perhaps more importantly in the 21st century, “Does an album release even NEED to be thematic?”

The first 2 works we recorded for our new disc aren’t even on the album.   We showed up at a small studio on Chicago’s north side with our cars full of gear to track Cage’s Third Construction and Manoury’s marimba duo from Le Livre des Claviers.   Third Construction ended up being re-recorded for our latest MODE records release, and the Manoury was re-recorded in its entirety in 2010.  That recording, with all of its crazy sixxen, is in the can and coming out next year…… I told you this was complicated.

While the audio of that early session has never seen the light of day, it led us to some of our closest colleagues and collaborators.    We knew Greg Beyer wasn’t too far away from Chicago and, needing a session producer for the tracking, we called him up.  We had never worked with him before, but it was an amazing experience that has turned into many years of creative activity together.  Since then, Greg has gone on to produce many of our recordings and has also been part of all our sextet repertoire (Grisey, Rihm, Manoury, etc.).    Greg also introduced us to the greatest engineer in the world who has been part of every recording project since.

With the music we play, finding a great engineer is tricky.   Things weren’t working out in 2009 and, after spending a day in the studio with us,

Greg mentioned his colleague Dan Nichols at Northern Illinois University.  We went out there that next summer to spend a few days with him and ended up tracking Christopher Deane’s Vespertine Formations which you’ll get to hear on the album.   What makes a great engineer great?   All I can say is that, beyond having amazing ears, Dan understands the sound of percussion instruments more than most professional percussionists.  He has the ears, the technique, the gear, and is always excited for the most off-the-wall projects we bring to him.  We have many fond memories of him: stringing up U-channeling with us, building individual foam houses for us and our wind chimes 8-O , crashing next to his chinchillas…..  One of his hand-built microphones, the “binaural sphere”, has routinely been considered for new album titles.  But I digress…

As soon as we found our engineer, we got set up to record an entire album of John Cage’s music for MODE records, and our original “sophomore album” got pushed back on the timeline.

Soon after that we were recording an entire album of Philippe Manoury’s percussion music and after that we recorded Augusta Read Thomas’ Resounding Earth for a release on the New Focus label this next fall.   Since the beginning of our work on Unknown Symmetry, TCP has managed to record 3 other full-length albums (4 if you included the soon to be released “Music for 18 Musicians” with Ensemble Signal).

Unknown Symmetry is an album that was recorded in pieces, in-between other projects.  If we had a few days off, we’d run up to DeKalb and record with Dan.    We never really thought of how one work fit with the next.   We felt compelled to record these works because we loved them, yet we really had no idea when or  where they’d show up as a final product.    Many of these pieces are familiar to anyone who’s seen a TCP show over the past few years.  Peter Garland’s Apple Blossom was

part of our early touring repertoire and on almost every show we did during our first substantial touring in the Spring of 2009.  Clay Condon’s piece Fractalia has been on 90% of the shows I’ve played with TCP over the past season.  We played David Skidmore’s Common Patterns in Uncommon Time on a large  tour through in 2012-13, at Millennium Park last summer, and are about to tour it again in VA next month.   Christopher Deane’s Vespertine Formations is unique amongst all of the repertoire on this new disc in that it was one of the works on TCP’s very first show (aawwwhh…).  Fratres is also a bit different - if you weren’t  at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago on December 15th, 2009 at 7:30pm, this album will be the first for you.

I forgot to mention the DVD in all of this.   Unknown Symmetry is a double discrelease - 1 has the audio, the other is a video of the live performance of the premiere of David Skidmore’s Common Patterns

in Uncommon Time.  I could write an entire blog on just this piece, but when I think of this album and the narrative of our group it provides, what resonates the most for me is the relationship with our close friend and supporter Sidney K. Robinson.   We met Sid at Taliesin in Wisconsin many years ago.   He’s been a key figure in many of our artistic pursuits in the past 3 years including the commissioning of this work.

The album doesn’t fit the “classical record” stereotype – it’s not a composer portrait, the pieces don’t all fall under the same aesthetics, etc.   Rather, listening through Unknown Symmetry is learning how we have grown as an ensemble - from the repertoire we have played to the colleagues and relationships we have developed over the years, to the recording process itself (some works were done with just a couple well placed microphones in a room, others were a bit more advanced).  We love this album.  Yes, it’s taken a while to finish, but if we had released our “sophomore album” way back in 2009 or 2010, we wouldn’t have wound up with disc that was so meaningful to us.

May 20


Third Coast Percussion presents an evening of quirky new musical explorations by today’s most creative composers. Don’t miss them on Thursday!

May 14

May 13

Third Coast Percussion to join University of Notre Dame as Ensemble-in-Residence

Notre Dame!

We are thrilled to announce that Third Coast Percussion has been named ensemble-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center!

As ensemble-in-residence, Third Coast will perform on the university’s Presenting Series, engage in interdisciplinary collaborations across campus, premiere new works, conduct master classes and provide community-building outreach performances for youth in local schools.

We are beyond excited to be partnering with this incredible institution. Our new position at Notre Dame begins this summer and will continue for the next 5 academic years. We will be maintaining an active presence on campus throughout the year, though the ensemble will still be based in Chicago. Click here to read the full press release.

We have some incredible projects in the works already, including collaborations with the university’s College of Engineering and Master of Sacred Music program. We plan to tour many of these projects around the country so stay tuned for more details!

Nov 1

Travel Log: How to Build a Pianotron

TCP was in Colorado this past month for a week and a half of performances and masterclasses throughout the state.   The Rocky Mountain State (aka the land of Green Chili and Subaru’s) provided us with many amazing experiences, topped off in Boulder, CO where we were given a very old and wheezy upright piano to nip/tuck into Pianotron v2.0.   The first Pianotron was the brainchild of Clay Condon, and made its debut back in 2009 on a performance of Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union as part of TCP’s Chicago Concert Season.  Since then, we’ve made it part of our John Cage repertoire in the third movement his early work Quartet.

Read more here.

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