Percussion Works 2000–2011
mode 319 Thomas MEADOWCROFT: Percussion Works 2000–2011
The Great Knot for percussion trio 18:29
Cradles for percussion duo with Wurlitzer electric piano (Thomas Meadowcroft, electric piano) 8:56
Plain Moving Landfill for percussion solo 12:59
Home Organs for six percussionists. 13:52
Australian composer Thomas Meadowcroft grew up at a time when Australians viewed their physical distance to supposed cultural roots as immense whether to the high culture of Europe or the popular culture of the U.S.. Meadowcroft has embraced this critically and made it the focus of his work. Instead of looking for ways to join other musical traditions and histories, his music takes the Australian experience of distance as its central subject matter.
Part of it is the exploration or evocation of feelings of alienation, the lack of context and the falling short. In these pieces this means the use of junk and the embrace of instruments of middle class domestic music making mostly excluded from art music by definition: electric organs, drum machines, plastic recorders, worn out tapes, etc. Instruments that not only have strong attachments to place and function, but which also tend to enact some kind of musical rationalization to work. The cheap drum machines in Thomas’ work are not manipulated or transformed; they need to play their patterns for you to know what they are.
In Home Organs the piece evokes the scene of utilitarian everyday music making with its collisions of preset patterns, mistakes, sentimental memory and just out of reach desire.
Cradles is a lullaby, to help put treasured analogue musical equipment to bed. The work takes its inspiration from the sensuous, tactile relationship between a performer and their instrument. While the Wurlitzer piano tries to channel a kind of refraction of an Air Supply intro that wasn’t, the percussionists are left trying to manually draw out the memories stored on the tape. Neither succeeds, but the result is both affecting and unsettling in its embrace of the mechanisms of nostalgia.
In Plain Moving Landfill, the instruments begin seeming as if they are a selection of junk that’s just lying around, but then cohere into an assemblage of rubbish that almost gets away from the performer and the composer. Eventually the materials assert some of their story and then collectively fall back into the garbage heap. The construction of the work can’t be enough to hold it in place.
The Great Knot continues the method of Plain Moving Landfill but goes further by explicitly summoning the narrative of distance. The quixotic migration of the bird that gives the piece its name is embodied in the deliberate attempts to create a new musical structure from a selection of singularly in-apt materials, which can’t but revert to their own pasts: amateur recorder playing, tinny drum machines that won’t stop.
Program notes by Anthony Burr and Thomas Meadowcroft.
Speak Percussion has shaped the sound of 21st century Australian percussion music through the creation and presentation of ambitious arts projects. Lauded as a leader in the fields of experimental and contemporary classical music, Speak has been redefining percussion through a multi-disciplinary and post-instrument-practice.
It’s a mistake to approach this release of first recordings as purely centered around percussion, when in fact, tapes and electronic effects, and a musique concrète aesthetic pervade these four likeable pieces. Meadowcroft, born in Australia, but now working in Berlin, balances precision craftsmanship with casual presentation. Imagine a watchmaker who leaves windows open during a storm. In Meadowcroft’s fragile structures, players may set into motion broken toys, or trigger recordings. The Great Knot indicates a bird. We hear looped drum machines and other effects, altogether somewhat goofy and endearing. It takes confidence to create something this nimble, especially with only three players. In Cradles, a percussion duo is joined by the composer doodling on a Wurlitzer. This piece is about putting antiquated musical instruments to sleep. I don’t recognize the mellow riffs Meadowcroft is playing but do pick up a slack Satie mood. Plain Moving Landfill is a solo piece, but vast with rattling drums, the crisp grind of rubbed metal, and a collection of wheezing toys and other electronic effects. Perhaps it’s night-time in a junkyard. The sextet, Home Organs, similarly whines and meanders. The title refers to any keyboard instrument, like a Wurlitzer or Casio, but emphatically probably not a piano, which one might find in a suburban Australian household.
— Grant Chu Covell, la folia, November 2021, https://www.lafolia.com/percussion-ramble-with-toys/
The Australian composer, Thomas Meadowcroft (b.1972), delivers a CD featuring four of his works written for percussion and electronics performed by his compatriots, the renowned Speak Percussion ensemble. In the first piece, titled The Great Knot, piercing electronic drones and chirpings create a delightfully barren expanse. This piece is a meditation in an open field with rusty swings and passing melodies in the wind. Cradles is a psychedelic lullaby warping lounge music into a hallucinogenic dreamscape. In Plain Moving Landfill, the listener travels through industrial ambiences and synthetic punctures. For a piece that is inspired by the layers of rubbish found in a landfill, this piece is decidedly calm – albeit in a Tim Hecker sense of the word. Lastly, Home Organs takes its inspiration from the attempt at memory retrieval at the onset of Alzheimer’s illness. Our memories can create a sense of “home” or belonging for the individual. This piece certainly delivers a sense of frustration that undoubtedly accompanies a loss of this sense of home through the failure of one’s own organs.
Meadowcroft has a particular knack for quirky electronic tinkering and applies these sonorities to obfuscate the difference between acoustic and electronic sources for the listener. When thinking about a CD of contemporary percussion music, the mind immediately expects to hear bombast and raucousness. This release is an extremely successful shift from the norm in its novel use of electronic auras that blend with acoustic instruments – a must listen for those seeking something unfamiliar in the world of percussion music.
— Adam Scime, The Whole Note, 20 November 2020