Michael Compitello – Unsnared Drum (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/96kHz | Time – 38:09 minutes | 610 MB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Digital Booklet, Front Cover | © New Focus Recordings
Michael Compitello’s Unsnared Drum reframes how people think about, perform, and practice the snare drum, freeing the drum from its historical and idiomatic chains. It asks whether the snare drum can be bold, coy, suave, and elegant: in short, interesting. The album features works written in close collaboration with Compitello by Nina C. Young, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Tonia Ko; surprising and inventive new works for solo snare drum. The result is a collection of pieces which highlight the snare drum’s breadth of sonic possibility and depth of expressivity, revealing an instrument of drama, grace, and heart.
What does it mean to Unsnare something? To free an instrument from expectation? The instrument is called the snare drum because of the wires underneath it; the metal, gut, or cable which give the drum a crisp, focused, energetic, and loud snap. In addition to its militaristic pedigree, the snare drum functions often as a timekeeper, offers coloristic effect, and is a technical proving ground for percussionists. What does a performer do with an instrument which has such a seemingly narrow role? To Michael Compitello, the drum’s repertoire seemed a beautiful courtyard: wondrous and fertile, but ultimately constrained by walls of our own making.
Unsnared Drum reframes how people think about, perform, and practice the snare drum, freeing the drum from its historical and idiomatic chains. It asks whether the snare drum can be bold, coy, suave, and elegant: in short, interesting. To that end, over the past four years, Nina Young, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Tonia Ko have patiently collaborated with Compitello on surprising and inventive new works for solo snare drum. Each composer was sent a drum and a collection of sticks, mallets, and other implements, and they investigated the instrument from the ground up. The result is a collection of pieces which highlight the snare drum’s breadth of sonic possibility and depth of expressivity, revealing an instrument of drama, grace, and heart.
Nina Young’s Heart.throb inverts our conception of percussive virtuosity with sly wit. In the piece, the characteristics most associated with percussive skill (quick, crisp, fleet passagework) are largely confined to the rim of the drum rather than the head and muddied by electronic delay. Nina affixes a transducer to the head of the drum, turning the instrument into a speaker which broadcasts a pulsating and undulating bed of sinusoids.
Crisp, precise, dynamic, sharp, and uncompromising, Hannah Lash’s Start challenges the performer to begin again constantly. Start is based on a handful of sharp motives which are continuously, obsessively, monomaniacally, tenaciously, and explosively developed. The performer highlights these themes with (hopefully) dynamic ‘elan, abetted by an array of implements (brushes, hands, metal and wood chopsticks) whose colors delineate formal sections.
Where Start uses timbre to elucidate motive, Amy Beth Kirsten’s Ghost in the Machine turns to color to reveal the true soul of the instrument. Like a modernist chef mobilizing myriad advanced techniques (and plenty of silverware) in pursuit of the “essence” of a flavor, Ghost in the Machine calls upon the performer to use a number of implements to chase the “pure” sound of the snare drum, that ghost so often caught in the machinery of rigid, militaristic music.
Unsnared Drum concludes with Tonia Ko’s Negative Magic, which discovers an all-but-hidden realm of melody, harmony, and resonance by almost completely loosening the drum’s tuning. After an acclimating ritual which calls to mind an ancient storyteller finding their voice, we hear a meandering conversation between the clattering shell of the drum and the ringing head and a series of melodious sonic waterfalls which emulate the same vertiginous acceleration, transforming from curious to sinister. Directly in the center of the piece, the snares are activated, and the music repeats, buzzing with new life as sharp accents are juxtaposed against a tremulous texture. By the end, the performer gradually loosens the snares until they are deactivated again, unspooling Negative Magic’s rhythmic process. The only sound possible is the head itself, scratched by nails. The drum dissolves into air, escaping the beautiful garden’s walls.
“The drum reveals the drummer.” Nina’s program note for Heart.throb could aptly describe all of Unsnared Drum. Each of these works subverts our expectations of what the snare drum can do. More importantly, Compitello’s workshop sessions, notational experiments, and sonic adventures with the composers challenged him to rethink what a percussionist can be, asking him to develop and refine new expressive pathways and percussive techniques while freeing him from rigid expectation and dogma. In the end, it is the performer-not the instrument-who is freed. – Michael Compitello
01. Young: Heart.throb
02. Lash: Start
03. Kirsten: Ghost in the Machine
04. Ko: Negative Magic