New Zealand Festival
Between Zero and One: Ensemble: Strike Percussion
Composer: John Psathas ; Visual effects: Tim Gruchy
St. James Theatre
Monday 10 March, 7:30 pm
Strike is regarded as the country’s premier percussion ensemble and the performance was promoted in the Festival programme as “Inspired by ancient and modern rhythms – from tribal beats to dubstep – Between Zero and One was written for Strike by internationally renowned New Zealand composer John Psathas…….. Intimate moments will draw you in – the epic finale will blow your mind.” The programme comprised a series of items for varied instrumental combinations, with all six players involved in each.
The opening number was an unbridled display of highly complex drumming rhythms, with each player using a different kit in individual locations on a vertical scaffold. It was a highly impressive start that showcased the extraordinary skills of the group, but after a while the repetitious bass drum beat and excessive volume became a relentless assault.
It was a relief to move to a piece built round the gentle tones of gamelan-like gongs and marimbas, but again the writing was highly repetitive to the point of becoming hypnotic, almost soporific. However this trend was dramatically reversed by an exciting and very clever number where the audience was deliberately drawn in to provide percussive rhythms and sound effects with clapping, stamping, shuffling, hissing and explosive voice interjections. It was very successful both as a highly creative composition, and in the way it bound the ensemble to the listeners.
In succeeding numbers the players moved to a wider range of instruments, such as African drums, and even expanded the group to nine or ten performers by using interactive projections of guest musicians from around the world, who played simultaneously with the stage group. Tim Gruchy’s colourful visual projections, both as backdrops and translucent front screen “curtains”, were featured throughout the concert to enhance the compositions.
It was an ambitious project that propelled the Strike group fairly and squarely into the gig world, which can only benefit from its extraordinary technical mastery and grounding in the classical percussion tradition. But on this occasion, Strike did itself a real disservice by adopting the excessive volumes of pop, and its reliance on thumping heavy bass lines. Despite using earplugs, I could not subject my ears to “the epic finale” which was reportedly incredibly loud.
Finesse and musicianship is what will distinguish this ensemble from the hoi polloi of noise makers out there in the gig world, and they should never lose sight of that.