CONTACT: PETER ALEXANDER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Nov. 17, 2000
Composer/performer Paul Elwood will be guest with UI Percussion Ensemble
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Composer, five-string banjo player and percussionist
Paul Elwood, called "a composer-performer with the imagination of a child
and the self-assurance of a virtuoso" by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer,
will be a guest artist with the University of Iowa Percussion Ensemble for
a free concert at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.
The Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of UI School of Music faculty
member Daniel Moore, will play two of Elwoods pieces, one of which will
feature Elwood performing "negative tap dancing" with velcro attached
to the bottom of his shoes, as well as works by David Macbride and Daniel
Levitan, and a pioneering percussion work by Edgard Varese.
One of the most active performing groups at the UI School of Music, the
Percussion Ensemble presents concerts and educational programs on campus and
across Iowa. Formed in 1958, the UI Percussion Ensemble performs musical styles
ranging from ragtime and jazz to 20th century concert idioms and traditional
musical styles from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. In addition
to the standard percussion repertoire, the ensemble regularly performs the
newest music written by both professional composers and students.
The Percussion Ensemble is calling the Dec. 1 concert "A Bowl of Light,"
taken from the name of the first of Elwoods pieces on the program. Composed
in 1996, "A Bowl of Light" was inspired by thoughts of the composers
home state, Kansas.
"The open-sky infinity of the prairie-lands offer a wide range of vistas
and are ever-changing in texture and light," Elwood said. "This
aesthetic is something that seems to escape most people aside from those of
us who have grown up in it, or at least lived with it for awhile. In writing
this piece, I thought a lot about that space."
The title came from a poetic passage in Laura Ingalls Wilders "Little
House on the Prairie" that Elwood had read as a child: "Everything
was silent, listening to the nightingales song. The bird sang on and
on. The cool wind moved over the prairie and the song was round and clear
above the grasses whispering. The sky was like a bowl of light overturned
on the flat black land."
The second Elwood work on the program, "Edgard Varese in the Gobi Desert,"
also had its origin in Kansas, but its history is somewhat complex. First,
the title refers both to the composer Varese, who was one of the first to
write a piece for percussion alone, and to a chapter in Henry Millers
book "The Air Conditioned Nightmare" titled "With Edgard Varese
in The Gobi Desert."
Musically, the piece had its origin in 1982, when, Elwood says, Kansas-born
musician Kelly Werts "affixed Velcro strips to the soles of a pair of
two-tone thrift-store shoes and began creating dance steps on a board covered
with indoor-outdoor carpet."
At the time Werts and Elwood were two-thirds of a bluegrass combo known
as "The Sons of Rayon," who were known for a unique brand of music
they described as "nerdgrass." Such was the birth of "Velcro
tap-dancing" or "negative tap-dancing" which has been described
as "the only viable form of tap-dancing in the weightlessness of outer
space." The sound is created when the Velcro shoe is raised from the
dance surface rather than when it strikes it.
Elwood says the three movements of "Edgard Varese in the Gobi Desert"
"are attempts to evoke images of the quotes taken from" Millers
book. For example, the second movement, "Magic, invisible hands. . .
turning on and off the knobs of fantastic radios," is Elwoods impression
of the noise heard between AM radio stations while driving a 1949 Hudson across
the Gobi Desert. The final movement quotes directly from segments of Vareses
According to Moore, "This piece is full of unusual things to watch
for, including bowed piano in which the players use fishing line
to bow individual strings of the piano; bowed Styrofoam; telephone bells that
are struck and then twirled over the players head; and a variety of
bird calls and other unique sounds."
For the performance with the UI Percussion Ensemble, Elwood will be featured
as the "negative tap-dancing" performer.
Preceding "Edgard Varese in the Gobi Desert," the Percussion Ensemble
will play Vareses "Ionisation" to provide context for Elwoods
piece. Composed in 1931, "Ionisation" was preceded by only a handful
of percussion scores, but today it is often celebrated as the first successful
piece for all percussion.
Varese was particularly intrigued by the sound of sirens and wrote parts
on two of them in the score for "Ionisation." As a possible substitute,
he suggested a pair of Theremins, an instrument invented by the Russian scientist
Leon Theremin. Using electronic fields to create and modify sounds, the Theremin
is known as the only instrument that the performer never touches. The UI performance
of "Ionisation" will feature two Theremins, one performed by Lawrence
Fritts, the director of the UI Electronic Music Studio.
An internationally known percussionist, composer and teacher, Moore has
experience from concert to marching percussion, and from jazz to classical
styles. Performing all aspects of percussion, including keyboard percussion,
drum set, ethnic and multi-percussion, he is considered a "total percussionist."
For the past 12 years he has toured as a member of the Britain/Moore Duo,
whose CD "Cricket City" has been described by Pan-lime Magazine
as "a brilliant collage of pan-marimba pieces."
Moore joined the UI music faculty in 1995. Only the second full-time professor
of percussion at the UI, he succeeded Thomas L. Davis, who taught percussion
at the UI for more than 35 years. He is a performing artist for the Yamaha
Corporation of America, Sabian Ltd., and Innovative Percussion. He has written
for Jazz Player, Sticks and Mallets and Percussive Notes magazines.
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