Steve Mackey is a composer who can be counted on to produce music that crosses genres without inhibition and that's immediately appealing, and So Percussion's performances are consistently imaginative in their choice of repertoire and their eagerness to stretch the parameters of traditional concert music. The result of their collaboration, It Is Time, is everything that this combination of talents promises to be: a dynamic and unconventional but thoroughly engaging new work that doesn't sound quite like anything else. The piece is in four movements (plus a brief epilogue) -- "Metronome," "Steel Drums," "Marimba," "Drums" -- each featuring one of the quartet's players, although the movements are unified by considerable timbral and rhythmic and motivic overlap. Mackey creates an intricate layering of textures using both precisely notated rhythms and pitches performed by the players, and mechanical devices that produce rhythms independent of the live performers, such as old-fashioned wooden pendulum metronomes (the first sound of the piece is the mechanical winding up of a metronome), kitchen egg-timers, and Newton's cradles (the swinging-ball desk toys commonly known as "executive ball clickers"). The effect is fascinating, unpredictable (but not random-sounding), and often just plain lovely.
As excellent as the audio experience of the CD is, the DVD that's included is even more fun. It's true of almost any music (except perhaps purely electronic music where the only visual element is stationary speakers) that the experience is richer when watching the musicians' physical movements. It may be even more true of percussion music, for a couple of reasons. The nature of the instrumental set-up requires a certain amount of choreography that engages the whole body in a way that's usually more visually expressive than the movements of a wind player's fingers, for instance. Also, percussionists use such a wide variety of instruments, including, in many works, virtually any type of object capable of producing an audible sound when struck, blown, or rubbed, that it's intriguing to see the source of sounds that aren't part of the listener's routine musical experience. The DVD of It Is Time has the additional element of a mesmerizing video by Mark DeChiazza that's projected on a screen behind the players. The set should be of strong interest to any fans of new music or music for percussion ensemble.