Looking Forward: William Winant's Five American Percussion Pieces

On October 1st, Poon Village will release Five American Percussion Pieces by William Winant.

Those familiar with Winant’s work may be surprised to learn that this is the first album released under the percussionist’s own name. Those unfamiliar with his name are nevertheless likely to have heard Winant’s work. Over his 40-year career, Winant has appeared on over 200 recordings, including those written specifically for him by John Cage, Terry Riley, and Lou Harrison. He has studied with James Tenney, Steve Reich, and John Bergamo. He has played music with The Kronos String Quartet, Sonic Youth, Oingo Boingo, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell, Keith Jarrett, and Yo-Yo Ma. He has performed on soundtracks for directors Tim Burton (Batman Returns) and Werner Herzog (Encounters at the End of the World).

On Five American Percussion Pieces, Winant performs single pieces by Michael Byron (“Trackings I”), Alvin Curran (“Bang Zoom Excerpt”), and James Tenney (“Having Never Written a Note for Percussion”), and two, bookending the album, by Lou Harrison (“Song of Quetzalcoatl” and “Solo to Anthony Cirone”). The album plays like a map of Winant’s life and career, the recordings taking place in various locations and spanning nearly 40 years: “Trackings I” was recorded in 1976 at Toronto’s York University, where Winant studied under James Tenney and later met John Cage; “Song of Quetzalcoatl” was recorded at Bay Records in 1993; “Bang Zoom” was recorded in 1995, at Mills College in Oakland; “Solo to Anthony Cirone” was recorded in 2002, at Lou Harrison’s home in Aptos, California; and “Having Never Written a Note for Percussion,” by turns the album’s quietest and noisiest piece, was recorded this year, by Maggi Payne, back at Mills.

For now at least, the album will be released only on 200gm vinyl, in a limited edition of just 350 copies. If we’re lucky, we’ll see CD-quality and high-res digital files somewhere down the line. As usual with Poon Village releases, Five American Percussion Pieces will be beautifully packaged, featuring lovely liner notes by post-minimalist composer Peter Garland; handmade, screenprinted jackets with mitred-corner wood spines; and sexy cover art (in this case, a self-portrait) by Poon Village’s Kristin Anderson. Mastering was done by saxophonist/composer/engineer Bhob Rainey, and, though I’ve only listened briefly to 320kbps MP3 samples, I am impressed by the clarity, presence, and power of the sound. I bet it will sound absolutely thrilling through the hi-fi.

In the press notes for the album, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore reflects on his long personal and professional relationship with William Winant, concluding: “I always wanted him to record solo music through these years, but he always would claim he wasn’t ready. Is he ready now? He is seriously beyond ready and thankfully Poon Village, the only label with enough poon-power to engage this master sticksman, has come through. Big time.”

I’m ready, too. And I’m pleased to know that Five American Percussion Pieces is just the first of a two-part series. The second part (release date TBD) will feature works by European composers Iannis Xenakis and Kalheinz Stockhausen. The albums will be distributed exclusively by Forced Exposure.

For now, we can listen to the first track from Five American Percussion Pieces, Lou Harrison's "Song of Quetzalcoatl," performed by William Winant, Todd Manley, David Rosenthal, and Daniel Kennedy.

Utilizing an exciting array of familiar and foreign percussion instruments (five glasses, five woodblocks, five dragon mouths, five tom-toms, five cowbells, five suspended and muted brake drums, wooden rattle, windglass, gong, triangle, snare drum, tam-tam, contrabass drum, sistrums, and guiro), the piece opens with a shocking burst and courses moods from sweet bliss through wild frenzy, always remaining exceptionally musical and entertaining.

jimtavegia's picture

As soon as the opening sound was struck I thought of Jon Iverson's CD.