William Winant
  • courtesy of William Winant
  • William Winant

A repertoire of serious percussion music didn’t really begin to develop until the 1930s, with the emergence of folks like Henry Cowell, Edgard Varese, William Russell, Amadeo Roldán, John Cage, and Lou Harrison. Or so writes composer David Peter Garland in his liner notes for Five American Percussion Pieces (Poon Village), a stunning vinyl-only album by the wonderfully unpredictable Bay Area percussionist William Winant, who was not only a founding member of LA’s Oingo Boingo but a regular collaborator of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Mike Patton’s Mr. Bungle. (In the new-music realm he’s worked with composers like Alvin Curran, John Zorn, Alvin Lucier, Chris Brown, Anthony Braxton, and Fred Frith, among many others.) The record is something of an artist edition—only 350 copies were pressed, and they come packaged in a stunning hand-screened cover with mitered-corner wooden spines; it’s something you’d want to display. But more than that, it’s something you’d likely want to play.

The album is bookended by works by Harrison, the eccentric, endlessly curious Bay Area composer. Winant encountered his music when he was attending Cal Arts in the early 70s and performed his work “Canticle No. 3” in a student ensemble directed by composer James Tenney. From there on out Winant frequently performed Harrison’s work, and the two became good friends after they both taught at Mills College in the 80s; when Harrison died in 2003 he left his personal collection of percussive instruments to Winant. Both pieces, “Song of Quetzalcoatl” (1941) and “Solo to Anthony Cirone” (1972), originally appeared on the 2003 CD Drums Along the Pacific (New Albion)—the former, which you can hear below, is the only work on the collection that’s not a solo piece. Harrison was deeply influenced by and absorbed in all sorts of international musical traditions, from Indonesian gamelan to South American ritual music—something clear in “Quetzacoatl”—and his compositions required a deft touch and personal investment on the part of performers, something that goes beyond Winant’s obvious virtuosity. The percussionist’s lengthy relationship with the composer speaks to genuine mutual respect.


The album also includes a gorgeously shimmering performance of “Trackings” (1976), a piece by Winant’s CalArts classmate Michael Byron that creates a barrage of ringing, deeply resonant overtones and clanging harmonies with four metallophones. There’s an excerpt from a 1995 recording of the frenetic Curran-tuned cowbell piece “Bang Zoom” and a dynamic reading of Tenney’s minimalist classic “Having Never Written a Note for Percussion” (1971), where sounds produced on tam-tam grow from impossibly gentle to deafeningly violent and back down to imperceptible. The album closes beautifully with the second Harrison piece, a short little meditation that provides a serene departure.

Today’s playlist:

The Fish, Moon Fish (Clean Feed)
Michael Rother, Flammende Herzen (Water)
Eternal Tapestry, A World Out of Time (Thrill Jockey)
Avi Granite’s Verse, Snow Umbrellas (Pet Mantis)
The Thing, Mono (Smalltown Superjazz)