NPR has posted a First Watch video of So Percussion’s newest recording, of Steven Mackey’s It Is Time for percussion ensemble. Once again, Steven Mackey hits it out of the ball park for my ears. You can hear it (for a limited time) and read a little about it here. The sheer honesty of this piece grips me immediately. Without looking too much into the extra-musical association with Mackey’s own saddened realization of finite time (as the NPR article references), the very first musical gesture shows perfectly a man who has not yet fully accepted life’s cruel fate: everyone’s clock is ticking from the start and is forever running out. It Is Time is an epic struggle of the most fallible of anti-hero’s quest to gain control of time, lost and fleeting. I imagine Mackey giving the powers that be a huge middle finger, while uttering the words “look what I can do with your stupid time” under his breath.
As much as I enjoy his orchestral works (Lost and Found, Dreamhouse, Eating Greens) and concertos for larger forces (Tuck and Roll, Deal, Banana/Dump Truck), I have to say that his chamber works are what I often find most impressive with his writing (Micro-Concerto, Heavy Light, Physical Property, and Indigenous Instruments). The pieces are always organic, rhythmically charged, harmonically rich, brilliantly scored, and colorful as hell. Mackey’s writing is always inventive, never dull, and always just a smidge off-center. The last point is my favorite: he is one of the few composers that I feel shares a similar dry, yet honest, cartoon sense of humor with my own. While Mackey is an electric guitarist, his percussion writing leads me to believe he is a drummer at heart. Along with Micro-Concerto, It Is Time easily sits among my favorite Mackey works. Of course, this work is made even more special by So Percussion’s wonderful and engaging performance. These guys really do get right to the heart of the piece! Couple their performance with the video work of Mark DeChiazza and the result is nothing short of a mesmerizing and compelling 40 minutes of art. For my money, this is a recording to own.