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Michael Gordon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Timber (2009)
Work Notes
Certain restrictions apply.
Red Poppy
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Percussion Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 0 Minutes
Programme Note
Michael Gordon Timber (2009)
Slagwerk Den Haag

First performance:
June 16 2011
Slagwerkgroep den Haag
The Hague, Korzo Theater, Netherlands

Timber is an evening-length tour de force scored for six graduated wooden Simantras — percussion instruments devised by French composer Iannis Xenakis. The work brings the physicality, endurance and technique of percussion performance to a new level. Here, Gordon shapes the music in both polyrhythmic and dynamic waves of textures — often each players' hands are in separate rhythmic 'worlds,' each traversing a different dynamic contour from loud to soft to loud, similar in some respects to his solo for percussion, XY.

Much of Gordon's music demonstrates a deep exploration into the extreme possibilities and stunning nature of rhythm, as well as the enriching, yet disturbing, multi-dimensionality of polyrhythmic layers — what has been termed in his music to be "glorious confusion." Timber takes these elements and explores the extreme possibilities of rhythm and texture to a beautifully intense degree. The new evening-length work is a unique and exciting addition to the world of percussion.

Timber was commissioned by the dance company Club Guy and Roni, Slagwerkgroep den Haag and Mantra Percussion.

Related works:
   Timber [Hauschka Remix]

  • 17 JUN 2018
    Rostock, Germany
    Ensemble der Hochschule für Musik Rostock
  • 24 MAR 2018
    College of Musical Arts, Bowling Green, OH
    Bowling Green State University
  • 22 MAR 2018
    Oz Arts, Nashville, TN
    Mantra Percussion, Rushes Ensemble
  • 16 MAR 2018
    Music Recital Hall, Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR
    Southern Oregon University
    Student Recital; Left Edge Percussion; Terry Longshore, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 April - Willamette University, Salem, OR
    26 April - Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR
    1 May - Southern Oregon University, Center for Sustainability, Ashland, OR
    16 June - Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show, Ashland, OR
  • 17 FEB 2018
    Kent State Univeristy, Kent, OH
    Mantra percussion

    Other Dates:
    21 February - The Garden Theatre, Columbus, OH
    23 February - Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • 19 NOV 2017
    Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
    Mantra percussion
  • 18 OCT 2017
    Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Michoacán, Mexico
    Versus 8

    Other Dates:
    19 October - Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Michoacán, Mexico
  • 23 SEP 2017
    Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, MA

    Other Dates:
    1 October - St. John’s Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain, MA
    4 October - First Church of Cambridge, Cambridge, MA
    23 October - The Rockwell, Somerville, MA
    1 December - Music Mansion, Providence, RI
  • 19 MAY 2017
    BRIC, Brooklyn NY
    So Percussion
    Performing first 10' only
  • 12 MAY 2017
    Hamburg, Germany
  • 06 MAY 2017
    Hotel Eastlund, Portland, OR
    Third Angle New Music Ensemble
  • 29 APR 2017
    Barbican Concert Hall, London, UK
    Guildhall Student Ensemble
  • 25 FEB 2017
    Montréal, QC, Canada
    McGill University Percussion Ensemble
    Aiyun Huang, conductor
  • 11 DEC 2016
    students of Musikhochschule, Lubeck
  • 16 JUN 2016
    Detmold, Germany
  • 29 APR 2016
    Tongyeong, South Korea
    Mantra percussion

    Other Dates:
    30 April - Tongyeong, South Korea
  • 23 APR 2016
    Waco, TX
    Baylor Percussion Group
  • 22 APR 2016
    Durham, NC
    Mantra Percussion, Rushes Ensemble

    Other Dates:
    23 April - Durham, NC
  • 04 APR 2016
    New York, NY
    Juilliard Orchestra
    Daniel Druckman, conductor
  • 28 FEB 2016
    TeclaSala, L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona
    Frames Percussion
    Feliu Ribera Riera, conductor
  • 28 FEB 2016
    Frames Percussion
  • 22 JAN 2016
    Houston, TX
    Da Camera of Houston
  • 03 DEC 2015
    Rochester, NY
    Eastman School of Music
    Michael Burrnitt, conductor
  • 26 NOV 2015
    Atelier Jungwirth, Graz, Austria
    Studio Percussion

    Other Dates:
    27 November - Atelier Jungwirth, Graz, Austria
  • 10 NOV 2015
    Emporia, Kansas
    Emporia State University
    Tracy Freeze, conductor
  • 03 OCT 2015
    Lyon, France
    Ensemble Tactus
  • 25 JUN 2015
    University of Kassel, Germany
    Schlagzeug Ensemble
    Olaf Pyras, conductor
  • 21 MAR 2015
    Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Germany
    Ictus Ensemble
  • 03 MAR 2015
    Kaaitheater, Brussels, Belgium
    Ensemble Ictus

    Other Dates:
    4-29 March - Kaaitheater, Brussels, Belgium
  • 28 NOV 2014
    Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, RCM, London
    Percussion section of Aurora Orchestra

The musical experience is characterised by the way each sound seems to hover on the edge of itself; rough pitches emerge from the natural timbres, producing occasional flurries of overtones, so that the listening focus is always shifting. And as the rhythmic cycles go in and out of phase, there's also a spray effect, a little like hearing rainfall splatter unevenly on a flat roof. Though bewilderingly difficult to play, the construction is simple enough, with two more static outer sections sandwiching a more dynamic and rhythmically volatile inner section. But the experience is gripping throughout, as if one is in the presence of unpredictable machinations of some benevolent but entirely inscutable intelligence. It's bewildering and comforting at the same time,
Guy Dammann, The Guardian,18/09/2014
Timber is one of the few compositions by a classical composer to achieve (rather than merely mimic) a felt sense of unmediated ritual. Although preoccupied by the notion of ritual, Xenakis’s insistence on filtering and re-focusing it through the prism of contemporary rationalism always ran the risk of sounding like parenthetical commentary, rather than becoming the thing itself. While Gordon’s choice of the simantra – an instrument devised by Xenakis resembling a block of 4×2 wood and struck by a mallet – was a deliberate reaction against a seven-year period of writing orchestral music that stretched from Decasia in 2001 to Dystopia six years later, what results is no mere exercise in palette-cleansing. Nor is it an exercise, per se, in resolving the considerable technical challenges of writing for an instrument whose chief assets are its relatively short sustaining of the struck note, and an astonishingly rich spectrum of overtones. While technical issues are certainly addressed – and in a dazzling multiplicity of workings out – Timber, across its five incrementally hypnotic movements accrues to itself both the quiet, concentrated, intensity of ritual and its recourse to often raucous or rapturous expression. Initially, each of the six simantras is played by one musician – here, collectively, the Dutch ensemble Slagwerk Den Haag, for whom the piece was written – with the first three parts performed with the sextet in a circle. The remaining two parts require a change of physical positions that allows the musicians to play two simantras each, opening up all manner of extraordinary polyrhythmic possibilities. It is the more discernibly simpler rhythmic structures of the first three parts – virtually amoebic-like compared to the complex biotic structures found in the concluding parts – that inculcate the mantra-like tropes of a ritual forming itself. Intense as the experience of listening to it is, one can only imagine what it must be like to play: the overall effect being to find yourself enveloped in a series of overlapping latticeworks that are in a state of constant flux. But the relative simplicity of the one-to-a-part opening movements does not preclude complexity. There’s an astonishing section in Part 3 in which machine-gun rapid notes are sent spinning around the six soloists (who play with utter concentration and expressiveness) like a ball spinning in a roulette wheel. It’s here you begin to realize the immense achievement of Timber, a piece that seems altogether organic and self-creating. That impression is given greater force in the two concluding parts, where Gordon makes surprisingly rich and inventive use of what he describes as the “stark palette” of the simantra. He is blessed by the precision playing of Slagwerk Den Haag, who give virtuosic shape and substance to the clattering ebb and flow of the music in impeccable performances throughout. Despite beginning with the slenderest of resources, in Timber Michael Gordon has created something with an incantatory power that is, in the truest sense of the word, mesmeric. The spacious recording, in the Dutch radio studios in Hilversum, is excellent, especially when heard on headphones.
Michael Quinn, The Classical Review,13/02/2012
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