I’ve admired John Psathas’ music for years, for its incredible sense of energy, its ability to defy categorization, and its cultural pluralism. With 4BY4 (his first non-pitched percussion piece), John delivers on all counts … and then some. If David Weckl, Christopher Lamb, Steven Schick and Giovanni Hidalgo – all percussion virtuosi from widely different genres – were to have a jam session, I can’t help but think that it would sound something like 4BY4.
Each of the four players plays a drumset-like set-up; one player has two snare drums a hi-hat, a tambourine, and a cymbal, another has two congas and a hihat, and the remaining two have tom-based set-ups. However, what binds these four seemingly disparate voices is the kick drum, which all four drumsets have. At times, these four drums pound a relentless beat in unison, and at others they’re split into complex rhythmic counterpoint.
It is this, in part, that makes 4BY4 such a great piece and a perfect fit for this album. John manages to take culturally different instruments, each with different playing techniques, and link them together with a common element – the kick drum. It is cultural pluralism at its best, with each voice maintaining its unique sound and identity, but seamlessly integrated into a common whole. - Omar Carmenates
Composed at the 1984 Cambridge Summer School, Clouds over Pirongia is a short delicate piece which uses a wide variety of metallic percussion instruments. The resonant sonorities were suggested by various cloud formations over nearby Mt. Pirongia.
Echoes was written for the Puspawarna Gamelan Group at the University of Otago. I have long enjoyed the sounds of the gamelan, and welcomed the invitation by Dr Shelley Brunt to compose something for Puspawarna. Although I knew some rudimentary things about the instruments, composing this piece gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal more. Being able to play a little in the ensemble was invaluable, as was advice provided by leader Joko Susilo, Shelley, Chris Watson (Mozart Fellow at Otago University) and one of my students, Ali Churcher, who coincidentally was writing a piece for gamelan at the same time.
Echoes is the first piece I have written without using a piano at all to compose. Having been to a gamelan rehearsal I found a tune popping into my head during a walk to the dairy. I developed this tune on the computer (using vibraphone sounds to represent the gamelan), layering it into a canon, or round. Two further tunes appear, based on different home notes, but all the tunes use the same pelog scale. They are decorated and varied, before the opening tune returns like an echo at the end. The idea of echoes is also evoked by the canons, and the ringing sounds of the gamelan itself. Echoes have a spiritual significance, I think; sound waves return to a listener in the same way memories flood the brain when triggered by something special happens. They induce a reflective state.