Earth Solos (2002)
Love of the New Gun (2002)
Oneida CD liner notes (2002)
Junk Percussion & Me (1996)
I began my junk percussion activity while teaching at the Music and Arts Center for the Handicapped in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1989. Situated in the wealthiest county in the United States, Bridgeport was one of the ten poorest cities in the country in 1989. Populations of Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, and whites, lured to Bridgeport to work in its factories during the boom years of post-war manufacturing, found themselves wracked by poverty when the factories closed in the 1980s. Material poverty and social chaos were given tangible expression throughout the city by its crumbling infrastructure, decaying buildings, its garbage strewn streets and lots.
Junk percussion is a ritual that attempts to transform an ugly process into something beautiful. Junk percussion is a call to put the economy in service of human beings, not the other way around. Junk percussion is a reminder that we must find ways not only to “re-use” and “recycle,” but also to reduce our levels of material consumption. Junk percussion is music. Junk percussion is art. Junk percussion is a creative way of unplugging from a dominant culture that values people only insofar as they are consumers of products sold for profits. Junk percussion says that material consumption makes spiritual poverty. Junk percussion is positive. Junk percussion says yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Junk percussion makes you think. Junk percussion is about history and economics and ecology and politics. Junk percussion says an addiction to mass culture makes you a junkie. Junk percussion says do it yourself. Junk percussion says we can do it.
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Love of the New Gun was a collaboration with choreographer Sheri Cohen which culminated in seven performances by her seven-member dance ensemble. The music for Love of the New Gun was composed digitally using homemade percussion samples and field recordings of jets, rain, diesel engines, insects, a slow-moving train, a door, roosters, a creek, etc. The music was realized on cds that were played during performances that took place in Seattle and Oberlin College in 2001 and 2002.
Love of the New Gun took its title and much of its inspiration from the life and work of Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky (1904-48), a major if somewhat overlooked figure in mid-20th century American art. Gorky was a compulsive art maker from childhood, virtuoso draughtsman, connoisseur of Armenian and Western art, Greenwich Village raconteur, and mentor to de Kooning and others. He was among the first artists in the US to digest the ideas and techniques of the European avant-garde, and he was one of the first to move beyond them into his own style.
He was an extraordinary person who led an extraordinarily difficult life. After his idyllic first years spent living in a pre-industrial village, at age 6 his father abandoned his family, and at age 11 Gorky witnessed his mother’s death (by starvation) following a forced march as part of the Turkish genocidal war on Armenians. In his early teens he battled on the front lines during the siege of the city of Van, and at 15 managed to escape Turkey as a refugee to the US. In America though he was very successful in many ways, his economic situation, his career, and his relationships were marked by struggles, and ultimately he committed suicide. (Gorky’s life is well documented in two 1999 biographies by Nouritza Matossian and Matthew Spender).
The composition process for Love of the New Gun was animated by my love of Gorky’s vivid palette, his dynamic lines and forms, my sense of his space, and by admiration for his profound enjoyment and commitment to craft. Gorky’s influence on the music occurred primarily on gut levels where my sense of Gorky’s art germinated as musical images and directions, a minority of which actually made it into the cd that accompanied the dance performances. The process revelled in the untranslatability and synergy that exist between the languages of composition in paint, dance, and sound.
Other, somewhat more concrete, elements of the paintings found their way into the music as well: Gorky’s drips, smears, and erasures; his negative spaces and unpainted areas of canvas; his covering, exposure, and juxtaposition of different layers of painted surface, and his use of those layers as windows to memories; his embrace of improvisation and chance; and his painstaking working and reworking of details. Each of these elements had musical analogues which I employed, not in a programmatic way, but according to the logic of the music.
Love of the New Gun contained a number of new directions for me as a composer. It was my first project composed and executed entirely in the digital realm. It was my first composition for performance that didn’t utilize live musicians. It was my first project composed for presentation in the three dimensional aural space of a theater. It was also my first project composed mostly without conventional instruments or without reference to a system of scalar harmony.
In addition, though it features percussion in the last section, and though it takes a distinctively percussive approach to putting together sounds, unlike my previous work Love of the New Gun eschews meter, drum set, and rhythmic technique. Instead, sounds are organized according to an absolute sense of time and space, and are positioned without reference to the kinesthetic framework of the human body. In essence this represents an abstraction of musical organization away from traditional foundations (such as melody, harmony, meter, instrument, musician) while still attempting to achieve narrative coherence and lyricism, a process which itself could be considered an analogue to Gorky’s work.
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Oneida Residency (2002)
From January to August 2000 Andrew Drury was “Millennium Project” artist-in-residence with the Oneida Nation on their reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin. The residency gave Oneida community members opportunities to connect with Drury in various creative projects involving drumming, composing, junk percussion, and digital recording and editing.
Several of these projects, along with field recordings from around the Oneida reservation, are featured on the CD “Eyes That Can Hear”. Highlights include a spoken word piece layering junk percussion improvisations and loops with poetry pow wow drumming, a duet drum set jam over samples of a Harley-Davidson, original compositions by Drury’s percussion groups playing junk and instruments made by a local sculptor, and a composition by a singer with background in opera.
Much of the residency focused on Oneida youth. Drury worked with students of all ages in the tribal school system, in drop-in nights for teens at tribal community centers, and in private drum set and recording lessons. Classroom groups performed for their schools and parents, and over 50 elementary students performed live on the WLUK channel 11 “Good Morning Wisconsin” television program.
This residency was one of 56—one in each of the fifty States and six territories of the US—initiated under a program called “Artists & Communities: America Celebrates the Millennium.” The residencies were sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House Millennium Council, and the Oneida Nation Arts Program.
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Liner Notes to “Eyes That Can Hear” by Andrew Drury
This CD comes from a collaboration between me and the Oneida Nation Arts Program, which, for six months in 2000, hosted me as their “Millennium Project” artist-in-residence. During the residency I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Wisconsin to make music with children, youth, and adults in a variety of settings—schools, summer camp, basketball games, a parade, housing projects, on television, and in music venues from Menominee to Oshkosh. This CD represents a small but significant part of our collaboration.
Much of the music here was made by people who basically had no prior experience playing a musical instrument. On three pieces—Eyes That Can Hear, Spirit Song, and Harley Heartbeat—the music was made by people with loads of prior experience. Some of the music was not made by people at all really, but by the place—by its trucks and chickens, its slot machines and rain.
One of the things I like about music made from junk instruments (and from found sounds) is the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary. It encourages us to recognize the beauty of the commonplace, the sacred in the profane. It encourages us to find the potential in everything, and to take responsibility for making that beauty happen.
Beyond this, it challenges us to deal with our own potential. It challenges us to rise to the occasion of being alive by making the best of ourselves, our communities, and our environments. It is my hope that this CD does something to inspire other people and communities to take this challenge further.
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Earth Solos (2002)
Earth Solos are drum set solos I perform and photograph outdoors in deserts, mountains, prairies, industrial settings, and other sites. I choose the sites for their beauty and proximity to destructive human activities of various kinds. I did the first Earth Solos in 1989 during a drive from Connecticut to San Fransisco, and to date I’ve done 21 of them in eight states in the western US. I have also done four “re-presentations” indoors, in conventional performance venues including the Knitting Factory and Theater for the New City in New York City, and the Compound in Seattle. For these I play drum set in a duet with projected slides selected from various Earth Solos previously performed elsewhere.
A typical Earth Solo begins when I’m driving and I see a space that intrigues me. What intrigues me is some combination of beauty and proximity to ugliness. After stopping, I check it out on foot and if it still seems suitable—i.e. the ground is level and dry, and nuisances such as electric fences, stinging insects, and potentially annoyable or annoying people are at a safe distance. I unload the drums from the car, schlepp, set up, and warm up. While I’m doing this I unwind from the drive and make myself present to the site and moment. I observe the lay of the land, its spatial elements and relationships, its smells and sounds, the feel of its light and air. I often collect pieces of litter or other objects and set up a small shrine alongside my drums.
The solo itself lasts about 20 or 30 minutes and consists of drum set improvisations and everything that happens in the space, including my thoughts. My approaches to the playing vary, but basically I go with the flow of the moment. Sometimes I’m so happy to be out of the car, feet on the earth, energized by the space, and in the fresh air drumming that what comes out is pure exuberant bashing. More often I start very quiet—absurdly quiet by standards of drum set playing in most performance settings—blending my sound with, say, a light breeze over sagebrush. I try to give each sound a presence analogous in some way to the geographic features of the space, to imbue the temporal sound with a bit of the permanence, dignity, or banality of the landscape.
During an Earth Solo my mental focus moves around. While setting up I maybe noticed red ants near a bottle, so I play with their quality of movement. Then I get into a pattern I was practicing and grooving with before I left home. I space out, I think about Roberto d’Aubuisson as a student at the School of the Americas and geographic pathways between there and where I am (more about that elsewhere). Maybe something about the sound of one of my tom toms catches my ear and I dig into that drum for a few minutes, dredging up its voices with rim shots and accents, single strokes, slow spaces, finding the inspiration and going with it as long as it’s there. A car scuds by and I play silence, letting the sound of the car complete the moment. I listen for several minutes.
Earth Solos are probably impossible to fully document. They are site specific. They encompass unvoiced thoughts. For 13 years I’ve just done them. When I’ve done “re-presentations” I’ve never felt comfortable trying to explain them—there’s too much to say. I have let them speak for themselves, and to fully exist in the spaces and times in which they were performed.
After I’m done I pack and schlepp everything back into the car. Sometimes I do some writing. And that’s it.
I consider my audience to be the land itself, and whatever or whoever happens to be on it, even time. I give something I love—drumming, music, my creativity—directly to something else I love—the land. In doing this I acknowledge our connection, that the substance of my body and my drum set originate in the earth and time, that the earth sustains me. Giving music back to the earth completes a cycle, makes a slight diversion in the path of entropy.
I imagine that every place has a time continuum, a permanent historic record documenting all events ever to occur in that place. Bits of evidence are left there. Our imaginations read them and weave meanings from them. I play for that record (which means these solos are recording sessions). It’s part of my sense of place and my sense of history. It has an ethical implication—what one does anyplace ultimately matters (everyplace). What one does constitutes the story and truth of one’s life. It seems to have a metaphysical implication too—we matter.
There is usually no human audience for an Earth Solo, except for chance passersby—a disproportionate number have been police—who stop to watch and listen, or who just glance from their car as they speed by. Sometimes these audiences are sympathetic, sometimes not. In 1991 when I made my debut outside the western entrance to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation—birthplace to the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and home to leak-prone tanks holding millions of gallons of highly radioactive and potentially volatile sludge, among other horrors—a guard informed me that my solo constituted an “unusual occurrence” and threatened me with jail if I didn’t leave immediately. Talk about chutzpah…
Earth Solos are site-specific music making, guerilla performance, and—to adapt a term from Richard Schechner—“environmental music.” Earth Solos are demonstrations, or a word I prefer from Spanish, “manifestations.” Earth Solos reimagine the geography of jazz in a way expressive of my geographic origins. Earth Solos are meditations and jokes. Earth Solos are a form of ritual, personal and public. I play Earth Solos to celebrate the land, and time, to play music, and to play with my ideas about who I am, what music is, and what humans are doing on the earth.
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Salal runs along both sides of the path from the highway to the ocean at Iron Springs. It’s unusually tall, up to our eyes, though maybe that’s not saying much since we’re a short family. The path winds around roots and rocks every few paces, impossible to see at night. We mind our feet. We feel our way. We never know where we are until the end: one last turn and suddenly space and light—the coast, the ocean, the sky.
Winter is when we like the ocean best. The permanence of rain in December, a zillion degrees of green and gray. The air temperature raw, the wind unyielding. The elemental collision of land, water, and sky is essential to this feeling I get. Or is it a shape? Maybe the ocean has something to do with it, the knowledge that Asia lies in that direction if one is persistant. The knowledge that it has always looked like this, to anyone who ever cared to look. Sand, packed by the force of the surf, waits. The sky is a blank. The town without features. It makes you feel small, but in a good way.
Which reminds me of some other salal further north. Especially how low it lies and how the pillars of fir trees rise from its carpet impersonal as cement. We climb a rope ladder to get there from the beach. But that’s not it. Not all of it anyway. It’s the space, the still air of the forest filtered green. Salal berries are ripe. A bird curves to a limb, tracing a need for food or home. Salal and trees define a volume. In theory space is infinite, but to the eye every vector terminates at the trunk of a tree like a room full of closed doors. That it’s a medium seems certain, and also that time is hungry, but for what exactly?
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(NB Fifth graders at a school in Brooklyn where I led junk percussion workshops in 2007-8 invited me to give the keynote speech at their graduation. So I wrote this. The school is a dual language (Spanish/English) school so an administrator friend of mine translated each paragraph into Spanish after I read it in English.)
Before I share with you some of my words I want to share with you some drumming.
I want you to notice that we just did that all BY OURSELVES. We made something beautiful out of nothing—but ourselves. That music was inside of you. That beauty was inside of you. Creativity and imagination are inside of you.
You're born with creativity and imagination. They are free. If you are human, you have them, and no one can ever take them away from you. Not only that, your imagination is totally unique and there's no other imagination exactly like yours. That blows my mind. It took billions of years of evolution and history to create you. You guys, each and every one of you, are amazing.
You all have successfully spent a chunk of your life in a wonderful, wonderful school. The teachers and other people running (your elementary school) care very much about you, and have thought very carefully and intelligently about how to give you the things you have need. But some big changes are coming.
First, you won't be at (this school) any more. You'll be in different schools, different situations, around different people. It would be great if all of them were like (your school), but unfortunately in this society that’s not how it works. You’ll be around new people. Some who will help you and inspire you, and some who won’t.
Second, you yourselves will change. You'll enter and go through adolescence and start turning into young adults. Your bodies will change. You'll look different. You’ll look in the mirror and one day think “I look pretty” and another day think “I look ugly.” Your minds will change and you'll think differently. You'll feel new kinds of emotions.
What I want to tell you today is that your imagination, your creativity, your spirit will be with you in all your situations and changes. And the more you exercise them and use them, the more powerful they will be.
It's like exercising so you can do a sport better, or practicing so you can get better at drumming, or math, or writing, or science. The more you exercise your brain, the stronger and more flexible it will be. The more you exercise your imagination and creativity, the better you will be in dealing imaginatively and creatively with life's challenges, and situations, and opportunities.
You won’t be the only one who benefits from this. THE WORLD needs you guys to be imaginative, creative, and inspired. A lot of us adults are waiting for you kids to share with us your wisdom and ideas. (Some day you all are going to be running things— taking care of us and changing our diapers.) You are the next generation.
The world needs young people who can think, imagine, create, and do. We need young people who can express themselves with words, with images, with rhythms, with dance, with tools, with science. We need young people who love truth, and who can figure out for themselves what is true and what is false despite what television, or anyone else, says. We need young people who can figure out for themselves what is fair, and what is not fair, and how to make the world a better place.
We adults can't wait to see and hear what new kinds of beauty young people in your generation are going to make. Your imaginations are the most important things in the world really—some day all of us adults are going to be old and decrepit and your generation will be running the world. Who you all become will be who society becomes and what history becomes.
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be thinkers, creators
be researchers, inventors
write down your coolest ideas in journals
listen, always listen
don’t accept the narrowness
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I want to end by drumming again. But before we drum I want to share with you something the poet Amiri Baraka wrote about some music by an amazing musician, and one of my heroes, John Coltrane. He wrote:
“If you can hear, this music will make you think of a lot of weird and wonderful things. You might even become one of them.”
I want you to listen to the music of your life, and imagine a lot of weird and wonderful things. And if you do, I think you will become one of them.
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