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Album Notes for Station of Small Sounds (2012)
Don Nichols’ new recording is a series of improvisations and compositions combining percussion and interactive electronics that is complex yet subtle. You arrive at a new station – Television/Train – an environment where you enter in the midst of activity; you acclimate, you inhabit; you leave it behind for the next station.
In his debut solo recording, percussionist and composer Don Nichols presents a range of sonic experiences. Expertly engineered by Ray Dillard, the listener is immersed in every nuance of sound. From the title track—a solo exploring the acoustic possibilities of the snare drum, to Black Sparrow Shadow – a blending of percussion with real-time electronics and pre-recorded sound, to Cloudy But Sunny – a musical “translation” of a television news broadcast, the listener travels through kaleidoscopic environments of sonic interplay. With a language inspired by such diverse artists as John Cage, Christian Marclay, Max Roach and Fritz Hauser, Don Nichols delivers his unique musical voice across an array of percussion and electronic environments.
Black Sparrow Shadow is a percussion solo that features real-time interactive electronics, where as many as four different streams of audio are recorded and replayed during the course of the piece. Some of those recordings are played back normally, while others are digitally manipulated. In addition, there is an almost subliminal stream of pre-recorded audio running throughout the track: a live recording from a previous performance at the Black Sparrow Pub that has passed through multiple audio filters. Black Sparrow Shadow is played on drum set, stainless steel mixing bowls, a large can and begins with a children’s electronic toy phone.
Pulse Piece explores the relationship between pulse and rhythm, and also the notions of regularity and irregularity. Typically, a pulse (with its unwavering constancy) provides a point of reference to accompanying musical material. In this work, the pulse is less mechanical and more of an organic metronome: the beats get wider and narrower, the timbres shift and the tempo breathes. The pulse was constructed by playing several predetermined patterns over a collection of 19 instruments and layering them through multiple recorded takes. The combination of instruments for each “beat” is constantly changing, so that you will rarely hear exactly the same sound twice. This pulse provides a context for the shifting phrases of the solo instrument: the drum set. The drum set surfaces are heavily muted (even the cymbal), which allows the solo voice to blend with the staccato pulse and interact more intricately within the spaces between beats.
Pitchforks on Dirt Roads is a meditative work for diatonic tunic forks, an AM/FM radio and interactive electronics. The real-time interactive electronics allow the sounds of the tuning forks to approach and recede in waves. Live video capture is employed to occasionally alter the pitch of the tuning forks in real-time, based on the movements of the instruments. The radio “solo” introduces multiple layers of sound: both traditional static and discernible frequencies. The radio intermingles with both the constant and sweeping tones of the tuning forks, so that even the static starts to assert its tonality.
Station of Small Sounds, the title track, is an acoustic snare drum solo featuring several different striking implements: hands, miniature bells, brushes, and knives. The drum’s sonic range, texture and resonance are explored by the striking implements, of course. But beyond that, the drum reverses that traditional relationship of instrument and mallet: the drum also activates and amplifies the striking implements, transforming them into instruments, as well.
Chains Nuts Bowls Cans is the first of two “duets” on the CD that were done pairing different percussion instrument set-ups through the use of multi-track recording. As the title implies, one setup consists of various bowls, cans and other small, found objects such as flower pots, glass bottles, wood blocks and a license plate. These instruments were played with metal chains and kukui nuts. The second setup is much more “bell-like” and is made up of more bowls, cans, and other resonant metals.
Discreet and Discrete. This duet pairs a drum set with a multiple percussion set-up. The percussion consists of a table of small objects, which blend metal instruments and found objects, and a pair of hanging gongs. Each instrument contributes to the overall ebb and flow while maintaining its own pace and internal rhythm, like crickets in a dense forest.
Cloudy But Sunny “translates” a local television newscast (which has been distilled to ten minutes) in real-time by the performer. Each segment of the broadcast (weather, commercials, etc.) receives a different sonic treatment and instrumentation. For example, when the news anchor is speaking, the drum meticulously replicates the newscaster’s speech rhythms (such as at the opening of the piece), which is playing along via headphones. A timeline of news segments, including a transcription of the newscaster text, serves as the score.
News Between Copies is another work that is influenced by television news. In addition to the acoustic instruments, which are hanging plates of metal, there is a pre-recorded soundscore consisting of manipulated newscaster audio. The end of the soundscore also includes recorded words creating two different, yet relevant, adages relating to the television news industry.