The Sanctuary Project
In 2003, Steven Schick – who performs Chatter/Clatter, the opening
movement of Sanctuary – observed that percussion, more than any
other musical medium, involves an inherent theatricality due to the
prominence of gesture; the diversity, size, and distribution of the
instruments, and the often quasi-choreographic movement that works
require simply in order to realize their sonic goals. He challenged me to
undertake a project with him and the red fish blue fish ensemble in
which all of this – the dimensions of percussion playing that are other
than sound itself – would be integrated into the composition’s materials
Since then, I have been making a work intended to evolve with the
experience of its creators (composer, performers, and technicians) and
conceived so as to adapt to, and capitalize upon, the changing
resources and contexts within which it is realized. I have also been
formulating musical materials which allow a listener to experience their
identity and its inflections as manifested through unfamiliar and
deliberately heterogeneous sound media: percussive oddities, if you
These performances at the National Gallery of Art culminate a series of
performances of parts of this work in other spaces at other time. Most
recently, the Chatter/Clatter movement was heard in a performance at
the June in Buffalo festival on June 7, 2007 by Steven Schick, who is
performing tonight as well. Other performances of parts of the work
occurred at the International Percussive Arts Society (Nashville), the
University of New Mexico (Albuquerque), and UCSD (San Diego).
Extensive rehearsal and preparatory time was recently spent at the
studios of CALIT2 at UC San Diego during October. These rehearsals
explored and refined much of the performance you will experience this
While this performance is a critical milestone in the project, it is
neither the final performance, nor the end of the project. Sanctuary
will continue its evolution as new performance spaces are encountered,
new performers add their talents, new interpretative emerges, and new
technologies are employed to document and realize selected
performances in other mediums. The work itself enjoys the privilege of
sanctuary to explore and reveal itself to those who would engage it.
– Roger Reynolds with David Curry
Steven Schick on Sanctuary
On the day that Roger Reynolds and I decided to collaborate on a new
piece, we had lunch at a local Greek restaurant. This new piece – which
would become "Sanctuary" for percussion quartet and electronics –
began as some sketches hastily drawn on the paper table covering as
we waited for our meal.
We drew a stage and began making marks for instrument positions
with different symbols for the various sonic groupings of percussion
from drums sounds to little noisemakers we called "oddities." Before too
long, it occurred to us that we were not only making sketches towards a
new work, but were in fact diagramming the brief but volatile history of
percussion as a serious medium in the canon of Western composition.
The salient qualities of percussion playing unfolded there on the table.
We needed sonic diversity, so we drew composite installations of
multiple small instruments. These instrumental installations took up
space (indeed took up space in different amounts and configurations
related directly to their sonic qualities). Soon, questions about sound
began to include comments about the sculpture of instrument design
and the choreography of performance. Finally, there was the word that
has become a part of almost every encounter and conversation I have
with Roger: impact.
"Impact" defines percussion. This group of instruments is sounded by
striking, or rubbing, or buffeting sonorous objects in some way. But
'impact" also means, and continues to mean to both of us, the way in
which sound, in the form of a musical composition, strikes us as
intention or reaction or emotion or reflection.
Impact is often the consequence of small things that have been built up
to the point that they cannot be ignored. This is also the case with
"Sanctuary": small things like wood blocks, cowbells and bongos,
assembled in ways that imply sculptural form and choreographic
engagement, exert an increasingly amplified emotional impact.
When a player walks to the central instrument – what Roger Reynolds
calls the "oracle" – he is not only playing a predetermined musical part,
he is also asking a question. Important to this concept, this question
comes in the form of a synthesis of sound, motion and intention. This
is percussion at its core.
Although Roger and I did not set out to sketch a brief history of modern
percussion playing, by the time we finished our lunch together the
paper table covering was filled with a diagram that included nearly
every meaningful development of the percussive art. Even the title of
the piece is evocative in this regard: "Sanctuary" is a place of protection
where sound and action come together as impact.
The Sanctuary Project
by Roger Reynolds