Review: Ryan Scott – Maki Ishii Live

Composed between 1988 and 1992, the three pieces of Maki Ishii Live highlight a point at which Ishii focused his attention on the percussion concerto. The way he approaches percussion is as though he’s discovering it for the first time – these three pieces marvel at the most primitive sonic traits and possibilities present in percussion, and place it in a rather dauntingly illuminative spotlight. Many of the sounds present on Maki Ishii Live derive from instruments constructed by Scott himself (from wood and skin), while three metal sculptures – called “Cidelo Ihos” – have been created specifically for first piece “Saidoki”. Emphasis is placed on the assembly of new sound, and sound developed for specific purpose; the tendency of the percussionist to expand the mono-objective role of “musician” to encompass the roles of “innovator” and “inventor” too – a craftsman that builds new sound from silence, and instrument from redundant material.

Meanwhile, existing instruments have been put to innovative use. “Concertante for Marimba” utilises virtuosity for its dazzling end product rather than as a demonstration of technical ability. At one point, a downpour of marimba tones cascades across six octaves and sends the listener into a dizzying illusionary spiral. At another, the octaves are placed into sporadic communication with eachother, mumbling softly in short bursts and punctuating with sharper, harder hits.

And then there’s the orchestral itself, that arguably impacts more heavily in its absence rather than its presence. Its opening surges – lumbering, dissonant swells of brass and strings – set the velocity peak for Maki Ishii Live before lingering silently during the long stretches of percussion solo. Yet the listener knows it is there all the while, with each player poised over instrument and ready to make a cacophonous re-entry, and as every second passes occupied only by Scott’s comparatively quiet and delicate clatterings, the return of that ferocious wave of orchestra noise feels ever more imminent. But Maki Ishii Live spends more of its time teetering on the brink of silence than it does scraping the upper intensity limits, and Scott’s dynamic and vibrant percussion workouts feel plagued with unease as a result. The end-all climax of “South-Fire-Summer” arrives after a good 40 minutes of unbroken tension, swamping the percussion as it tries frantically to resurface and re-assert dominance, ending in a boisterous battle in which neither force emerges victorious. Very cleverly done.