Review: David Kechley – Colliding Objects

In many ways, Kechley seems to be bypassing the notions of what percussion could be to focus on what percussion is: it’s an impact, a duration, a decay, an anticipation, a presence, an absence, an exertion, an action. There’s undoubtedly a certain whiff of abstraction throughout Colliding Objects – poetry imagery leaps out of titles such as “Dream Dance” and “Frenetic Reflection” – but at its core, this is a very tangible music based on the physical acts of hitting, scraping, shaking, tapping and crashing. Are the “colliding objects” the performer and his instrument, through which a stationary object is gifted life and a voice? Or does it refer to the interactions between the textures, which Kechley beautifully emphasises via various instrument combinations and dialogues of rhythm and dynamic?

Colliding Objects is separated into five sections, predominantly focused on percussion and rhythm but bleeding outward to explore melody and melodic instruments. “Dancing” is the first, and was written for five percussionists and 44 instruments back in 1982: “Dream Dance” wallows in the slow decay of bells and cymbals, “Bug Dance” separates up instruments into three categories of size to create a deep and eclectic set of jittery convulsions from bongos and woodblocks, while “War Dance” rolls between various notions of percussive war music, flitting swiftly between clinical soldier marches and rumbles of tribal attack. It is here that Kechley fortifies the core of his approach – an emphasis on rhythm and impact from which the remaining sections flower forth.

“Design and Construction” introduces trumpet and saxophone to a percussive set up, treating their tuned exhalations as part of the kit; notes become locked into a stream of intricate, hot-footing grooves of swift cymbal rolls and staccato bursts, weaving between eachother in a dazzling array of harmonic patterns. Meanwhile, “Available Light” continues to tease tuned instruments into new forms by turning two stereotypically polite and dainty instruments into more hostile and ugly sonic forces; flute and harp converse in a much more patient manner than seen elsewhere throughout Colliding Objects, with the harp in particular subverting the expected glacial beauty with a series of unruly rumbles in the low registers. What becomes beautifully apparent in the collection’s latter sections is Kechley’s distinctive approach to melody; while rhythm always maintains central focus via its dramatic turns of pace and duration, melody is threaded gorgeously through each beat, with his expert handling of the highs and lows turning those thuds and long instrumental sighs into a captivating assortment of steps and slopes.