Formerly found in the incredible improvisatory duo Black Spirituals alongside Zachary James Watkins, percussionist Marshall Trammell is presented here in different collaborative company: firstly within the rich echoes of the Tribune Tower in Oakland, and secondly alongside visual scores generated through his public art installation during his residency with Off Lomas. Pulling on the historic quilt codes of the Underground Railroad, participants were asked to create codes that could be used to send messages to fugitives in their own area of Albuquerque, New Mexico, utilising narratives of fugitivity within the region. This audio document is Trammell’s improvised response for bass drum, snare drum and cowbell – a further transposition of the code, out of the visual fixity of iron-branded wooden squares and into the ever-evaporating domain of reflexive percussive transmission.
Just as the codes convey a multitude of information through limited means, Trammell pulls an abundant vocabulary out his stripped-down kit. Every surface is wrung of its expressive potential: the snare ring carefully adjusted to form a bundle of vowels, bass drums sending cautionary shudders of rapid fire beats, cowbell providing clunks of emphasis. Sudden tumbles of activity – which swerve between effortless momentum and stutters of repetition – are followed by passages of patient study, during which a solitary sound is executed, tweaked and executed again. Trammell’s sensitivity to the Tribune Tower itself is always evident, with the acoustics wielded as an extension of his instrument; rumbles of bass drum are gathered into great mists of low frequency, while the sibilance of snare drum wires is sent splashing into the space’s far corners. Regularly the drums throttle right back, with Trammell drinking in the full breadth of the acoustic response before proceeding with the next action. Yet what’s wonderful is that this textural understanding, this process of deep listening and kinetic adjustment, pervades his playing at all times. Even the most frenetic flurries are driven by a steadfast focus on the individual nature of every impact, and the resultant sound bursts with colours that come too quickly to consciously see.