Jason Treuting: on Sō Percussion and Related Things

Jason Treuting performing on the bicycle wheel during one of his compositions with several fellow artists at an appearance at the Ecstatic Music Festival, Merkin Hall at Kaufman Center, NY, 2/23/12 (Photo courtesy of David Andrako)

Jason Treuting, composer and performer from the great Sō Percussion had time for me the little blogger that could (I’ll never get used to talking to these guys, so, I need a pinch for every post)!

Sō Percussion has The Cage Bootlegs, along with some exceptional recordings in It is Time for Steve Mackey, The Woodmans soundtrack for David Lang, and so many others (Buy them if you can), but Jason Treuting is also very active as a composer and collaborator with other artists, and given that many artists are working on all of these things at once, it’s crazy not to address everything as you’ve seen on these pages. I spoke about the Ecstatic gig already on the janus piece I did, but I’d be remiss not to ask him about it, regardless.

Jason spoke with me via Skype.

CM: With your release of The Cage Bootlegs, and all of the festivals devoted to Cage’s work this year for his 100 birthday, John Cage is in everyone’s consciousness. Has he definitely become more popular in the classical culture as a whole?

JT: He has a certain cultural consciousness within classical music. If many different folks in classical had to put together a list of the 10 most influential composers of the century, I think he would be respected and put up there in terms of his influence, but I feel he’s also been kept quite peripheral in a lot of ways, because while people respect his influence, they kind of push him aside. He’s still amazing to me, the breath of his work. Folks still write him off as “the silence guy”, when the 10 years before that piece he was incredibly prolific often times through percussion, prepared piano and that kind of vibe, and then after the early ’50’s, he was writing music for 40 more years that went a lot of places. I think it’s still one of those things where, within classical music–Maybe it has to do with the “insiders and the outsiders”, because I was thinking how some people are still dealing with Picasso. People still have that “My kid could paint that” attitude. By the same token, there are some that at least recognize his influence, if they haven’t necessarily dealt with it. And I say that very humbly, because over this experience, we started off like we knew a lot about Cage, by playing those shows and committing to his philosophy–When you’re in that kind of job without looking at the philosophy, it’s a tricky thing to do and you question yourself a lot.

Sō Percussion is (From L to R): Jason Treuting, Adam Sliwinski, Eric Beach, Josh Quillen

CM: Are all of the cuts on the Cage Bootlegs from concert performances?

JT: Occasionally we’d record something in our studio, not a produced recording, but something where we’d run through it in the studio, or a radio show, but they’re all live in one take. We love to overdub–On our other projects we really use the studio, but this is our take on live recording.

John Cage: Third Construction (So Percussion; Vic Frith.com)

CM: I love the collaboration you guys did with Lisa Moore on the Bresnick piece Caprichos Enfaticos–What is that like to play with something that isn’t percussion? [EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it is true that piano is in fact a percussion instrument–I kind of knew this but wanted to ask since I loved the piece]

JT: Martin was trying to play off that in a certain way, especially when the piece is done live, you can see that Lisa is the first person to be playing the mallet instruments. The first section just kind of adds up a little at a time, and she walks out and adds a line on the xylophone, and the next folks come out and add that, and then she goes over to the vibraphone and she goes over the drums, and ends up at the piano, and traces this line from the percussionists to the keyboard, and makes the connection pretty early on.

Martin Bresnick: Caprichos Enfáticos (I, II: Farándula simple, Farándula de charlatanes; Sō Percussion w/Lisa Moore, piano and percussion)

We collaborate a lot, and pride ourselves in a certain way of collaborating with a lot of folks that come from different musical backgrounds or their mediums, so in some way this one was pretty close to home, because she’s very much involved with the contemporary classical scene, and we talk about music in similar ways, and perform in similar ways. We’ve had some collaborations with folks coming from much different areas like Matmos, the electronica group, with whom the way we think about music is very similar, but the way we play, reading music vs. not reading, it’s very different, so collaborating with Lisa was fairly comfortable in a lot of ways, and she’s really easy to play with and does her thing at a high level. That was a wonderful process!

CM: I’ve seen Lisa play separate too, she’s incredible!

JT: Yeah, she’s phenomenal!

CM: There’s this other great thing you were involved in with Nick Zammuto and a bunch of other great artists at the concert that was part of the Ecstatic Music Festival last February. I loved the pieces that you wrote: “Pluck Bow Blow” performed by janus and “12 Words” in the second half by the big, extended ensemble were the most memorable things I’ve ever seen! The whole concert was just incredible. Apart from Sō, how much time do you give yourself to work with all these different projects you do?

JT: Definitely all of us in Sō, we’ve decided early on that basically that’s our band!

CM: That’s your home! [laughs]

JT: Yes, totally! But also things are developing in Sō in lots of different ways, but all of us, in a certain sense, do have interests where there’s a serious overlap within Sō, and then there’s this interest here and this interest there. I think developing ourselves individually as artists is really important–having a strong identity, individually, and bringing that to the group has always been kind of important for us. I do tend to have a lot of side projects that aren’t always touring projects, but that are really important to me artistically and creatively, and some of those are planning, some of those are improvising, and a lot of it’s composing, and that show, being able to make that new piece for janus and the “Words” piece in the second half for the big group–Some of those pieces are things that have come from different collaborations with Sō and without Sō, and for me, actually, Sō does a lot of composing, and more and more now we are composing very collaboratively as a band. It’s an awesome process, and it’s something where you kind of have to suppress your ego a little bit and say “My idea isn’t always the best idea–I’m going to bring this material to the table, but it’s everybody’s material”, and when I work with janus, it’s a very collaborative experience as well, but all the notes are mine, so it is nice to have these two ways to work.

AUDIO: Listen here to the complete Ecstatic Music show with Jason, Nick Zammuto, janus, Grey McMurray, Daisy Press, etc.; Recorded in NY; 2/23/12

With janus, I can be a little bit more like a traditional composer. If you talk to them, not sure what their take is on it, but, I give them a lot of leeway, and the process is very fluid. Those kinds of projects are really important to me from that standpoint, and getting to meet Nick through the process–I think it’s going to lead to something. We’re talking about a dual recording project, and I think there’s more legs there in a pretty cool way. With janus, we’re looking for more ways to book that show as well. Those girls are pretty amazing!

CM: Sō Percussion is working on something right now–Something called Where We Live?

JT: Yeah!

CM: Is that going to be a site-specific project?

JT: No, it’s going to be a touring project! For us, it’s kind of a follow-up to a project we did almost 2 1/2 years ago called Imaginary City. It was the first project of ours that was very much an evening length, multi-media, collaboratively composed piece within Sō–we performed it at the 2009 Next Wave Festival at BAM, and this is our next co-composed evening-length project. It’s going to premiere at the Walker Arts Center in late September, and tour a bit, and come to Brooklyn in December. It’s a pretty wacky project with a lot of co-collaborators. Gray McMurray from the Ecstatic show and itsnotyouitsme is singing and playing some guitar stuff. Martin Schmidt from Matmos is a video artist doing some 4-screen video for the project. Emily Johnson is a pretty amazing choreographer who isn’t choreographing, but she’s involved in a pretty wild way! Josh has been writing some text for the project, so there’s going to be a lot of word component there too.

Jason Treuting: 24X24 (Sō Percussion; WQXR Cafe Concert)

Basically we’ve been investigating the idea of home, and all this music and the whole night stems from the idea of home, whatever that is, and when the project tours, each night there’s a different kind of guest on the program to mix things up in a wacky, maybe an uncontrollable way. When it’s in Brooklyn, it’s 4 nights, and each night it will be a different guest, throwing a wrench in the gears a little bit, but also it’s our job to make the night interesting and special. We’re in the throes of development because we’re going up to Vermont in May to record a little bit of music, and then doing a lot of development and do some residency stuff for the summer! I think it’s going to be awesome!

EDITOR’S NOTE: They ran into somebody else we know:

Sō Percussion.com
Official website (Keep checking for dates–They have some exciting ones coming up)


2 thoughts on “Jason Treuting: on Sō Percussion and Related Things

  1. Love how you tucked in Hilary Hahn there at the end! And another fun fact (which I know you know) is that So Percussion is up in residence at Bard now. As they say on twitter #newcenterofmusicaluniverse (along with Wales, of course . . .)

  2. Great, that makes sense–Wow, Typical Music is there in a few days, and Sō are residing, Bard is the place to hang!
    And yes, I had to include the HH encounter–I’d be a fool not to.

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