Free Percussion

tst001 Free Percussion

Our very first release.
Snares, bells, sticks, cymbals, pinecones, rattles, brushes, bass drums, mallets & other objects that make a sound if you hit them, stroke them, let them bounce.

released february 2nd, 2019


Thurston Moore on his Instagram page
Released in 2019 this an excellent survey of contemporary percussionists working in the lineage of free improvisation and pure sound investigation. Great to hear on cassette as the tracks tend to bang up each other and the listener, if not focusing on the playtime, may lose track of who’s performing – no CD track # to refer to. The flow and inter-relationship of the percussionists’ seemingly common touch points moves between a wonderfully dynamic range of actions. tsss tapes is a cassette-only label run by Francesco Covarino, himself a percussionist, initially out of Spain and now from Italy – all the releases looking and sounding excellent. Featured on this tape is Covarino himself along with Claire Rousay, Rie Nakajima, Chris Dadge, Håkon Berre, Ted Byrnes, Tim Daisy, Will Guthrie, Simon Camatta, Kevin Corcoran, Skyler Rowe and João Lobo. The cassette is pink which, though possibly unintentional, brings a lovely color consciousness to the concert this international collective throws down.


Noise Not Music
Free Percussion, the inaugural release on Francesco Covarino’s fledgling Tsss Tapes imprint, collects recordings by twelve abstract percussionists, each presenting an unrestricted improvisation using anything from a standard kit to toy instruments and bells. Claire Rousay, a San Antonio-based artist examining a wide range of concepts through her music, begins the set with an object-based kit performance whose unchecked scrapes, swirls, and rolls are mirrored by similarly whimsical later pieces such as Simon Camatta‘s “Concrete Love.” This is the best part about Free Percussion, that it both distinguishes and exposes similarities in these singularly creative musicians; comparisons can be drawn between the Tinguely-esque junk cacophony of Ted Byrnes’ “No” and the fluid drones explored by Tim Daisy on “For Ogden,” a kinship strengthened by their adjacent placing in the track list, even though it’s not as easy to conclude that the artists had anything alike in mind when they began playing. In addition to introducing and tracing connections between artists new to me, Free Percussion also gives me the opportunity to view pieces by my favorites in the context of their contemporaries; the intimate object orchestras of Rie Nakajima, the instantly recognizable malleted cymbals of Will Guthrie, and Covarino’s own quiet drags are even more captivating amidst kindred works.


The New Noise
Il titolo di questa compilation è talmente didascalico da non lasciare adito a dubbi: qui si tratta di percussioni libere, primitive, astratte. Dietro al banco di produzione c’è una neonata tape label spagnola, la Tsss Tapes di proprietà del batterista italiano Francesco Covarino, classe 1979, che vive a Granada insegnando la sua lingua madre. Covarino ha chiamato in causa dodici batteristi di stampo free, più o meno radicali; per cui da brani che mantengono un approccio fieramente percussivo – quantunque improvvisato, spontaneo e senza compromessi – si passa a esplorazioni decisamente meno prevedibili, là dove lo strumento perde ogni memoria della sua originaria funzione ritmica.
Più nel concreto: se un Chris Dadge, tra movimenti fugaci e timbri legnosi, ci fa assaporare il suono pieno e profondo della cassa, un Ted Byrnes sguaina invece le lame e con vigore dirompente genera una massa rumorosa. Appena meno veemente è la mossa di Tim Daisy, che apre e chiude il suo brano con dei gong in punta di sospetto: una sensazione molto simile a quella provocata da Will Guthrie nel movimento successivo, una stanza piena di risonanze armoniche naturali. Con Skyler Rowe (il quale, curiosamente, sul finale fa emergere una parvenza di struttura) sono ancora esibizioni di rumore spontaneo, mentre lo stesso Francesco Covarino si muove quieto tra suoni acquatici e feedback ronzanti. Altrove è tutto uno sfrigolare di sonagli, di spazzole, di piatti e piattini depositati sui tamburi o colpiti con il mallet, di campanelli e campanacci, di oggetti inusuali e atti di sfregatura, come nella proposta di Kevin Corcoran, che, appunto sfregando, ottiene un bordone instabile pungolato da accenti squillanti.
Se vi interessa la prassi strumentale sviluppatasi in seno all’improvvisazione libera europea, quella, per intenderci, nata e cresciuta con i vari Paul Lovens, Pierre Favre, Han Bennik e altri giganti delle percussioni, allora questa compilation fa decisamente al vostro caso. Avrete a che fare con larghe dosi di istinto riversate sulle pelli, come se ognuno dei partecipanti avesse qualcosa da sfogare, un sentimento o un’inclinazione da dichiarare senza ricorrere alle parole: qui infatti contano i gesti, il gesto, le gesta.


Tiny Mix Tapes
Contributors to Tsss Tapes Free Percussion comp put their respective allsorts to work on what is the label’s inaugural release. Based in Granada, Spain, Tsss is a “tape label for quiet, textural, weird sounds.” The comp knocks to life with Claire Rousay precision, then shifts into metallic crab territory from Rie Nakajima. Seems like ball bearings are pattering on Chris Dadge’s kit while Hakon Berre gets a great dull-shears-cut-cans effect out of who knows what.
Can’t say enough about how well this tape is sequenced, often alternating between playing on what probably is a drum set, and what probably isn’t. For every Ted Byrnes continual junk-drawer overturn there’s a pinpoint flourish from Simon Camatta. For every atmospheric piece from Will Guthrie or João Lobo, there’s a gnaw-fest from Tim Daisy. There’s the aggregated density of Kevin Cocoran’s snare drums and bells, Skyler Rowe’s wave/particle exchanges, Francesco Covarino’s saturated rattlings.
Percussively tap here for a tape and pssst…more Tsss.

Free Jazz Blog

Is it possible to create meaningful music with only percussion? The answer is clearly yes. But the challenge to keep non-percussionists motivated to keep listening is high. The absence of any lyrical or harmonic instruments is a barrier to many. But I recommend to listen to some of the following albums, released in the last year: some solo albums and some duo albums, and one that is even not only percussion but one that still might fit in this overview.
In the last few years, we have seen how progressive music opened towards more open sonic environments, offering a new world of sound in which texture and timbre become more important than rhythm and harmonies. This increases the opportunities to explore, because the boundaries are gone, and it allows for musicians to deepen the possibilities and potential of their instruments. I assume that especially for percussionists, this opens new aural vistas, as you hear on the following albums.
Let’s start with the most exclusive one: a wonderful compilation of what modern percussionists have to say with their instruments. The artists are – in this sequence: Claire Rousay, Rie Nakajima, Chris Dadge, Håkon Berre, Ted Byrnes, Tim Daisy, Will Guthrie, Simon Camatta, Kevin Corcoran, Skyler Rowe, Francesco Covarino and João Lobo. Each one of them performs on one track, and as the liner notes say, using: “Snares, bells, sticks, cymbals, pinecones, rattles, brushes, bass drums, mallets & other objects that make a sound if you hit them, stroke them, let them bounce”. Each artist has his or her own approach, yet all music is thoughtful and carefully paced, creating sonic environments rather than rhythmic explorations in which percussive sounds merge with silence, scrapings, stretched tones, combining minimalism with more expressive moments. A mixed tape for sure, but with unity.

Just Outside
A cassette release containing twelve short solo pieces by twelve percussionists, with the exception of a handful (Will Guthrie, Rie Nakajima, Tim Daisy, Chris Dadge) previously unknown to me. The works are largely out of a free-jazz, kitchen sink approach, generally skillfully deployed. While I would often have preferred a less frenetic attack, what they do they do quite imaginatively, with clarity and precision, Nakajima’s careful work is a welcome exception to this more active approach as is the delicate dance of cymbals bells and bowed metals by João Lobo that concludes the album. An interesting array, overall.


Vital Weekly
Percussion music by twelve different artists, many names sounding familiar for the readers of these pages (I should hope). We have Rie Nakajima, Chris Dadge, Will Guthrie, Joao Lobo, next to names that don’t show up often, such as Tim Daisy Simon Camatta, Francesco Covarino or Skyler Rowe. “Snares, bells, cymbals, pinecones, rattles, brushes, bass drums, mallets & other objects that make a sound if you hit them, stroke them, let them bounce” and one could safely say this is a very diverse compilation, each exploring their notion of ‘percussion’  differently. There is more traditional percussion playing with bits of the kitbashed around, but also the rattling of acoustic objects is not forgotten, and pretty much anything in between, crossing from one side over to the other. Only very few ventures out into something radically different; Francesco  Covarino, for instance, sounds like he is doing the dishes including water sounds and Rie Nakajima has almost motorized scanning of surfaces going on (glass mainly). Ted Byrnes wins the prize for being the loudest here; its a close-miked recording of what seems to empty a crate of metallic objects. It’s not always easy to distinguish one piece from the next, but that’s a common thing in the world of cassettes.


Yeah I Know It Sucks
When you realize that free percussion isn’t free, you might think ‘oh no they tricked us!’, only to realize that in this case ‘free’ doesn’t stand for that it’s up for grabs for the feasible amount of nothing, but for free improvisation. Sorry for all the cheap skates who came here for the bargain, but than again the whole thing isn’t unhealthy in the price is right genre. Especially when you realize that you can get the whole collection on a cassette tape! That is if you are quick as F, as on the day of publishing this post there are just 5 tapes left & time is running out!
Free Percussion is apparently packed with twelve percussionists, so this tape might be a bit like those eighties dating tapes, but instead of featuring videos of humans talking about them selves in the hope for a mix and a match, here we can hear percussionists doing their free thing so we could choose the ones that we liked the most. So if you had ever been in the need for a percussionist you could simply listen to the tape, count which track you are on and than when you had found the right percussionist for the job, google the F out of them.
It’s of course a highly personal thing, every body likes a different kind of percussion, rhythm etc. but I thought for good old party sake to dive into this tape and see if there is anyone out there that would suit my future project of gamelan metal. I went in and here are my honest thoughts as written out for moral support:
Claire Rousay brings a piece titled ‘her striped shirt’ it is one of the highly avant-garde ones, you can close your eyes and imagine her doing a slight comedic act of playing drums after the intake of muscle relaxants. Hands with drum sticks slap huskily on the skin, brush softly on the high hats or brush a bit like a spastic attack on either the Tom or the snare. I don’t know if it was meant to sound like this but it felt comical and amusing, very lose hands tranquilized as they played freely… I would hire her if I was going to need a percussion but in a slap stick movie.. maybe another big plan in the future!
Up next is Rie Nakajima, which seems to intimidate my alarm clock, making it walk away by itself as the sound of percussion could never been beaten by that poor little clock that annoys every morning. In fact this might be the ideal percussion piece to be used as an alarm. Now if only I could program it so it would be the track to wake me everyday.. also would suit quite well as the alarm sound for a train crossing. You know the lights go red, the gates closes and this free improvised percussion work plays to bring awareness to the blind not to cross – or be flattened by the train. Yes, I see lots of potential over here…
Chris Dadge’s Walking Spruce seems like a bit of a nervous one, ticking speedily with the sticks as if it is in a hurry, checking out of the Jam jars are half ful or empty. I would say that this percussionist goes on the list of potential talent that could serve the gamelan metal project probably well.
Håkon Berre sounds a bit like how I always stir my pots and pans. Round and round in circles, trying to get to the bottom of all this. It’s as if the percussionist had gone into the rusty garden shed to do some cleaning and DIY stuff. A whole collection of it is being showcased here, from the cooking pots, to funnily playing around with crayons, beans or a shovel with cat litter grid… gosh the sounds of this percussionist are speaking to the imagination… perfect match if you need some creative percussionist that could turn every normal item into something bang or shakable. I think it’s really cool, the kind of percussionist you would want to hear when in a high!
Oh but than we have the free percussion by a certain Ted Byrnes… wow. Does Ted works in the recycling center? Or is Ted a fervent drinker and collected all the empty glass in a huge bin to shake and tumble around in the recording studio? It might as well be a whole lot of steel cables or other more rusty bits of iron.. I don’t know but it feels as if Ted makes art out of garbage. A true recycler at heart if you needed one.
Next up is Tim Daisy, one that clearly loves the sound of cymbals and crashes. Who could blame Tim? After all Tim is a percussionist. It also seems like Tim got a basket for of pegs, or screws or who knows what at his disposal. You can clearly hear him playing with the whole bunch like a true experimentalist that seems to take the concept of percussion into a new kind of level.
Will Guthrie also comes up with a showcase of percussive abilities. Will’s free percussion comes across as the stuff that modern day new age cuckoos are thrilled with. The perfect suitable material for so called ‘sound baths’ is what Will seems to have created over here. Everything is very relaxed, mindful and perfect for those yoga meditation things that will leave the contestant all positively refreshed. Will might not be the one to go for the gamelan metal, although who knows; this percussionist might have some gamelan instruments in its arsenal.
Simon Camatta is pretty active on this tape, lots of things are going on, the sound of a nervous nerve wreck yet that somehow not comes across as nervous at all. Playful might be simply the better word for it. Concrete Love is the free percussion piece named, which somehow makes me think that Simon is the right person if you want to get all your buttons pushed and for an active love making session that is quick, innovative and efficient.
Kevin Corcoran comes across as the serious person among the other percussionists, he just does even though I cannot really put my finger on it why that is exactly. There is a lot of rumbling action going on in Kevin’s track, making me think of a DIY hobbyist that invited us in his shed for a showcase of new tools that he had been working on. The title of the work reveals that it’s made for bells and snares so that’s probably what it is that my ears (and maybe yours?) are hearing. It’s very abstract and busy, as if we just bumped into his workplace at the wrong time, while he was in the middle of something..
Skyler Rowe’s work feels as if the spoons, forks, knifes and some shaking bells had been placed on a drumkit for this percussionist to do some magic with. It’s all shaky as if it’s a side effect of Parkinson’s with enough tremors to make it all sound funky and cool in the end. I like this, how it becomes a cool drum at the final bits, groovily grooving out in a way that I quietly think that this might be the person for gamelan metal. Innovative and rhythmic … skyler’s work made me dance!
Francesco Covarino also makes an appearance. This work here feels similar to eating wet snacks, like a juicy apple or soaked crayons or perhaps popcorn in a wooden bowl. I don’t know what to make of it other than that this free percussion piece is making me hungry!
The last one on the tape is João Lobo, one that made something that sounded quite fun. As if the free percussionist had written it all out, playing like a solid orchestra player on things that feel as if it’s a bird cage or some small pots and cups; it’s quite friendly and a nice ending to feel happy about. Light but tight might be the best key sentence to describe it.
And there we have it, I checked them all out, let their free percussion works do their impressionistic things and can cone to the conclusion that all of them have their own differences, their own qualities and styles. There is probably at least one that would suit all the occasions that you could need a free percussionist for. But together as a whole it’s a rather fun listen, I wonder what kind of people would play this in their cars as they go for a drive,., so much things to think about, yet so little time to discuss any further. If you want percussion as done in a freestyle way; seek no further.


Late Junction, BBC Radio 3, July 16th, 2019 

WFMU, What Was Music? July 9th, 2019

Free Form Freakout, FFFoxy Podcast #137

Fractal Meat on a Spongy Bone, February 26th, 2019