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Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, September 2013

Let’s head to the lumber yard for inspiration. Actually, Gordon takes Xenakis’ simantras, essentially resonant 2x4s, out for a transfixing hour-long spin. There are only six pitches in this work for mallets and lengths of wood. The piece is about changing patterns and how the notes evolve to encircle the listener. The resonance after the beams are struck is particularly bewitching as a whole second category of buzzy chords and patterns appear. Cantaloupe has released the disc and booklet in a wooden clamshell box which I predict will become a collectors’ item. © 2013 La Folia

Michael Quinn
The Classical Review, February 2012

Gordon makes surprisingly rich and inventive use of what he describes as the “stark palette” of the simantra. He is blessed by the precision playing of Slagwerk Den Haag, who give virtuosic shape and substance to the clattering ebb and flow of the music in impeccable performances throughout.

Despite beginning with the slenderest of resources, in Timber Michael Gordon has created something with an incantatory power that is, in the truest sense of the word, mesmeric. The spacious recording, in the Dutch radio studios in Hilversum, is excellent, especially when heard on headphones.

A note, too, for the packaging: CD copies come in a beautifully finished wooden box that is as lovely to hold as it is to look at, and a wholly appropriate choice for this singular and superb work. © 2012 The Classical Review Read complete review

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, January 2012

Michael Gordon’s Timber is a fascinating work…The performance by the six master percussionists of Slagwerk Den Haag is stellar and the recorded sound is of audiophile quality. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

National Public Radio, December 2011

Deceptive Cadence 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

This wins our 2011 packaging prize. The disc of Michael Gordon’s mesmerizing 55-minute composition for six two-by-fours is nestled snugly in a handsome wooden box, which is decorated with images and lettering that could have been rendered by a vintage woodburning kit. Who would have thought that six guys banging on Home Depot items could sound so amazing? The shifting field of overtones produces its own kind of melody. © 2011 Deceptive Cadence/National Public Radio See complete list

Allan Kozinn
The New York Times, November 2011

25 Records of 2011

You can think of “Timber” as Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” gone mad, with gradual rhythmic evolution and good old-fashioned compositional manipulation rather than Reichian phasing as its engine. Mr. Gordon has six percussionists beat rapidly on a simantra (a wooden slab) to create a magnificently tactile texture in which densities and implied harmonies unfold, often surprisingly, over five movements lasting 55 minutes. See complete list

Stephen Eddins, October 2011

The music consists of rhythmic ostinatos that move from player to player and evolve into layers of polyrhythms of dazzling complexity, creating a shimmering, magical web of sound. In the nearly hour-long piece, the pulse changes only once, a tiny shift slower that starts toward the end of the third track; it’s remarkable in a piece of this length with such long stretches of music of unvarying pulse that Gordon is able to keep the listener constantly engaged. The key may lie in his skill in creating a continual ebb and flow of energy that feels inexorable but is not predictable.

Apart from the surprising sensuality of the sound itself, Timber’s appeal and strength are evident in the richness and depth it reveals on repeated hearings. Slagwerk Den Haag plays the staggeringly difficult score with uncanny precision and attention to the infinitesimal gradations of dynamics that the piece requires to make its full impact; it’s a remarkably assured performance. Highly recommended of any fans of new music or music for percussion.

David Vernier, September 2011

So, these six percussionists are standing in a circle, and someone places in front of them six differently-sized wooden 2x4s. So what do they do? They play them, of course. This is not the set-up for one of those long, complicated jokes; it’s the reality of a composition by Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon, whose career as a composer has, among other things, shown a favored interest in rhythm and “what happens when different rhythms are piled on top of each other.”

And pile they do in this 54-minute work in five sections, featuring those said 2x4s—known more technically as simantras, Greek liturgical instruments devised by Iannis Xenakis—struck with amazing rapidity and precision by the mallet-wielding hands of the members of the Dutch percussion group Slagwerk Den Haag (who performed the world-premiere in June, 2011). The sound shifts from player to player, the dynamic level rises and falls, the rhythms intersect and diverge, overlap, and suddenly one or more voices vanish, then return, seemingly from another perspective. This is an intriguing concept—although the experience of this brought back much the same feeling for me as when I heard Steve Reich’s Four Organs in Boston back in 1970 (with the composer and Michael Tilson Thomas in residence); you might say that this is kind of a-harmonic version of Reich’s early work.

I have to say that the continuous 50-plus minutes of precision, multi-player hammering of identical-timbre wood planks—albeit done with impressive endurance and skill by the six percussionists—quickly became a challenge for both the ear and for the attention-span (and, while I was curious regarding the type of mallets used, no such information is provided). The sound is just not interesting enough after five or ten minutes, and the rhythmic ideas, transformations, and transitions just take way too long to develop. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that this sort of piece works best in concert performance (as did Reich’s Four Organs)—and it will undoubtedly get its share of exposure in that setting (the U.S. premiere is scheduled for October 14 at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, performed by Mantra Percussion).

Collectors will be interested to know that physical copies of Timber—as opposed to the download versions—are packaged in very smartly designed, special wooden boxes made out of inch-thick, medium-density fibreboard—a very cool and appropriate presentation. And audiophiles will appreciate that the sound is demonstration-quality. You know if you want this.

Christian Carey, August 2011

…one might imagine that the results are monochromatic. Timber is anything but.

…listeners are treated to an astonishing array of playing techniques, from a pitter patter of ricocheting attacks resembling rain fall to passages that accelerate and slow down to thunderous unison thwacks….the musical textures varied and buoys a fascinating narrative that remains intense…

Not only is this release musically pleasing, it’s easily one of the coolest packaging designs…

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