ScrapArtsMusic mesmerizes Iowa City crowd
By Diana Nollen
IOWA CITY — Hancher Auditorium launched its post-flood season with a bang. And a clang. And a whole lotta whumps.
ScrapArtsMusic, a five-member percussion ensemble from Vancouver, captivated a crowd of several thousand gathered for a free concert Sunday afternoon on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. The weather was beautiful for the only outdoor performance on Hancher’s relocated season.
Children climbed the trees for better views, while the less-daring set up chairs and blankets on the lawn in front of Old Capitol’s gleaming dome.
How appropriate to have a green concert on the green grass.
Calling the troupe an “invented instrument orchestra,” co-creator Greg Kozak said the performers made all the percussion pieces out of free scraps they found around their home base in British Columbia, from shipyards to deconstructed buildings.
The pieces may be recycled, but the music isn’t.
Everything sounds fresh and new, played by performers who can’t stand still. When they aren’t kneeling on stage to bang on the floor, they’re leaping from drum to drum in careful choreography that looks like spontaneous combustions.
The instruments are as highly polished as the performance, too. They don’t look like rough items gleaned from a junkyard. They look more like Willy Wonka went to work with coils and tubing, making steel drums in funky geometric shapes and giant marimbas from 2-by-4s and -6s.
While some songs were as bombastic as you would expect, the troupe also knows how to pull the sound so far back as to be nearly imperceptible. Early in the 75-minute show, the players traded their big silver drums for hand-held tone blocks, each embarking on a different rhythm before moving toward unison, adding foot-stomps then spiraling down to a barely audible whisper before the final burst of energy.
“Phonk” is one of the more visually intriguing works, creating sight and sound from discarded plumbing pieces. Two players began by tossing coils in the air while another pounded out a thunderous beat on the large barrel drums in the background. The other two then strolled onstage with huge circles of black tubing on their arms to add to the rhythmic circus.
A couple of numbers later, all the players knelt onstage to combine pings, wooden thwacks on the floor and clock-like chimes on old artillery shells.
Those metallic melodies melted into deep, rumbling drumming on the marimbas, giving “Synthesoid Plasmatron” a sound as intriguing as its name.
Getting the audience into the action, Kozak invited “a couple dozen” volunteers to come onstage, grab some drumsticks and take their cues from the pros. They were divided into three groups, each one mimicking a different rhythm presented. After each group took its turn, they combined their beats into one fascinating rhythm.
Which pretty much sums up the mission of the music.