Doug Perkins: The Simple Songs Interview (Part 1 of 2)
October 25, 2012
Doug Perkins specializes in new works for percussion as a chamber musician and soloist. His performances have been described as “terrific, wide-awake and strikingly entertaining” by the Boston Globe and he has been declared a “percussion virtuoso ” by the New York Times. He has appeared at countless venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Spoleto USA Festival, the Ojai Festival and the World Expo in Lisbon, Portugal. He was a founding member of So Percussion.
Doug’s critically acclaimed recordings as a soloist, conductor, producer, and member of the Meehan/ Perkins Duo and So Percussion can be heard on the Bridge, Cantaloupe, New Focus, and New World labels. They have been called “brilliant” by the New York Times, named to numerous Top 10 of the Year lists, and the recording that he produced and performed with the Meehan/ Perkins Duo, “Restless, Endless, Tactless: Johanna Beyer and the Birth of American Percussion Music”, was hailed as “immaculately played by the duo” by the BBC Music Magazine and “an engaging experience” by Gramophone. Fanfare Magazine perhaps best sums up the recording by stating “This is a must-hear for anyone remotely interested in the development of music in the past century and is strongly recommended.” Doug’s solo record, Simple Songs was just released in October on New Focus Recordings.
Doug has been playing parts of Simple Songs for the last month in the US and Mexico and, this winter, will be playing the entire record live throughout the US. Visit (www.dougperkins.com) to see where and when he will be performing.
(ed. Note – Part 1 of this interview deals primarily with an overview of the new album while part 2 will be a more far-ranging discussion of the interpretative process, the benefits of working with a record label, and the differences between live performance and recording. Part 2 will appear on Mon. Oct. 29)
So Doug… What can you tell us, generally, about the new album? What is Simple Songs? Why this music at this time?
As a title, “Simple Songs” effectively describes the music of this record. Even though some of the pieces are very virtuosic, their intentions are direct. They speak clearly and work out clear processes.
As a collection of music, Simple Songs is an incredibly personal record for me, featuring music by some of my best friends and mentors. All the pieces represent touchstone moments for me during my development as a soloist. Nathan Davis wrote his piece for me when my son was born and the first movement, “A Tale Begun” was specifically a tune to learn in between JP’s naps as a newborn. Beau’s piece was the result of a collaboration between us when he was a student at Dartmouth. “XY”, though not written for me, captured my imagination since I first saw Steve Schick play it at the 2001 Bang on a Can Marathon. I have worked closely with each composer on these pieces and I feel very close to each of them. I am thrilled to share these recordings with people!
(ed. Note – Nathan Davis’s piece is scored for the m’bira, an African thumb piano that is a very quiet delicate instrument – definitely something suitable to work on with a sleeping baby in the next room.)
To some music lovers, especially those who don’t always listen to much Modern or Contemporary Classical music, the idea of a percussion album might seem a bit strange. People obviously understand a marimba or vibraphone piece as something analogous to, say, a piano composition, and everyone also understands the beat-based music that you might find in dance clubs or drum circles, but this record isn’t really like either of those things. How can new listeners approach percussion music? Can you suggest any ways for people to focus their listening if they aren’t familiar with this kind of repertoire? What sorts of things will a listener hear on this record?
I would encourage listeners to just come to the record with an open mind and a sense of curiosity. Percussion music is a wonderland of unique textures, timbres, and approaches to music. My favorite part of listening to percussion music, whether live or on record, is experiencing sounds that I may have never heard before. Coming to Simple Songs with an excited curiosity is the best approach. That said, my record is not totally foreign. Each piece inhabits its own distinctive sound world and it is easy to let go and inhabit them. In that regard, I might say that listening to this record might feel more like a Brian Eno record than anything else. The music is obviously very different than Eno’s but I find myself getting lost in a similar way.
(ed. Note – The editor had to exert extreme effort not to insert the phrase ‘like a Canadian’ between the words “record” and “is”.)
It’s interesting that you should explicitly mention Eno – a composer whose most revered works – Music for Airports, Discrete Music, No Pussyfooting, etc. are very closely associated with the medium of the LP. When looking at Simple Songs, one of the things that struck me is how much the cover image reminded me of an LP record with the circle inside of the square and its old-school color palate. Listening to the album, I definitely felt a resonance with the LP as a musical form in that tracks 1-3 and tracks 4-6 seem, to me at least, to be two distinct yet complementary sets of music. Was that on your mind at all?
That is a cool observation! When working out the record, I was definitely feeling two musical poles and tried to find a way to make the journey through them. I guess it is time for a vinyl pressing… It was Teddy Mathias who did the design for this record. I am close with his brother Pete and I am a big fan of the concert posters that he makes for his band, Filligar (one of my favorites, btw), so he seemed like a fun person to bring on board. Teddy and Filligar are also from my new hometown of Chicago and it seemed cool to bring some Chitown to the project.
What about the booklet? It’s somewhat unique.
For in CD booklet, I commissioned a comic book from the writer/ artist/ composer, Matthew Guerrieri. I did not want to have a traditional “classical” book of liner notes (never really been a fan, except for the driest of CDs) but thought that having some kind of way to contextualize the record was important. Music writer Molly Sheridan threw out the idea of a comic from Matthew and a light bulb went off. The result is a charming, funny, and informative comic that gives great insight into the record, the music, and my thoughts. The comic is also a great reason to actually buy a physical copy rather than just a download.
Part 2 of this interview will appear on Monday, Oct. 29