Installations

Earth Drums (2016)

An interactive experiment in archaic percussion and communication. Installed in Artpark's Percussion Garden in Lewiston, NY.

As a percussion-obsessed high school freshman, I remember sitting in the school library reading the only book on percussion available, James Blades' Percussion Instruments and Their History.  For some reason a paragraph on the origin of membrane drums stuck in my mind all these years.  Blades posited the notion that the earliest membrane drums were most likely animal skins staked and stretched over holes in the ground for drying purposes that were then accidentally discovered to be useful for sound making.  

I thought it might also be fun to incorporate the practice of using drums as a means of communication as well.  This practice was particularly common along the Congo River in Africa where the high and low sounds of membrane drums would imitate the native tongues allowing drummers to send complex messages from village to village. 

For this interactive exhibit, we've assembled two sets of drums - each with one low-pitched drum and one higher-pitched drum.  I invite you to communicate between the two sets of drums via Morse code.  For our purposes the low drum will be dashes while the high drum will be dots.  Please refer to the charts for explanations on how Morse code works and for assistance in sending a simple message - or just enjoy banging on a buried drum.  

Glenn Kotche (2016)

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Spy on the Wall (2011)

Ambient Recordings from Wilco’s The Whole Love
6 channel sound installation, for Solid Sound Festival 2011
Ongoing on the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge

Many Wilco fans have expressed to me a desire to be a “fly on the wall‚” for a Wilco recording session. When we started recording our latest album The Whole Love, I began to covertly capture sonic snapshots of the process on my hand held recorder. The result was a mix of overdubs, full band tracking, meals, discussions, pinball games and playbacks.

I chose my favorite recordings—six for each of the six speakers comprising this installation. I then used the drumbeat that opens the record as a guide for their arrangement, assigning one recording to each voice of the beat. The rhythms of each voice determine when tracks are audible or muted. The result is a collage of mini-clips of our recording over an 11 month period. Each speaker has a dedicated collage that loops and goes in and out of phase with the other five speakers.

Glenn Kotche, June 2011


Earth Drums (2013)

Installed for Solid Sound Festival 2013

Earth Drums An interactive experiment in archaic percussion and communication As a percussion-obsessed high school freshman, I remember sitting in the school library reading the only book on percussion available, James Blades’ Percussion Instruments and Their History. For some reason a paragraph on the origin of membrane drums stuck in my mind all these years. Blades posited the notion that the earliest membrane drums were most likely stretched animal skins staked over holes in the ground for drying purposes that were accidentally discovered to be useful for sound making.

Since the people at MASS MoCA are open-minded risk takers who enjoy a good challenge, I thought Solid Sound 2013 might provide a great opportunity to explore a modern day reenactment of these archaic instruments. I’m using actual drums in place of hides that are buried in the earth above resonating chambers.

I thought it might also be fun to incorporate the practice of using drums as a means of communication as well. This practice was particularly common along the Congo River in Africa where the high and low sounds of membrane drums would imitate the native tongues allowing drummers to send complex messages from village to village.

For this interactive exhibit, we’ve assembled two sets of drums – each with one low-pitched drum and one higher-pitched drum. I invite festivalgoers to communicate between the two sets of drums via Morse code. For our purposes dashes will equal the low drum and dots the high drum. Please refer to the charts for explanations on how the code works and for assistance in sending a simple message - or just enjoy banging on a buried drum. Please do not use the drums as a trampoline or table for drinks though!

Special thanks to Sonor and Promark for generously providing the drums and mallets, and to Dante Birch and Larry Smallwood for their assistance in design and construction.

Glenn Kotche, June 2013

Photos: Austin Nelson


Cluster Music (2013)

Experience the sonic blur of touring life
A four channel audio installation repeating every 30 minutes
Installed for Solid Sound Festival 2013

This is a four channel sound installation featuring collages of my “walking” recordings from various Wilco tours. One of my favorite things to do on tour is to just take a walk – usually with no destination in mind – and record what I experience. Some of these recordings are boring, but some are fascinating.

Touring life tends to be action packed and fleeting since we’re arriving in a new locale every day or two. You can imagine that many of the shows, bus rides and hotels can blur together in my memory. Collaging some of these ‘Walking” recordings creates a sonic metaphor for the blending and blurring of these experiences through the din created by combining these disparate auditory snap shots.

As a drummer I’m always exploring the relationship between sound and motion. Making these recordings feels like a natural extension of that and of course, I also love the complex rhythmic events that occur by overlaying 4 recordings as well.

You can position yourself in the center to experience the cluster of sound or move around to each speaker to hone in on a particular experience. The recordings used for Cluster Music were made in Barcelona, New Orleans, Florence, Brussels, Prague, Miami Beach, Glasgow, Bilbao, Helsinki, Porto, Dublin, St. Augustine, Vienna, Osaka and Jackson, Mississippi.

Special thanks to Pat Burns for his audio engineering expertise and Chad Gerth for his valuable insights.

Glenn Kotche, June 2013


Individual Trains (2011)

Music and film by Glenn Kotche with Pat Burns
Installed for Solid Sound Festival 2011

The formal structure of this piece is a stretched or expanded version of the first original drum beat that I came up with at age 15. I took each subdivision of the beat and stretched it several times in duration. Then each voice of its opposite rhythm was substituted with a more rhythmically complex texture. These textures come across as sheets of overlapping sound and are comprised of four elements including: a dense overlapping of all of the tracks from my drumkit installations record Next, that same Next “remix” in reverse, a half time version of my vibraphone piece MASK from my record Introducing and finally a track of pure electronic noise that I made from a chain of effects pedals and a mini-disc recorder. The placement of all of these elements adheres to the formal structure as dictated by that original drum beat. The rhythmically complex layers complement each other sonically and result in the feeling of concurrent individual events with a hidden connection.

The film is created from overlapping images or glimpses of my home town, Chicago. These diverse clips of the city either directly or impressionistically relate to each of the sonic elements of the accompanying track. They are superimposed with footage of water resting on speaker cones which are playing back each individual audio track, resulting in a physical representation of the music through the sonic reaction of the water.

Glenn Kotche, June 2011


Interactive Prepared Drumheads (2010)

Installed for Solid Sound Festival 2010

I came up with the idea of preparing a drum head with various materials and contact microphones several years ago while trying to get more non-traditional, non-rhythmic centric sounds out of my drums for use in free-improvising situations. The initial idea was inspired by John Cage's prepared piano music as well as certain percussion instruments like the cuica or lion's roar.

The head that I devised was perfectly suited for my solo piece Monkey Chant that was being written around the same time. I ended up using the distinct sounds from the prepared drum to represent the main characters from the Ramayana story to which Monkey Chant is set. In subsequent years I've used prepared drum heads in most of my musical outlets but most prominently in my solo shows. I love that I'm still able to use the drum as a drum and also use it as a resonator for these amazing timbres. In this exhibit you'll find several different types of preparations. I've created certain heads with just one type of preparation as well as some with many different types, the latter being similar to ones that I use when performing.

Glenn Kotche, August 2010

Photos: Charles Harris