KUNIKO - Reich: Drumming - Gramophone

'A Drumming for this decade – and probably a few to come' was my reaction to the Colin Currie Group’s recording of Steve Reich’s magnum opus earlier this year (5/18) but this newcomer from Kuniko changes the game a little.

As I noted back then, Drumming signalled minimalism’s fattening-up into something more maximal and less severe. It is an epic piece on every level, not least that of the human concentration required to play it with basic proficiency. The performance from Currie’s ensemble was possessed of a collective joy that vibrated off the secure structural mainframe. I say ‘secure’; but, of course, with 12 musicians each shimmying on to their own down-beat through a phasing process – and playing and singing with different muscles, techniques, voices and so on – absolute structural and timbral security is unattainable.

Is that part of Drumming’s thrill? Is its stretching of the very idea of ensemble playing part of what makes it buzz? I had always thought so but this performance, in which Kuniko overdubs herself on every instrumental and vocal part, is good enough to question the idea. It is still a big test but, in terms of ensemble playing, a slightly easier one: Kuniko spells out in the booklet that Drumming wobbles when its musicians can’t hear each other or attain sufficient consistency of timbre.

Unsurprisingly, we get a highly focused performance from Kuniko; less joyous than Currie’s, more zen and internalised. With each instrumental sound identical, it is all as clear as day. Kuniko’s musicianship is colossal from bongo to piccolo. The fundamental question is whether, for you, the whole minimalist project extends to sound production and forensic reproduction of the notes for the sake of clarity. Hearing Kuniko’s voice in harmony with itself, and the forest of overtone sounds that unanimity of timbre generates, it’s easy to conclude that this minimalist minimalism is truer to the cause. I relished it from start to finish and will continue to. But where this gives us fresh perspectives on the notes, a traditional performance will always have vital things to say about Drumming as a piece of ensemble music.