Four Gig Bags (2010)
duration ca. 8:00
Player 1: high wood block, high and medium zills, spring drum, machine castanets, cabasa, large hand-held gong, low hand drum
Player 2: small splash cymbal, medium triangle, sandpaper blocks, guiro (wood), tambourine, medium Chinese opera gong, low zill, cup gong
Player 3: ice bell, high triangle, medium cowbell, reco-reco, high hand drum, egg shaker, low wood block
Player 4: pandiero, toy rachet (party noisemaker), rachet, fairy bell, low triangle, vibraslap, low cowbell, small Chinese hand cymbals
I first heard the Hong Kong-based percussion quartet Four Gig Heads many years ago, in a masterclass with members of the percussion quartet Nexus. I was most impressed with their performance and enthusiasm, and so I was delighted, some 10 years later, to finally have the chance to work with them. I had written two other percussion quartets, both for large set-ups with many and large instruments; but the Four Gig Heads wanted a more portable piece—one with few if any large instruments, that would be able to be set up quickly and easily. The idea for Four Gig Bags was born—the piece would be composed using only small instruments that would fit into a single gig bag for each player. The piece begins quietly with the sound of zills (finger cymbals)—which ended my previous percussion quartet, Crossing Boundaries. It then grows through a series of timbral modulations, changing tone colors through the ringing metal sounds of triangles, bells, gongs, and cymbals; to rough scraped sounds of guiro, reco-reco, and rachet; to the percussive striking of tambourines and hand drums. At the climax of the eight-minute piece, the percussionists play in complete rhythmic synchronization, abandoning the earlier interlocking rhythms. After seemingly merging into one super multi-percussionist, the players retrace their steps backwards, in a varied retrograde that concludes where the piece began.
Four Gig Bags was commissioned by the Hong Kong Composers' Guild for Four Gig Heads and premiered by them on October 6, 2010, at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.
Ideally, Four Gig Bags is as theatrical as it is musical. If possible, it begins with all players off-stage, and the performance area cleared of all instruments—only the necessary stands, music, and trap tables are set up in advance. Each player will pack a gig bag in advance with all of the instruments they will play in the piece. The piece begins as the four performers come on stage with their bags. They unpack only the minimum instruments necessary to begin the piece—this is indicated at the beginning of each part. As the piece progresses, instruments are drawn from the gig bags as needed (as quietly as possible)—this is indicated on the parts with the instruction “prepare instrument”. Care should be taken as to the order in which the instruments are packed, so that they can be removed easily without taking out instruments that should be revealed later. For ease and speed of set-up, certain instruments may be suspended rather than clamped or put on a stand—including the ice bell, splash cymbal, cowbells, and zills. Care should be taken with those instruments capable of producing more than one timbre (cowbells, hand drums, etc.) that these timbres, although not shown on the score, should be constantly varied (by striking the instrument in a different place or with a different portion of the stick...)