AMN Reviews: Clocks in Motion – Oneira: Music by Jennifer Bellor [Aerocade Music AM012]; Stefan Schmidt – ruinenlust [Bandcamp]

August brings with it two very different kinds of music for tuned percussion.

Clocks in Motion, of Madison, WI, is a percussion ensemble formed in 2011. The group is a quartet with the three core members John Corkill, Christopher G. Jones, and Sean Kleve; on this album they’re made a quartet by guest percussionists Megan Arns on two compositions, and Kyle Flens on the title track.

All three pieces on Oneira were commissioned from Las Vegas composer Jennifer Bellor, who wrote them in collaboration with the group over a period of several years. There’s a certain consistency of sound tying the pieces together—Bellor writes music that’s harmonically accessible and rhythmically propulsive, even as it moves through multiple time signatures with beats divided into variably accented odd and even groupings. The orchestration tends to favor tuned percussion in which crisp, metallic timbres predominate. The opening track, for example, the three-movement Of Maker and Movement (2019), is scored for tuned pipes, glass marimba, glockenspiel, crotales, vibraphone, and cymbals, along with other instruments. Oneira, from 2021, is scored for MalletKat, two marimbas, and vibes, while This We Have Now (2020) is for MalletKat, drum kit, wind chimes, glockenspiel, crotales, xylophone, vibes, cymbals, and marimba.

On ruinenlust Stefan Schmidt, a prolific multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known as the creator of heavy ambient music, is an ensemble of one. The core of the six improvisations on his new album is tuned percussion—kalimba—looped and run through effects. There is the unmistakably heavy ambient sound of floating rhythm and stretched, resonant tones portentously overhanging a low-frequency abyss, but the darkness is leavened by the brighter, vibraphone-like timbres of multiplied and processed kalimba: imagine the sound of wind chimes at midnight.