Wilco drummer works to expand the instrument’s language

dmenconi@newsobserver.comFebruary 21, 2013 

Glenn Kotche will perform at Reynolds Industries Theater tonight.


  • More information

    Who: Glenn Kotche with Megafaun and On Fillmore

    When: 8 p.m. Friday

    Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke University, Durham

    Cost: $10-$32

    Details: 919-684-4444, dukeperformances.duke.edu

It’s been seven years since Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche’s last solo album, 2006’s percussive sound-scape, “Mobile.” But he’s hardly been idle. There have been two albums by Wilco and another by On Fillmore, Kotche’s sideband, plus all his composing – pieces for Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can Orchestra and recent Grammy winners Eighth Blackbird and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. Two more solo records are coming, too. It’s a lot to keep track of.

“I’ve also, um, had two kids,” Kotche says with a laugh, calling from his hometown of Chicago. “But right now, I’m just trying to stay in the present as much as I can. Everything goes in waves, and it’s very periodic with Wilco. The grass is always greener and I’ll come back from a 14-month Wilco tour with a notebook full of ideas I’ve not been able to get to, and yeah, I’ll just want to do that. But right now, there’s only been one Wilco show the last five months and I start thinking, ‘It’d be nice to play with those guys more. I miss ’em.’ ”

Wilco will be starting up again later this spring when recording sessions commence for another new album. Meantime, Kotche has another intriguing solo project in which he’ll do double duty Friday night in Durham. He’ll play a collaborative set with local folk-rock trio Megafaun and also take on “Ilimaq,” an experimental solo percussion piece written by composer John Luther Adams.

Kotche initially discovered Adams, a longtime Alaska resident who takes inspiration from the Alaskan wilderness, through recordings. They met when Wilco played in Fairbanks some years ago and hit it off enough to collaborate on a piece that “expands the notion of the drum set,” as Kotche puts it.

“What I do comes from being a drummer, the rhythm and physicality and movement of it,” Kotche says. “I know John had some background in that, and I wanted to show other sides of the drum set. Usually drummers are just keeping the beat in rock bands. But it’s a wide-open instrument capable of all sorts of things, even though not many composers write that way.”

“Ilimaq” has multiple stations with a large kit and other unconventional percussion setups. Kotche moves between them throughout the piece’s 48-minute length, and it’s rendered in quadraphonic surround sound. But even though you’ll hear multiples of Kotche playing, don’t come expecting just a massive drum-solo workout.

“It’s an interesting sonic experience, like a live-sound installation,” Kotche says. “Sit back and absorb it all, and you’ll be blown away. Conceptually, it’s very sound. It’s not me showing off and doing a bunch of licks and stick twirls. The challenging part is the physical endurance required. The cool thing about percussion is it’s basically everything that’s not already another instrument – firecrackers, starter pistol, the wind blowing, cannon fire in the ‘1812 Overture.’ It’s always been that way; everything else was just what the drummer did going back to sound effects in vaudeville shows. So that’s the original conception of drumming, which just got away from a lot of players. I guess you could say I’m more old-school. Really old-school.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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