March 20, 2008

Concert will feature improvisational music

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — "We're the catch-all of the music world," Ron Coulter, the percussion guru at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said, looking around his office at the variety of percussive instruments lining the shelves and spilling over onto the floor and hanging on the walls and cabinet doors. "I love that."

He plays more than 100 percussive instruments – ranging from the xylophone/glockenspiel variety to pretty much every kind of drum there is. He's been playing since about third grade, he said. Collecting percussion instruments does have its downside. Coulter wryly noted that he "doesn't really own any furniture."

Coulter has several percussion projects going, including the Southern Illinois Improvisational Series, an experimental group that works on beats, grooves and free form in a blend with electronic music and the spoken word to round out the sound.

The next concert in the improvisational series begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 21, in Altgeld Hall, room 112. Coulter solos in this one, using percussion and electronics – electronics in the form of prepared tam-tam, mbira and metronomes – to create improvised music. Admission to the concert is free.

Percussion lends itself to improvisation, Coulter said. For one thing, there simply isn't a long history of musical pieces written specifically for percussion, or, as Coulter put it, "Beethoven didn't write us any solo parts." The percussion repertoire, he said, is only about 50 years old.

Still, it's one thing to play percussion with a musical piece that is already written, and another to wing it.

"To play free improvisation, you have to be willing to fail – in front of people," he said. "In that setting, you are the composer. That's the scariest thing about it."