Modern musicians often delight in a do-it-yourself ethos.
But in a new piece to be performed this weekend as part of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series, one ensemble will go well beyond creating new music.
The musicians involved in "Wild Sound" won't use any standard instruments. Instead, they will build their instruments as they play them.
"Every instrument which is played on stage is either an object that's found in the world, like a flowerpot, or a plank of wood," said David Skidmore, a member of Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion, which will be performing the piece. "Or it's an instrument we build on stage."
The concept is so novel that even Glenn Kotche, best known as the drummer in the alternative rock band Wilco, finds it hard to explain — and he composed the piece.
"I wish I would have thought about this," said Kotche, a classically trained percussionist who often composes. "It's a little hard to describe for me because I haven't written anything like it before."
All four members of Third Coast Percussion are also classically trained, and have a proven record of creating beautiful sounds by hitting things.
There is no recording of "Wild Sound" yet. Its world premiere is Friday night at the University of Notre Dame.
Kotche's piece is an outgrowth of his interest in expanding the definition of percussion. As it opens and the musicians begin to build their instruments, the sounds will be basic, said the composer, who has created works for the likes of the Kronos String Quartet and So Percussion.
"Everything from sawing and hammering, and breaking things, rubbing things," he said. "All getting friction sounds from construction items all as percussion sounds."
But as the musicians continue building so will the complexity of the music.
Skidmore said the group has been working with engineers at the University of Notre Dame to develop the instruments.
"So the piece ends with this sort of almost steampunk, futuristic, really virtuosic quartet on these keyboard instruments that were designed for the piece," he said.
To enhance the piece, Kotche will surround it with "a soundtrack of found sound."
"When I tour, I oftentimes record different sound environments that appear interesting to me," he said. "And I've got a whole library of these different sounds. I incorporate that in the piece to kind of help tie in a narrative of the whole piece."
There will also be a live video mix including close-ups of the musicians as they build and play the instruments.
The "Wild Sound" performances on Sunday and Monday open the SPCO's Liquid Music series.
Skidmore said the new music showcase is drawing national attention for its innovative combinations of composers and performers. He points to Kotche is a prime example.
"The hippest 21st century musicians have a real relationship to classical music, and real relationship to music from other cultures and a willingness to explore that," Skidmore said. "And Glenn has all of those things and brings all of that to all the music that he performs and composes."
One of the great things about percussion, Skidmore said, is that while it is often used in cutting edge work, its primeval nature makes it immediately accessible to most people.
Kotche said audiences seem remarkably open-minded when it comes to work like this.
"Well I have a feeling that if the most conservative of classical music lovers come to this piece, 'Wild Sound,' I think that they are going to walk away loving it. I really do," he said with a laugh. "Not to sound cocky, but just in my experience, it's a super-interesting piece to watch, to listen to — and to just to think about."