ANNOUNCING: Donnacha Dennehy's "Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance" feat. Third Coast Percussion and Crash Ensemble

New Amsterdam Records is excited to announce Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance,out June 28. The album is named for the two single-movement compositions featured on the recording -- “Surface Tension,” which is performed by Chicago-based, Grammy-winning percussion quartetThird Coast Percussion, and “Disposable Dissonance,” which is performed by the Dublin-based and internationally renowned Crash Ensemble, which Dennehy founded.

The album is available for pre-order now at Bandcamp and iTunes, and it will also stream at SpotifyApple Music, and other digital service providers.

Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance opens with “Surface Tension”, which was inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s historic percussion collection. Dennehy explains, “I was inspired by the way various indigenous drums (such as the Irish bodhrán or Middle Eastern frame drums like the Turkish Tar) play with the tension of the skin in order to bend the pitch and produce something almost approaching melody, and sought a way of making so-called un-pitched drums ‘sing’ in their own way in this piece.” He continues, “I was particularly interested in creating a kind of mobile pitch-space that shifted in and out of various overtone-based tonalities.

To accomplish this, Third Coast Percussion blows air into tubes attached to the side of the drums to stretch the drumheads and increase the harmonic range of the tom-toms -- a technique they learnt from Glenn Kotche. Naturally, the drums drift out of tune from the continuous tightening and slackening of their heads, so Dennehy also wrote “tuning zones” into the composition, where the players gently tune their drums in a rhythmic way using their normal technique of turning the tension rods. This allows Dennehy to gradually build pitch centers and explore the space between them, creating a kind of fused harmonic texture amplified by standard-pitched instruments such as the marimba or bowed vibraphone.

Dennehy’s “Disposable Dissonance” features three continuous sections driven by different concepts of dissonance, each one “disposing” of it in a different way. In the first section, Dennehy explores pitch suspensions by using overtones that creep into the harmony, then resolve the dissonance by going into lower overtones against the ensemble. In the second section, the concept of dissonance plays out entirely on an equal-tempered field with an ever-increasing use of rhythmic consonance and dissonance that ultimately reaches its peak in the third and final section. Dennehy wrote this version of the piece specifically for the unique instrumentation of the Crash Ensemble, which he founded in 1997 after returning to Ireland after studies abroad and has since performed many of Dennehy’s landmark works. Disposable Dissonance was originally commissioned by Icebreaker with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland. Crash Ensemble premiered the revised version of the piece at the Huddersfield Festival in the UK in November 2012.

The album is made possible in part from the University Committee on Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, Princeton University; Third Coast Percussion; and Crash Ensemble.

Track listing:

  1. Surface Tension

  2. Disposable Dissonance

More about “Surface Tension”:

Performed by Third Coast Percussion: Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore.

Recorded at Philbin Studio at the University of Notre Dame. Producer: Jesse Lewis; Recording Engineer: Dan Nichols; Editing & Mixing: Jesse Lewis; Mastering: Jesse Lewis, Kyle Pyke.

More about “Disposable Dissonance”:

Performed by Crash Ensemble: Ryan McAdams (conductor), Susan Doyle and Miriam Kaczor (flutes), Deirdre O’Leary and Leonie Bluett (clarinets); Andrew Zolinsky (piano); Evin Kelly (accordion); Brian Duggan (percussion); Barry O’Halpin (electric guitar); Cora Venus Lunny and Larissa O’Grady (violins); Andreea Banciu (viola); Kate Ellis (cello); Caimin Gilmore (bass).

Recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland. Recording Engineer: Alan Kelly; Producer, Editor and Mix Engineer: Adrian Hart.

Entire album produced, mixed and mastered by Jesse Lewis. Artwork by Catherine Owens. Design by Brock Lefferts.

Donnacha Dennehy photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker

Donnacha Dennehy
photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker