Percussionist Nick Hennies Brings Meditative Percussion to CentralTrak's Ex Mus

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Photo by Raphael Umscheid
Last November, CentralTrak debuted Ex Mus, an experimental concert series, featuring Denton musicians Andrew Jordan Miller, Jonathan Jackson, Chaz Underriner and Martian Back reinterpreting Greek composer Anatassis Phillippakopoulous. It was an ambitious first show, and set the tone for the quarterly series. It's been encouraging to see the visual art and experimental music worlds collide more frequently in Dallas.

On Saturday night, Austin percussionist Nick Hennies -- who also plays with Weird Weeds and Waco Girls -- performs music for snare drum at CentralTrak, as part of the second Ex Mus installment. Hennies approaches percussion not as rhythmic accompaniment, but as a sort of meditation, hinged on repetition, tonality and acoustic resonance. The first half will feature a John Cage piece that ruminates on drum and silence, and a piece by Austrian composer Peter Ablinger that incorporates FM static. The second half will be Hennies channeling Alvin Lucier via vibraphone, triangle and woodblock, "going around in a circle of percussion," he says. "It will all be very loud, kind of hypnotic."

Hennies has been busy in 2013; he just finished a performance of Clots, a collaborative and interactive installation with sound architect Sean O'Neill and actual architect Clay Odom, which was four years in the making. He's also starting his own record label soon. I asked Hennies a bit about music as an act of endurance.

Clots - how was this conceived? What was the vision?

I had the idea four years ago, and I was thinking about percussion that went on for a long time. I played a show with Sean O'Neill at Fusebox Festival, and before he walked offstage, I said, "We have to do something." Originally, it was just going to be a recording. Then, I thought it could be bigger than that. A cross between a performance and an installation. A year and a half ago, there was a symposium at UT about architecture, and they were accepting proposals for projects that combine music and architecture. You had to work in teams, and Sean said, "This is what we're already doing."

When you perform a piece like that, do you have to stay aware of where it's going, or do you let yourself fall into the repetition?

I had to pay attention the whole time, since the music itself is rhythmically complicated. It'd be easy once you've played it 100 times, but it's something you can't shut off. So the mistakes are built into the piece. It's almost more mentally draining than physically. I was going to not stop playing as long as people were there. But I lasted about 90 minutes before my brain just couldn't keep going.

Did Clots have an aspect of physical endurance?

I had this idea that professional music is like work on an assembly line, in that there's often one simple action that you do over and over. My original inspiration was a job I had processing phone bills all day. And I wondered, "What if I wrote music that took me the same amount of time it did to process a phone bill?"

Ablinger, Cage, Lucier: Why those particular composers?

I was trying to think what it was that tied all three together, and each piece is a duet for one person. Lucier is one of the only composers I know from the 20th century, where his music is totally detached from romanticism. A lot of his pieces are very scientific, or he's trying to expose acoustic phenomenon. Take scientific material and place it in an artistic context. I'm inspired by that idea of taking things and placing them in an artistic context.

Is your music informed by commercial music? Do you find any inspiration in it?
I do. I've actually been joking about this recently. I've been listening to the radio a lot, and I'm really into major label production values. I wasn't expecting that, but now when I hear a Prince or Michael Jackson song, it's perfect. The level of effort behind making a record like that is really impressive to me. Aaron [Russell, guitarist of Weird Weeds] was telling me about an interview with Greg [Saunier] from Deerhoof. And he said that he just wants to make an album as good as Gorillaz.

Ex Mus takes place Saturday, April 27, at CentralTrak. Starts at 8pm, and is free.


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