Repertoire for speaking percussion is an emerging artform in Western music, dating back only about 50 years. Vinko Globokar’s “Toucher” (1973) is among the earliest pieces in the genre. However, the art of storytelling is an ancient artform that spans many cultures. Speaking percussion repertoire allows us to explore the human connection of telling stories — of using texts to literally say something. Text combined with music then makes it possible to engage with subjects/issues and explore a wide range of emotions.
“Deliver” is a speaking percussion satire about online shopping, internet culture, and social media. The texts were made by using Google’s autocomplete function. The piece is ironic and silly, but should be performed earnestly. The performer is free to determine the “delivery” of the lines (pun intended), but should adhere to the expressive directions in the score.
Percussion is a natural complement to text setting, as it is capable of a range of expressive and illustrative possibilities. In this case, the selection of instruments is meant to elicit a connection to the subject. The instruments/sticks used include: one cardboard box with a bass drum pedal mounted inside (an apple box works best, as its bottom is solid; you simply set the bass pedal inside the open box, which is opened toward you); one pizza box (taped to the top of the cardboard box); two tuned desk bells (I used an A-sharp and an F-sharp, but any two pitches will work); one suspended cymbal; and one pair of wire brushes (the type that has a metal ring at the end, used to scrape the cymbal at a key moment in the piece).
I recommend practicing speaking the text first, getting your expression and inflections solidified, then putting it together with the music. It is not acting, per se, but it should sound less like you are reading and more like you are telling us a story, as we all do normally in our everyday life. Simply tapping into your natural ability to tell stories will be enough to be effective.
The brush playing at the beginning is standard jazz brush playing. The indications to “swirl brushes” are simply to make large circular motions with the brushes. To crescendo, simply speed up the motion. Bells should be played with the hands (and should sound like a doorbell).
Deliver: for speaking percussion by John Lane from Percussive Arts Society on Vimeo.
If you like performing this piece, I encourage you to explore more works featuring spoken texts! Bonnie Whiting has put together a list of speaking percussion works on her website (bonniewhitingpercussion.com), which is a good starting place for research.
John Lane is an artist whose creative work and collaborations extend through percussion to poetry, spoken word, and theater, often bridging music performance with socio-political advocacy. As a performer, he has appeared on stages throughout the Americas, Australia, and Japan. John, along with percussionist Allen Otte, created an ongoing social justice advocacy project, The Innocents, which has toured throughout the U.S. including performances and workshops at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, the Innocence Network Conference, numerous universities and public schools, and is now the subject of a feature-length documentary of the same name by Wojciech Lorenc. John has released two albums: The Landscape Scrolls (Starkland Records) and Trigger: Artists Respond to Gun Violence (Albany Records). John is Director of Percussion Studies and Professor of Percussion at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.