The up-and-coming percussion quartet Sandbox Percussion will give audiences a one-of-a-kind contemporary music experience at the USC School of Music on Sept. 9.
As a part of the Southern Exposure New Music Series, Sandbox Percussion will perform "Seven Pillars," an 11-movement piece composed by USC alum, Andy Akiho.
Sandbox Percussion was started in Brooklyn in 2011 by four graduate students who shared a passion for chamber music. The four men sought to continue jobs in music after school but didn't see themselves following a straightforward career path, such as teaching or auditioning for an orchestra.
So, they created Sandbox Percussion to fulfill their desires to compose and perform chamber music.
While in graduate school, the group met Akiho, who shared their musical passions and expressed his dreams of writing a massive piece. "Seven Pillars" was completed after years of writing.
The percussion group planned to perform a live debut of "Seven Pillars" in California in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled live performances. Instead, the quartet decided to record the piece with a video component to release online.
When pandemic restrictions lifted, Sandbox Percussion was able to tour "Pillars" all over the country, earning them two Grammy Nominations.One was for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and one was for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
Ian Rosenbaum, a founding member of Sandbox Percussion, said the group wanted to make the piece unique by being the only four people in the world who can perform it.
“That's where we came up with this film anthology idea, so we ended up commissioning 11 different filmmakers,” Rosenbaum said. “We have animated videos, we have collaborations with dancers, we have … experimental films that have actors that don't have us in them at all. It was a really fun way to kind of reimagine what this music could be.”
After collaborating with filmmakers, Sandbox decided to incorporate the artistry from the films into the live performance. In collaboration with one of the filmmakers, Michael McQuilken, the group added a light element to the piece. The live lighting is synced with the music, with the performers moving around stage as they are playing their instruments.
The structure of "Seven Pillars" is similar to that of a palindrome. The instruments build on each other as light is added after each movement.
“Pillar one, the very first movement … it's just a couple instruments, all unpitched," Rosenbaum said. "It's like the barest amount of color and sound that could be. Pillar seven is like a kaleidoscope. It's like if we were in black and white, now we're in every color imaginable."
Pillar IV is the center of the performance — the number of instruments and lighting formats of the movements before and after it vary.
The Sandbox Percussion group and composer are looking forward to bringing a unique style of music Columbia doesn’t get to experience often, Rosenbaum said.
Artistic Director of Southern Exposure Mike Harley says the Southern Exposure series seeks to bring in the best artists to play the best of contemporary music today.
“Sandbox is one of the best-known kind of up-and-coming, young percussion quartets in the world,” Harley said. “At this stage, they’re really the only guys that can pull this off.”
Daniel Myers, a doctoral student in USC's percussion program, was able to see the performance at a conference in Indianapolis. Myers said this will be a life-changing event and he is excited to see them again.
“It really is probably one of the most forward-thinking, innovative, modern work for contemporary chamber music, both from compositional, but also kind of the work that Sandbox has put in to make it a really kind of augmented experience,” Myers said.
The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall. The event is free and no reservations are needed.