For This Duo, Everything and Anything Is a Drum

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The New York Sun

For Chris Corsano and Sean Meehan, just because something is a drum doesn’t mean it has to sound like one. The pair, who will perform separate solo sets Tuesday night at Tonic, are part of an intriguing cabal of experimental percussionists that includes New York’s Tim Barnes and Fritz Welch, British Columbia’s Jeff Allport, and Arizona’s Jeph Jerman, who are seeking ways to make new sounds.

Scraping, stabbing, and massaging their gear with such implements as violin bows and tuning forks, these musicians treat drums as objects. As Corsano told online magazine Perfect Sound Forever, “A cymbal is simultaneously both a cymbal and a piece of metal. And in a pinch, it’s a hat, or a Frisbee, or an umbrella. It’s all how you look at it.”

Meehan’s work has taken this view farthest. A lifelong Bronx resident who has performed and recorded since the late 1980s, the 36-year-old often uses just a single snare drum (though he’ll employ a full kit at Tonic), producing a stunning array of tones and noises.


Meehan collaborates with musicians around the globe, most often saxophonist Tamio Shiraishi and electronic musician Toshimaru Nakamura. One of his best releases is a 2004 live recording with Nakamura titled “From Tour” (Quakebasket). Flowing from high-pitched whines to campsitelike ambiences, the album’s two 22-minute pieces teem with improvisational possibility but never rush through any individual idea.

Meehan’s most recent release, 2005’s two-disc “Sectors (For Constant)” (SOS Editions), is even more challenging. The packaging alone is a puzzle: Sealed inside two large sheets of white construction paper, the CDs can only be accessed by tearing the cover apart. Once freed from their shackles, the discs remain a conundrum. Using only cymbals and snare, Meehan mixes ringing drones and hypnotic timbres with long stretches of silence.

None of Corsano’s releases are quite as abstract, but the diversity of his work is staggering.The 31-year-old has played on nearly 40 records in the past decade and performed with everyone from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to Wilco’s Nels Cline to legendary outsider Jandek.


His most frequent comrade is Paul Flaherty, a veteran saxophonist 27 years his senior. The duo’s latest release is “The Beloved Music” (Family Vineyard), a full-bore free-jazz outing in which Flaherty’s tireless horn and Corsano’s thunderous kit are like extensions of their limbs.

In fact, drums are in Corsano’s blood. His mother and older brother both play, the latter a former member of New York post-punk outfit the Contortions. Corsano attended Hampshire College in the mid-1990s, remaining in Western Massachusetts until last year, when he moved to Manchester, England.

There he recorded his first solo album, “The Young Cricketer,” releasing it on his own Hot Cars Warp label. Using many tools beyond his drum kit, such as “shower attachment apparatus” and “butter knives,” Corsano moves freely from meditative experiments to manic drum solos.


The name of each track on “The Young Cricketer” is a question about the sport of Cricket.The springy beats of “What’s the Correct Way to Stop a Ball?” mimic the impulsive rhythm of athletics, while on “How Should You Throw It On Other Occasions?” Corsano plays a game of aural catch, simultaneously pounding his kit and squawking through a sax. On the final track, “Are You Going to Keep Alive the Spirit of Cricket?” he tears at his drums and releases ghostly sounds.

Both Corsano and Meehan have artistic pursuits that reach beyond percussion. Corsano recently recorded a second solo album, “Blood Pressure,” using only keyboard and voice, while the latter is working on his first film. Still, it’s hard to imagine them ever straying far from drums. After all, in their hands a single stretched skin contains a world of sound.

July 25 at Tonic (107 Norfolk Street, between Delancey and Rivington streets, 212-358-7501).

The New York Sun

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