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“Music for Wood and Strings”, by Bryce Dessner


“Music for Wood and Strings” by Bryce Dessner

Performed by So Percussion

Audio/Video by Evan Chapman


Most of the time Sō Percussion’s videos display the versatility and expressiveness of Vic Firth’s sticks and mallets. One of our favorite things about Vic Firth is the fact that they are just as interested in creativity as they are in selling sticks. We see this investment time and time again in their many educational activities and fantastic online resources for percussionists.

Music for Wood and Strings combines the sound world of an electric guitar and dulcimer with the percussionist’s toolkit. As you can probably gather from this video, the main implements are simple #2 wooden pencils. These pencils actually started out as placeholders as we searched for a “better,” more permanent solution. They turned out to be perfect, mainly because a fully amplified string needs very little to get it going! For this piece, we decided not to use any pedal effects such as distortion or delay. By wrapping the writing side of the pencil with soft moleskin and striking with the metal eraser-holder on the other side, we created two distinctly different timbres with each pencil. Beyond that, we explored all manor of bowing, plucking, and using the legno (wooden) part of the bow. For bowing, we used smaller sized violin bows that were created for children.

– So Percussion


For several years I have been experimenting with simple chorales in my music that utilize triadic chord inversions that are aligned in complex rhythm patterns to create a kaleidoscopic effect of harmony. These feature heavily in my work for orchestra and two guitars, St Carolyn by the Sea (2011), and the writing for my song cycle, The Long Count (2009).   

While I have used this technique on guitars and strings, I have not had the opportunity to apply it to percussion instruments. For this new Sō Percussion piece I have been working with instrument builder Aron Sanchez (Blue Man Group, Buke and Gase) to design four dulcimer-like instruments to be played by the quartet.  These are simply designed double course string instruments which are played like a dulcimer, but which are specifically built and tuned to implement a more evolved hybrid of the chorale hocket. Each instrument is amplified using piezo pickups and will have 8 double-course strings tuned to two harmonies.  With the use of dulcimer mallets, the quartet players can easily sound either harmony, or play individual strings, melodies, and drone tremolos.  There are alto, two tenors and a bass instrument which can play fretted chromatic bass lines. With these elements as well as a few pieces of auxiliary percussion – bass drum, wood block – the work is about 35 minutes long.

– Bryce Dessner 

Buy the album here!


We were delighted when Justin Vernon and S. Carey from the band Bon Iver were game to make a new song over the opening of Music for Wood and Strings. Check it out!

– So Percussion


With its innovative multi-genre original productions, sensational interpretations of modern classics, and “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam,” (The New Yorker), Sō Percussion has redefined the scope of the modern percussion ensemble.

Their repertoire ranges from “classics” of the 20th century, by John Cage, Steve Reich, and Iannis Xenakis, et al, to commissioning and advocating works by contemporary composers such as David Lang, Steve Mackey, and Paul Lansky, to distinctively modern collaborations with artists who work outside the classical concert hall, including vocalist Shara Worden, electronic duo Matmos, the groundbreaking Dan Deacon, legendary drummer Bobby Previte, jam band kings Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, choreographer Shen Wei, and composer and leader of The National, Bryce Dessner, among many others.

Sō Percussion also composes and performs their own works, ranging from standard concert pieces to immersive multi-genre programs – including Imaginary City, Where (we) Live, and the newest endeavor, A Gun Show. In these concert-length programs, Sō Percussion employs a distinctively 21st century synthesis of original music, artistic collaboration, theatrical production values and visual art, into a powerful exploration of their own unique and personal creative experience.

In 2014/15, Sō Percussion performed David Lang’s percussion concerto “man made” with Gustavo Dudamel for the opening of the LA Phil season; performed Bryce Dessner’s “Music for Wood and Strings” at the Barbican in London, and at Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival; released a collaborative album with Bobby Previte and the Dessner work in a Billboard-charting disc; created and performed an original score for a live performance and broadcast of WNYC’s Radiolab with Jud Abumrad and Robert Krulwich at BAM; performed at SFJazz, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Mona Bismarck Center in Paris; and more.

In the 15/16 season, Sō returns to Carnegie Hall for a performance with Glenn Kotche and Shara Worden; opens Da Camera of Houston’s season in collaboration with Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish; tours internationally to Poland and Ireland; performs at the SONiC Festival with the JACK Quartet and Tristan Perich; appears at the universities of Washington, Denver, and Wisconsin-Madison and, as Ensemble-in-Residence, offers multiple concerts at Princeton University.

Sō Percussion is the Edward T. Cone Ensemble-in-Residence at Princeton University, and its members are Co-Directors of the percussion department at the Bard College-Conservatory of Music.  They run the annual Sō Percussion Summer Institute (SoSI), providing college-age composers and percussionists an immersive exposure to collaboration and project development.

Rooted in the belief that music is an essential facet of human life, a social bond, and an effective tool in creating agency and citizenship, Sō Percussion enthusiastically pursues a growing range of social and community outreach.  Examples include their Brooklyn Bound presentations of younger ensembles; commitments to purchasing offsets to compensate for carbon-heavy activities such as touring travel; and at SoSI 2105, leading their students in packing 25,400 meals for the Crisis Center of Mercer County through the organization EndHungerNE.

Sō would like to thank Pearl/Adams Instruments, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks, Remo drumheads, Black Swamp Accessories, and Estey organs for their sponsorship.

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