Michael Gordon’s XY (1997) is a piece about rhythmic interaction. As a rhythm played by one hand gets louder, a corollary rhythm in the other hand gets softer and vice versa, so that one hand constantly replaces the other in a sequence of overlapping hairpin shapes of advancing and receding material. Exact mirroring of the hands at the beginning gives way to the rubbing of one kind of rhythmic material against another as the piece continues. For example, while one hand remains in eighth notes the other shifts to triplets – or put another way, one hand moves at a speed 3/2 faster than the other. Other ratios are explored including 5:4 and eventually 6:5. (A retraction and belated apology to my high school math teacher to whom I passionately maintained that algebra would never have any relevance in my life.)
The beating of rhythms and textures against one another, like slightly out of tune notes, is very much in the Gordon design. He does it in Industry where sliding major/minor tonal shifts in a solo cello line are floated on a Hendrix halo of electronic distortion. In the piece he wrote for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, I Buried Paul, there are long passages where material in various meters is passed back and forth between sections in the group. Watching performers tap their feet in a Michael Gordon piece is likely to be pretty confusing experience!
In XY, the frictions are rhythmic and dynamic. And, as usual, Michael finds the nap of whatever fabric he is working with and starts to rub it the wrong way. It always gets hot. -Steven Schick