Bryce Dessner: Music for Wood and Strings

The resulting sound is complex. It’s thin and full, sharp and malleable, hazy and clear. Brooklyn quartet Sō Percussion employ four of these Chordsticks with remarkable precision in Dessner’s post-minimalism piece, and the sound is the sonic equivalent of WALL·E and EVE dancing in space.


Music for Wood and Strings is the official follow-up to Bryce Dessner’s 2013 solo debut Ahyem. But don’t call this a solo record. Rather it is the meeting of three great musical entities that sound even better together.

ONE: Bryce Dessner wrote the piece. Best known as a guitarist and songwriter in The National, he is increasingly renown for his work as a composer and collaborator with artists ranging from Steve Reich to Sufjan Stevens, and as a curator on all-star projects exploring the links between the worlds of composed, folk and indie rock music (i.e. the Barbican’s Mountains & Waves festival, Red Hot’s Dark Was The Night, Brassland’s recently released compilation MusicNOW: 10 Years).

TWO: So Percussion performed it. A Brooklyn-based percussion quartet, the group has a decade plus track record as serial collaborators with artists across the indie, electronic and classical music spectrum (i.e. Matmos, Dan Deacon, Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang). The New Yorker has praised them for their “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam.”

THREE: Aron Sanchez of the duo Buke and Gase built the Chordstick, the original instruments upon which the music was made. These instruments — designed in collaboration with Bryce — are a cross between a hammer dulcimer and an electric guitar, lending the album its uniquely electrified and various soundscape: pointillist then hazy, distorted then crisp, shifting at will between a hum and a roar and always hypnotic, melodic and engrossing.

Weighing in at 35 minutes in length, “Music for Wood and Strings” is the most ambitious piece of music Dessner has released to date. The CD and download have a run time of 70 minutes, presenting the the composition both as a full length concert piece, and in 9 “sections” which are sub-divided into Spotify friendly “tracks” ideal for sharing on a playlist or embedding in your Facetube’s blogtweetstream.

The appeal of all three parts of this equation should not be understated. Dessner is the clear winner in terms of name recognition because of his work with today’s most popular independent musicians. However, Sō Percussion–taking after ensembles like Kronos Quartet–have redefined what it is to be a contemporary music ensemble, equally comfortable in the worlds of indie and art music. And it should also make it onto the radar of Buke and Gase fans, an iconic band whose place in underground pop imagines an intersection between Cocteau Twins, Shellac and Reggie Watt. All three artists have found a way to build on the DNA of iconic post-modernist John Cage: pushing experimental culture into the wider world.