Playing with guns: Percussion group makes music with rifle parts

Playing with guns: Percussion group makes music with rifle parts
Stephanie Berger

This group is sticking to their guns!

A Brooklyn percussion band will tackle America’s obsession with firearms in “A Gun Show,” a new performance inspired by the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school. During the show, debuting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Nov. 30, members of So Percussion will use their drumsticks on pieces of an actual Russian sniper rifle. One member said that using a rifle to make music was an obvious choice.

“Our reasoning was to use the most obvious thing about the project that everyone would recognize and use it in an unconventional way,” said Josh Quillen, a composer with the group.

The group purchased the rifle online, then took it apart and discovered that the metal pieces of the gun produced a unique sound that they had to use in the show.

“It’s not a working gun, but those little metal things that deflect outward sound amazing,” said Quillen. “We took the pieces and played them and said ‘Let’s just show them how these things make a beautiful sound.’ ”

The show combines musical stretches with two spoken word segments, one in which the band member share their thoughts when they first heard about the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, and another that also uses projected text, graphs, and photographs to convey information about guns in the United States.

But the most powerful moments of the show, said Quillen, may be the moments of silence. Those quiet interludes correspond to blacked-out images of elementary school classrooms in the state of Connecticut’s official report on the Sandy Hook shooting.

“We redact the images in the song process,” he said “Applying that to music was our reaction to the redactions rather than composing a piece for it.”

The theatrical piece may have been prompted by the 2012 shooting, but it is always topical, said Quillen.

“It’s a hard issue for us to tackle and people immediately get defensive when it’s time to talk about guns, but unlike other projects we do, this is sadly relevant because somebody in this country dies every few minutes from guns,” he said.

But “A Gun Show” is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, said Quillen — instead, they want audience members to explore both sides of the issue

“We’re trying to see the issue from all sides,” he said. “We believe guns should be regulated, but we are respectful and aware that it’s a constitutional right. It’s not a black and white issue and if you leave the show confused, all the better, because I don’t know all the answers any more than we did when we started the project.”

“A Gun Show” at BAM’s Harvey Theater [651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockland Places in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Nov. 30–Dec. 3 at 7:30 pm. $20.

The gong show: So Percussion uses unconventional items to creates its sounds, along with more traditional instruments like this gong.
Stephanie Berger