quadrivium is an
ensemble consisting of four members
bryce beverlin II
quadrivium is a place where four roads or paths meet
in chicago from 1996 to 2000
utilizing percussion, electronics, and many found materials
sessions lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours
bryce beverlin II
may 28 2004
i first began listening to free improvisation in high school, through nexus
percussion group. improvisation had a strange nebulous definition prior to
those days. some said it was like soloing, some said it was like bach taking
a theme and embellishing, some said it was jamming out. when i first began
improvising, it was those things. first with piano at a young age and then
playing drums with guitar and bass like the rock bands. by the time i encountered
nexus, i had been improvising quite a bit through these avenues. their free
improvisation really began to open my mind to the possibilities of percussion
instruments. in the later years of high school, greg stuart, jason biederman,
and i were sneaking away from playing spooky and prime time at football or
basketball games to seek sanctuary in the drum room. jam out for a few hours,
get it out of our system. all the while, our tastes in music were becoming
more complex and sophisticated as we discovered composers like stacey bowes,
edgar varese, and steve reich.
shortly after arriving at northwestern university, greg and i began booking the infamous 011 rehearsal room of regenstein music hall to make the most of newfound instruments from around the globe. after a few short months we began to get to know the other percussionists at the school and invited don nichols to play with us. it was a fantastic meeting of someone new. fresh ideas. wonderful sounds. new energy between three people. as we learned more of another student there, we [now being three] invited him, the illusive and very talented merritt lyon. merritt was one of those people that was pure genius on the inside, but couldn’t make his way through the day without a frantic, uncomfortable, or otherwise bizarre event to save his sanity. or the sanity of others surrounding him.
once merritt began playing with us, the group exploded into an unbelievable musical exploration. it was and still remains the single greatest musical leap in a short period of time i have experienced. we began to actually experiment with the instruments, the sounds, the sculpture of time. beautiful authentic instruments alongside household items next to found objects; anything we could get our hands on, coaxing amazing sounds and textures. at some point we began checking out amplifiers from the band office in the basement and wheeling them down into 011 to create feedback loops, spatial soundscape manipulation, and general electronic mayhem.
i remember early on, building an apparatus of an amplifier on its back with a cardboard tube resting vertically on the mesh above the speaker cone. inside the tube was a piece of paper that didn’t quite completely wrap around, but stuck out above the tube. near the tube was a small fan that blew sideways into the cove of the protruding paper, creating a whirl of air current. a microphone suspended just down into the tube would cycle around inside the paper tube slowly but satisfyingly pulsing, whirring, with soft periodic feedback. the experimentation of quadrivium was conscious and continued throughout the experience, pursued to the very last meeting.
our very first meetings lasted hours, sometimes in complete chaos or complete serenity. one thing was certain, the four of us making up the quadrivium were truly conversing in sound and motion without words. after just about every time playing together, i felt a spiritual fulfillment and a deep connection to the other members and myself. we were quite fantastic together. a chemistry like no other.
i remember merritt lyon or mrl as he was sometimes known [for the russell inside the merritt and the lyon], would say ‘cool man’ and had a strange 60s laid back peace attitude that seemed to be a front to a very tense and hyper inner-structure. he was fascinating to talk to about 20th century jazz and rock music history. he could tell you just about every drummer if you posed the band name to him. a strange encyclopedia, pledged kicking and screaming into the marching band, obsessed with asian women, and totally nuts about the abilities of drummers like tony williams at age 17 playing with miles, steve gadd’s sleek persona with 7A twigs on a cocktail kit, john bonham’s absolute rock solid career in led zeppelin, bernard purdy’s proverbial pocket, hell...motown as a whole. no doubt mrl understood the funk. he was just too high strung to let it all completely hang out. to hit rock bottom thought. to expose his inner mental flesh to the gods. anxiety for one reason or another caused merritt to be the most reserved and cryptic member of quadrivium.
don nichols, or should i say, dnn, was certainly the freshest member of quadrivium. he had a great ear and a willingness to extend himself. don began simply and traditionally and really evolved over the lifetime of quadrivium. by the end, he was creating stations of instruments mounted upside down so he could lay on the floor and play upwards. did i mention don loves the bell tree? another asset of don’s untapped reserves was his sense of sonic space and time. he had a flow that seemed to be synchronized with our internal clocks. it just worked. it clicked. it felt good. he was also an amazing striker. certainly by the basic slagverk sense, but i mean like returning to normal life after playing in the group. perhaps he was just good about containing his manic ness that greg and i seemed to have, perhaps he did have a manic side and was more stable. while i was struggling to tame the inner demons or angels that had awoken during the improvisation, don seemed to be able to become human once again. an asset i don’t know if i ever will possess.
finally, there is my friend since 8th grade, greg stuart. a unique person who was very competitive as a young man and gradually, through more and more study realized that life is a big fuck-all. greg was a person that could cut through all the crap at 100 yards and challenge you to a mental duel for the betterment of the both of you. a challenger that posed some very difficult and mind expanding life situations and questions to me. we started playing percussion together in 8th grade when i decided that sitting at arms reach from the conductor playing oboe lines to percy grainger arrangements while my friends were horsing around and banging on drums in the back was too ridiculous to continue. i had to be part of that family. that community. the camaraderie of carrying a bass drum. the first piece of written music i composed was with greg and jason arnold titled, creation x, a high powered split up drum set trio with cool solo breaks and a sweet tam-tam bookend. once high school hit and i had been starting to study percussion, we became friends and catalysts to each other’s percussive advancement. i had serious piano experience under my belt and was a relatively physical person so percussion just sort of flew out of me. greg really helped to accelerate my passion of the drums. like i said before, we began jamming in the drum room with jason biederman and i learned a lot about playing with a small group of people from those two. the give and take from a musical conversation. greg and i became serious about percussion sometime around junior year and decided to pursue it in college, independently coming to the same conclusion that northwestern was the place to go. i think from the long history with greg before quadrivium came a connection between us that was rarely severed or disconnected when in this musical setting. we had a similar beat to life. to humor. to musical direction. most often greg and i would sit across from each other, sort of balancing out a ring of energy. we were an amazing pair of wits and artistic endeavor, sometimes scrapping, but always knowing that we would get to the bottom of whatever it was we were doing. a basic human need to scrape and peel away the layers of humanity to reveal something pulsing and oozing underneath. i just played with greg a month or two ago and his exploration was still strong and i noticed his ear has also developed. interactions between us i hadn’t experienced. i digress.
the very first quadrivium public performance was at the student center, norris, one hop skip and jump past the music hall into a 70s woodscape harbored plant and red tile sort of place with a cream industrial carpeted stage and large windows overlooking the lake fill. we packed about 3 giant crates full of instruments and wheeled them over. must have taken about 2 hours to move all the equipment between us. a really great time as i remember, but the best part was when someone obviously not well versed in experimental music came up to me about 45 minutes into the performance and asked me in a steady voice when we were going to begin. i was stunned, but kept my wits about me. i don’t remember reacting in any way, just tried to forget it even happened. i think don gave him a look of ‘are you serious?’ and the dude slinked away, somehow coming to the realization that touching hair clippers to a large tam-tam meant something serious was going on and people won’t answer a simple question. wow. they are already performing!! imagine that. well, it was our first and very enjoyable.
we decided that moving instruments was not a good idea for us and that we should either play our concerts in 011 or minimize the instrumentation for an off-site. from then on, our concerts were mostly restricted to 011 or regenstein recital hall or the concert hall where we once played at a contemporary music ensemble concert. it doesn’t get much more contemporary than free improvisation! leading up to that concert we had gained access to the place were they kept all these old amps and tape machines and other strange looking electronic devices to see what they could do. i remember spending hours with tape loops. letting them run, playing them backwards, recording interesting sounds and amplifying them. for some reason there was another student there with us who had an announcer-like voice so we had him say “what you are about to hear is not music” on a loop which then was played over and over while the audience found their seating before the CME concert. we planned to just let it keep running, go out on stage and begin improvising with it running. moments before we took the stage, the loop broke. wonderful pensive audience. what now? comfort and annoyance of the loop abruptly silenced. the stage was set for quadrivium. we began with a smash and continued to have a great time including marbles that were flung high in the air, sometimes striking other percussion instruments on the stage set up for other written pieces. i remember towards the end at a very quiet or even stasis point i was compelled to stand up, turn around, and face the audience. staring at them for 20 or 30 seconds like here we are. we are silent. this is music. what you are about to hear is not music.
indeed. and a fine name for a series of concerts and cd if i might add. one night we played 4 concerts in 011. all the stops. emotional gambit of love to concrete. that’s when i first discovered the power of the sirens and the chest-vibrating extension of beats between two frequencies. we had set up this giant mixer with microphones running all over the place to different vessels and 8 or more amplifiers surrounding the percussive compound. strange tolerance and feedback loops. sympathetic resonances of drums and cymbals in the area. we began playing with playing samples like duck call instructional tapes, airplane trails, malcolm x speech excerpts, and live sampling of our work.
one time we performed a concert with four distinct stations. one of wood, metal, skin, and else. we all started outside the setup and then each occupied a station throughout the performance, changing around between the areas until we all ended up together again. the last performance was actually just greg and don and me because merritt just didn’t show up. we put one of his favorite instruments, the brake drum from a car wheel, and a few candles to represent his presence. strange nights and unexpected territory.
quadrivium was truly the serious beginning of my free improvisation that continues today. i feel like the experiences i had with the group were some of the most amazing times of my life. we were like puzzle pieces that perfectly fit together. we felt it between us. those who witnessed us perform felt it. we were inspiring to ourselves as well as an artistic community present at the time. today i am more of an individual because of how the minneapolis free improvisation scene is set up where we play with many different people in ever changing combinations, but i always feel like i grew up and came from the quadrivium family. i carry that inside me as a part of my inner energy, especially when performing, and quadrivium becomes where i’m at. a way. a mindset. an artistic direction. thanks to everyone who visited us during our public performance and special thanks to don, greg and merritt. almglocken ya!!