Composer/percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky (b. 1953) has premiered and recorded some of the most important percussion works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, working with composers such as Stockhausen, Wolff, Cage, Feldman and Xenakis.
Armadillo (1990–2007) is one large-scale piece in four sections, the first of which, at around forty-two minutes, is about three times the duration of the other three combined (these are more or less the same duration, five-plus minutes each). One might think of the image of a Mayan temple, with a large broad base rising pyramid-like to smaller structures at the top. Almost all of the music’s sound is from drums, in a full range from high to very low. The trio’s playing is virtuosic, precise and finely modulated in color and dynamics.
This is a music at once variously complex and unified or “simplified” by the prevailing sonority of the drums. What gives the music its complexity and richness, what makes it distinctively engaging, is not just the stretches of intricate, overlaid patterning—there are a number of moments when textures thin out and simplify—but the continuous structural shifts, the unpredictable but somehow right moves from one kind of texture and procedure to another. It is a mysterious music, at once highly disciplined and controlled and at the same time full of energy and movement. It is the result of an intense and controlled focus in its composition and performance, a focus that because of its very intensity somehow allows the release of a sense of freedom.