SKIN & METAL (2004)

A music theatre piece for leather percussionist and digital soundtracks

Score / Recording of first performance (June 22/04)
2018 Performance Video

Skin & Metal is a music theatre work designed for a performer dressed as a "leather man" playing only drums and metallic instruments using "skin and metal", that is, bare hands, leather and metal objects to activate the instruments. The subtext of the work is the demimonde of S&M, and evokes the eroticism associated with it. Although the performer dominates the instruments, he or she can also be dominated by the equally powerful tape component that is constructed from transformations of the same instrumental sounds, so it unclear who is the active and passive partner.

The work was commissioned by CONTACT contemporary music and is dedicated to Jerry Pergolesi who first brought it to life. See also the article in Musicworks.

Reviewer's comments: The stage was ... transformed into an acoustic dungeon for the exploration of Pergolisi's darkest eroto-percussive fantasies. Dressed in dark glasses and leather-daddy finery, Pergolisi (sic) began by banging his leather-harness-clad chest against a gong. He then proceeded to wrestle with some metal chains, slap around some toms with his leather-gloved hands and flog a hanging panel of sheet metal with his cat-o'-nine tails. Pergolisi is a gifted percussionist and his music is driving and intense. The overall performance also comes across as brashly comical in its over-the-top play on BDSM themes." - Kristiana Clements, Musicworks, 91, Spring 2005, 52.
The piece is designed for a performer dressed as a "leather man" playing only drums and metallic instruments using "skin and metal", that is, bare hands, leather and metal objects to activate the instruments. The subtext of the work is the demimonde of S&M, and therefore any theatrical interpretation that lends itself to this theme is welcome. Although intended for a male performer, a female percussionist may also perform the work if she can adapt her costume and persona appropriately.

In the case of a male performer, the suggested costume is entirely leather and metal, including vest, trousers, belt, boots, cap, dark glasses, chest harness, gloves, wrist and neckbands. No shirt is worn.

The instruments include a suspended tam-tam and two metal sheets, a set of four brake drums and another set of metallic instruments (e.g. cowbells), and four to six drums. Two medium gauge chains, a martinet (or "flogger") with knotted ends, and leather and metal tipped mallets are also needed. The tam-tam should be suspended securely enough that the performer can support some of his/her weight on it (see beginning section), and elevated sufficiently such that the middle of the tam-tam is at chest height, leaving enough space below it so that the performer can move under it to the back.

The tam-tam and metal drums should be miked and fed to the same speakers as the tape part. The suspended items should have contact mikes attached to them whose signal is also fed to the same speakers as the tape. Care should be taken to balance the audio levels of each component. The instruments are arranged roughly as follows:

Metal Sheet


Metal Sheet

Drums in semi-circle

Metal drums in semi-circle

Suggested lighting is a mix of red and blue spots tightly focused on the instrumental area, dim at the start and end, bright in the middle, and fading out and back on when the performer temporarily disappears from the playing area.

The lights come on to reveal the performer (minus cap and vest) facing the tam-tam, arms raised in a U holding onto the frame and able to strike the tam-tam with the metal rings on his chest harness by swinging towards it, as if suspended from the same frame. A metal dowel may be inserted in the harness to assist this process. As the performer strikes the instrument, his head is thrown back. This occurs 5 times at approximately 10 second intervals, building in intensity to the final one (1:00) at which point the performer "falls" slowly towards the ground and disappears behind the instrument. The lighting in this section is fairly dim and the mood is slow and dreamlike.

The performer re-appears with vest, cap and glasses, with brighter light on the set, and proceeds to slowly draw two medium gauge chains (one in each hand) out through the opening of the two brake drums that are the farthest apart, such that the chain makes a scraping sound against the drum. The performer winds the chains around his wrist until all of the chain is extracted. The ends of the chains are held down under the drums such that they are finally pulled taut, then with a sudden jerk released (2:52).

The next section is played on the metal drums using only the coiled chains to hit the instruments. At the end of this section, the performer allows the chains to unwind (3:56). When completely unwound, the performer raises his hands in the air with the chains and lets them fall noisily onto the floor, holding that pose for a brief moment.

For the following rhythmic section, the performer moves to the set of "skins", the drums that are first played with the palms and fingers, then with leather or metal tipped mallets, in an increasingly frenzied manner (with excursions back to the metallic instruments once mallets are used). The climax of this section comes when the performer violently strikes the metal sheet (8:27). He then takes the martinet or "flogger" and strikes the metal sheets. In between each strike, the performer reacts to the loud hits of the metal sheet on tape as if hit from behind, staggering and then responding sensuously to the following gentler strokes. After the performer finally hits the tam-tam, he appears to collapse, with mouth open in a silent scream, in synch with the high pitched bowed sound from the sheet (10:18).

In the final section, the performer slowly rises from the floor in front of the tam-tam, facing the audience but with his hands behind his back as if tied there. There are two chains or leather straps attached to the neckband such that they become taut as he rises. The performer also holds a mallet behind his back that is used to strike the tam-tam. He smiles in ecstasy with eyes closed as the lights fade (11:18). Once it is dark, the neckband is removed and dropped onto the floor before the lights are brought up.

Technical note

The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which incorporates the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer with software for real-time granular synthesis and signal processing (such as digital resonators) developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.