Line Upon Line Percussion, a trio of Austin musicians, went through a sound check of sorts before a recent performance.
Matthew Teodori poured fine sand into plastic cones, each outfitted with a tap at the bottom and perched above a metal can.
Adam Bedell and Cullen Faulk fired up a fan, adjusting its airflow toward a stand of Indonesian bamboo wind chimes, making sure the fan synced with a remote control.
Next, Bedell wound up a couple of mechanical cat toys and let them scoot around a snare drum.
During the performance — “Lumen,” a collaboration with Andrea Ariel Dance Company staged in the historic McKean-Eilers Building on Congress Avenue —the sand pouring through the cones produced a steady yet ethereal whisper. The toys on the snare drum created a soft, wave-like rat-a-tat-tat roll.
Instruments — conventional percussion pieces and a myriad of handmade sound-making contraptions — stood around the intimate stage area, and Bedell, Faulk and Teodori moved among them, as much an integral part of the performance as the dancers themselves.
“We like playing spaces that aren’t stuffy and typical,” Bedell says.
“Lumen” was the latest Line Upon Line show in a hectic spring for the threesome. And, this spring is part of a busy past few years that have seen the trio evolve from exuberant University of Texas music students to an internationally-touring ensemble with a burgeoning audience that has received critical acclaim and now stands among the most sought-after collaborators on Austin’s arts scene.
This weekend Line Upon Line launches “Reich,” a celebration of pioneering American minimalist composer Steve Reich in his 80th year. Bedell, Faulk and Teodori will be joined by eight additional musicians to play Reich’s sprawling compositions.
Next weekend, again bolstered by extra percussionists, the trio performs Reich’s masterpiece “Drumming” in a collaboration with Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company.
“Artistically, Line Upon Line is fearless,” says choreographer Hamrick, who created the performance piece “More or Less,” set to “Drumming.”
If terms such as “new music” or “contemporary classical” conjure impressions of blistering dissonance and interminably long sonic indulgences, Line Upon Line disavows that.
Their concerts are friendly and thoughtful. Big Medium art gallery is the venue for Line Upon Line’s regular concert series. There’s a printed program, but usually Teodori casually explains each piece before it’s played. Often there’s beer and pretzels. Sometimes, at the ticket table, you can buy one of the group’s nifty handmade instrument inventions.
Not surprisingly, the Line Upon Line audience skews toward a younger demographic — and that audience might include a composer whose piece is being played.
“I’ve watched them grow their audience tremendously,” says Hamrick, who has collaborated three times with the group. “They’ve shown there’s an audience here in Austin who really embrace the kind of musical curiosity they have.”
Explaining how the trio opted to strike out on their own after music school, Teodori says, “None of us wanted to just sit behind one (instrument) and play it.”
Bedell, Faulk and Teodori met playing in UT’s percussion ensemble classes. By 2009 they had formed a trio, finding ways to commandeer the school’s percussion studio in the wee hours.
“Playing in a percussion ensemble was the most fun we were having in school,” Teodori says. “But the sad reality is that for most percussionists, music school is the last time you’ll get to do that.”
A professional performance career typically means being a part of an orchestra or some kind of multi-instrument ensemble or band with a repertoire in which percussion often holds a background role. In other words, you sit behind one instrument.
And sitting doesn’t sit well with the creatively adventurous Bedell, Faulk and Teodori.
National music scene observers have opined that in the new millennium, percussion ensembles have emerged as the new string quartets — the darlings of young composers, the fresh alternative for younger audiences frustrated by a classical music landscape that’s ossified itself by its own formalities.
Without the deep repertoire stretching back centuries as there is for traditional ensemble formations like string quartets or piano trios, percussion groups typically work with living composers — creators at the edge of experimentation and artistic daring. And that’s also a source of appeal for a young, intellectually curious audience.
“A percussion ensemble isn’t even a codified number of musicians — there can be duos or quintets or sextets,” Teodori says. “It’s a very young art form, and that’s just thrilling.”
Several years ago, the group opted to become an official nonprofit. They eke by with a $50,000 budget. Part-time teaching gigs and a few sponsorships from instrument-makers help.
Later this year, Line Upon Line will spend a week in residence at Stanford University. Next March they’ll make an 11-day concert tour of Great Britain.
With their concert series growing in popularity, they’ve added a fourth concert to next season’s calendar and added an additional show to each concert.
Says Bedell: “It’s the sign of a healthy art form if you’re making something new.”
- When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday.
- Where: Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road.
- Cost: $12-$30.
- Information: lineuponlinepercussion.org.
“More or Less”
- Choreography by Kathy Dunn Hamrick set to Steve Reich’s “Drumming.”
- When: 8 p.m. May 19-21, 3 p.m. May 21.
- Where: Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road.
- Cost: $17-$20.
- Information: 512-934-1082, kdhdance.com.