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Mirror Duo made drums - and only drums - a compelling show

Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry conversed by drum for two engaging sets ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mirror Duo
Mugshots (Nicholas Street Jail Hostel)
Thursday, April 30, 2015

See photos of this performance

If you want to totally silence a bar, get drummers - only drummers - to play in it.

The opening piece by the Mirror Duo halted conversations in Mugshots within seconds – to a total silence in that bar that I had never before witnessed. Drummers Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry started their performance by bowing their menagerie of cymbals with long, resonant strokes and changing pitches. It was surprising: not the percussive sounds that listeners might expect to hear from the small stage tightly packed with two bass drums, four toms, several snares, and eight cymbals - including four hi-hats - and assorted bowls and hand-held percussive instruments.

Taking full advantage of their now fully-attentive audience and the acoustic opportunity, the duo moved into their second quiet piece with overlapping and alternating brushed strokes on drum skins and cymbals, changing in tempo, intensity and pitch.

That was the start of an evening of two-drummer, improvised performance. While Delage and Essoudry had put careful thought and rehearsals into this unusual performance, a great deal of it was improvised, starting with the coin toss before the show that determined which drummer started playing on which drumset. They exchanged positions throughout the evening to introduce variation in the sound and look of the performance.

Throughout the evening, the music continued to vary, embracing the sonic capabilities of their instruments, and extending it into the receptive audience and a bar that had the generous acoustic capacity to receive it. Working on two two drumsets that were specifically tuned to different pitches so each would have its own clear voice, Delage and Essoudry weaved their overlapping rhythms: acting and reacting, changing grooves, and interjecting an occasional thoughtful pause that one would encounter in a real-life vocal conversation. Listeners were kept alert, seeking patterns in their constantly changing music, which did not have musical form or strong melody in the traditional sense. Applause was cautiously reserved until the audience was certain they would not rudely interrupt the ever-changing and unpredictable conversation they were witnessing.

Mugshots, with its thick, reflective brick walls and low ceilings, provided a suitable container for the music. Essoudry, in particular, is very familiar with the room – this was the fourth duo performance he'd played there that month, and he has been performing regularly there since 2013. The unamplified sound from the two drumsets was clear and crisp. Every nuance could be heard.

Both sets generally followed a dynamic arc that ended in a more emphatically and enthusiastically expressed conversation. The arrangement of the loudest piece at the end of the first set, expressed in part by energetic bass drum and cymbal crashes was well-timed. It recalibrated listeners' ears for the much noisier bar that returned during the set break, when multiple overlapping human vocal conversations resumed.

In an interview prior to the performance, both drummers had stated their concern for listeners of the two-drum performance. “There's a real danger where the audience will get really tired of hearing drums. So we want to try to avoid that,” Delage told me. And it worked.

Listeners did not visibly tire during this two-drummer performance. Each set was responded to with intent listening, enthusiastic applause, and additionally, a call for an encore at the end of a second set. It was evidence that the planning, rehearsals, and improvisations of this unusual and more risky artistic venture had succeeded. In quality, it was well up with other, more high-profile, drum duos I've heard at jazz festivals. I hope will be repeated.

   – Brett Delmage

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015