This month, Eddie Franklin-White talks to contemplative percussionist Frank Perry, and discovers a whole new world of meditative musical expression.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the Mind and Body exhibition at Olympia in 1977, I came across an oasis of peace and stillness; Frank Perry was using his vast array of percussion to create an atmosphere of contemplation, and I found that I was able to stand quietly and let the noise of the rest of the exhibition fade into the background. This was the start of my interest in Frank Perry’s music.
Frank became interested in percussion during his last term at school and by the age of 18 was drummer with a blues group; however, a parting of the ways came when Frank started to use rather more elaborate rhythms (around and across the beat) instead of providing a simple, basic blues beat. Feeling that improvisation opened the way ahead, Frank moved towards jazz, and soon, with Keith Tippett, he co-founded the jazz improvisation group Ovary Lodge. Also belonging to this era are his improvisations with Balance. More recently Frank has worked with David Toop and when we met a short time ago he talked of possible work with Max Eastley.
Working with groups of an improvisatory nature has been important in Frank’s career as it has helped him to clarify his aim, and led to the realisation that even this free form was preventing him allowing his instruments to speak with their own specific voices in their own time.
Frank is happy to listen to the reverberation of one of his gongs for 30 seconds or more, listening to the sound changing and developing as the harmonics change. He spoke of ‘OM’, the central core of his music, this being more than just a dominant tone, but a peaceful meditative energy.
At one point in our conversation Frank referred to the relationship between the sound of a gong and shape of a mandala: ie, if a gong is hit at the centre it produces a pure (sine-wave type) tone, but, as it is hit more and more closer to the edge, it produces more and more complex sounds. This, perhaps, has a relationship to the personal search for a central core to our lives.
Holding Theosophical and Rosicrucian beliefs, Frank is now studying astrology in depth, and being the sort of person he is, that really does mean ‘in depth’. The effects of this are threefold: firstly, as an enriching force in his life style; secondly, directly relating to his performances; and thirdly, so that he can teach astrology and help other people.
Frank described using astrology and numerology to determine parameters for his performances; pitch, rhythmic pattern, duration and so on. He spoke of his scientific approach, closely and analytically observing the intention and the result; he also said, ‘I should like to get into physics (there are so many things I should like to get into!), and the more formal aspects of acoustics.’ Asked for a statement about his music Frank wrote:
‘Fundamentally, I wish to become a true channel for the higher influences flowing to us from the higher mental plane via the angelic beings who reside there. This involves creating a totally new vocabulary of sounds which more perfectly correspond to, and therefore express, to an extent, these ideals. So that the studying of the effects of the sound, as well as the historical, religious and ethnic use of sound, contributes largely to my direction in musical form. For instance, my “key signature” is the “OM”. All sounds made during a solo performance must never totally lose this “note” but rather revolve around it, as birds around a silent song. Therefore the music is best approached as a “river of meditation” where the “pattern” of the “passing” scenery may change but the river is ever one in the winding course to the source.’
Put another way – art is about making gold, in the Alchemical sense.
Frank Perry’s music is delicate, and with a wide range of tonal quality, the sounds being allowed their own time and space (the physical space in which Frank works has a material effect on his performance). This is music that requires the listener to allow time: time for the music to speak.
While on the subject of ‘music for angels’, I must mention my all time greatest hit, the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No 1 for solo violin – one composer, one performer, on one instrument, and towering, magical music, built on a simple dance rhythm. The recording just has to be that by Arthur Grumiaux and the Chaconne starts just under half way through the side.
Budding experimental percussionists may like to know that at a recent count Frank had: 65 bells, 22 cymbals and about 30 gongs. He no longer uses a conventional drum kit.
Music has as many frontiers as there are musicians and listeners; it is thanks to musicians like Frank Perry – who pursue a specific, but often changing, goal, doing their best to prevent pressures from diluting the quality if their effort – that music that is less obvious, less immediate, is able to grow and flower.
Sound International February 1979.
Photo taken by Jak Kilby at The white Eagle Lodge London 1978.