Stephen Flinn

The Big Top

May 16, 2006

I'm getting to the point where a solo percussion performance doesn't seem weird, but rather, enticing. San Franciscan Stephen Flinn's set caught my eye on the printed page, but when I sat down and waited for him to play, I realized there's a big difference between being intrigued and actually enjoying what's intriguing. How was one guy on drums gonna hold my attention for forty minutes? Flinn's set all of a sudden seemed a whole lot ballsier.

And, what do ya know? Ten people were there. Even though Jeff Albert organized an early starting time, the show was still a hard sell on a weeknight. Even for people who like improvised music.

I should have expected Flinn to play what he did. Sure, he could have played a forty minute solo, but what's the reward from travelling across the country just to show off? Flinn, who has been playing professionally for twenty years, was interested in exploring the space and silence in music. His playing was anything but linear. He started and stopped over and over again, but I could still see his thought process as he constructed his set on the fly. When Flinn stumbled on a loud sound, he usually took that to the limit before he went back to his usual, meandering soft phrases.

Spurts and spurts, Flinn played along with a rhythm only known to him. This was interesting, especially when Flinn played on cymbals placed on top of his kit, but it was kinda hard to get. I'd rather see an unconventional performance than see Christina Aguilera, but I still like things to be the least bit catchy. There was no catchy in Flinn's performance. Preceded by what looked like twenty seconds of calming, his set was an ethereal exercise in the self, not the group. I appreciated his art and his immense talent as a drummer, but dammit--what he was doing was hard to get into.

Watching a solo percussion experience might be akin to watching a David Lynch film: just be in the moment, but don't expect to understand it.
Ten minutes in, I thought maybe Flinn had lured us in with the promise of art, only to leave us scratching our heads during what could have been described as a practice. As time went on, I began to understand that the performance was supposed to be atmospheric and abstract. How does it make you feel? Confused? Damn.

I really enjoyed when Flinn used his bow on the undersisde of his cymbals, which produced a wonderfully creepy screech. Also of interest was when he would put his sticks down to hold metal pieces close to his chest and shake them together in no particular pattern.

There was a strong Asian influence in his choice of percussion--the string of bells attests to that. There was no gong, but it certainly wouldn't have been out of place in the exorbitant amount of drums he used. Cooking sticks not excluded.

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