Drum of the Deathless: Ritual for Two Percussionists

An exciting work for two percussionists from Berlin – Lukas Böhm and Ni Fan, who played the world premiere of this 2-percussion version of a much bigger piece at the Bad Kissingen Festival last summer. The rhythms, splashed on an array of percussion instruments, were inspired by ritual drumming at a Korean monastery, as well as Tibetan Buddhist chanting and Indian Tala technique. The title of the work is taken from a defining moment in the Pali Canon which chronicles the Buddha’s life.

This work for percussion was inspired by the ritual early-morning drumming of a Korean monastic drummer. It takes its cue from the famous lines uttered by the Buddha:

“I beat the drum of the deathless in a world gone blind.” These lines were spoken soon after his Enlightenment, as the Buddha went forth into the world to look for disciples to impart to them the pathway and practice leading to Enlightenment.

In February 2015, I was invited to visit South Korea in a project devised by Korean Music Project, and curated by Unsuk Chin. The purpose of this visit was to make acquaintance with Korea’s rich and diverse musical culture. There was a special emphasis on percussion music and instruments. One of the most memorable highlights of this visit was a 24-hour stay at a Korean Buddhist monastery, and this proved to be a high point of my visit to Korea. The beauty of my experience at this traditional, working monastery with its exquisite buildings and wood-carved sculptures will remain forever etched in my memory.

The wake-up call in the morning was at 3 am and at 3.30 am visitors had to proceed to the early morning ceremony in the Buddhist cathedral, located on the higher slopes of the mountain. On our way we passed the gigantic, open-air drum that was being ritually sounded in a vigorous rhythm by a monk with two wooden beaters. The robust sound of this enormous instrument resonating in the clear early morning air of the mountain is one of my most cherished musical memories, and directly inspired the sound-world of this piece.

I am grateful to the percussionists Lukas Böhm and Ni Fan for their valuable suggestions during the preparation of this duo-version of the work.

Drum of the Deathless is dedicated to Unsuk Chin.

Commissioned by Korean Music Project
For the Opening Season of Asian Cultural Complex – Asian Arts Theatre Gwangju, South Korea

First performance of Quartet Version on 24 November 2016
Percussion Ensemble conducted by SunMin Sim at the Asian Cultural Centre, Gwangju

First Performance of Quintet Version on 18 April 2017 by Oberlin Percussion Group, directed by Michael Rosen Warner Concert Hall, Oberlin, Ohio

First Performance of Octet Version in the UK on 12 May 2017 Percussion Ensemble of the Royal Academy of Music, conducted by Neil Percy Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

First performance of this Duo Version on 8 July 2017
by Lukas Böhm and Ni Fan (Double Beats) at the Bad Kissingen Festival, Germany