Cults Percussion Ensemble, self-titled, Trunk Records, JBH046CD (reissued 2012)
A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.
Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.
“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.
For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.
A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.