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May 4, 2010

Percussion Ensemble Takes a Look Back to the Future


TMUTemporal Mechanics Union, the percussion ensemble resident at Cowley College, will get nostalgic for a future that never was in their spring concert, which will take place Thursday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. inside the Robert Brown Theatre. There is no cost to attend the concert.

“Some of us remember how optimistic people used to be about the future, in terms of science and technology,” says Chris Mayer, musical director of the ensemble. “The year 2000 was going to be a golden age of science. We were promised the paperless office, robots to do the work and flying cars. Well, here it is 2010 and many of us are asking, where’s my rocket car?”

TMU spoofs this idea of the “retrofuture” with Your Life in the Year 2000, a satire of the informational films and exhibits of the mid-20th century.  Large corporations from the 1920s to the 1950s envisioned many “miracles of science and the wonders of technology” for the year 2000, most of which have never materialized. The performance combines narration and a variety of musical styles to imitate the style and content of those films, and the utopian ideas past generations had for the 21st century.

The concert includes a new experimental work by Wayne Farley, a student member of the ensemble. Entitled Panic, the piece reflects upon the constant stream of crises and dangers that seems to characterize modern life. Everything from swine flu to nuclear weapons is encoded in rhythms devised by Farley, and played by the members of the ensemble. As the players make mistakes, they drop out one by one until the whole piece falls apart.  The only constant is the rhythm of the S-O-S Morse code signal, played on drum set, and it speeds up as the piece progresses, adding to the sense of chaos.

TMU is also very happy to premiere Kansas composer Ryan Mackey's first-ever piece for percussion ensemble. The Cloud Suite depicts in music the life cycle of a storm, from the gathering of clouds to the clearing skies and sunshine afterwards. “It’s a beautiful piece, tuneful in a very classical way,” says Mayer.
Ordained in the Anglican tradition, Mackey has composed in a variety of genres, from sacred chant to electronica, for over a decade. He is assistant professor of music and religion at Central Christian College in McPherson, Kansas.

This is the second concert to feature the ensemble’s new self-built microtonal instruments, including music inspired by selections from Life: Through Words and Lens, a joint project by writers and photographers at Cowley College.  Using the poetry and photography created by the students, the members of TMU have each composed their own parts to structured improvisation that will accompany the texts and pictures.

Temporal Mechanics Union is an all-ability, community based ensemble. Anyone may join, no matter what his or her previous musical experience. More information on this concert, and on the ensemble, can be found at, or by calling 620-441-5229. TMU also have a YouTube channel and a Facbook page.

The members of Temporal Mechanics Union are Amy Arnold, Brandi Berntsen, Wayne Farley, Mike Fell, Justin Lavoie, and Bryan McChesney.