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September 14, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

It seems fitting that the penultimate concert of the Los Angeles Festival's Cage Celebration was devoted to percussion music. Cage, after all, has always marched to the beat of a different drummer.

Actually, somewhere around 1950, his march turned into more of a mosey. The changes in pace and direction of Cage's musical journey were quite apparent in "Percussion: That Unexpected Touch," at the Tom Bradley Theatre Friday evening.

For vigorous, purposeful thumping, there was the "Third Construction," from 1941. A big, wondrously scored work, "Third Construction" reminds us just how trivial are the rhythmic games most modern minimalists play. Members of the Canadian ensemble Nexus gave it an intense, well-nigh pulse-perfect performance.

The local Repercussion Unit also had an effective, energetic vehicle from the same year. "Double Music"--co-composed by Lou Harrison--is a shorter, less expansively scored effort, but every bit as stimulating and clearly propelled as "Third Construction."

At the other end of the spectrum lay pieces like "Child of Tree," a 1975 stop-and-hear-the-roses exercise. The composer sat alone before a collection of amplified bits of various plants, which he plucked, tapped and stroked fitfully, reaching a climax of sorts when he shook a carob pod.

"Inlets" (1977) is a more imaginative essay, though working to similarly soporific effect. The amplified sound of water rolled around inside conch shells produced gentle burping noises. The addition of a taped fire may have had some symbolic purpose, but it sounded like just so much static interference.

A recent work with a 42-word title brought Nexus and the Repercussion Unit together for an extended foray into nebulous, artificially environmental sounds. Ten very passive performers manipulated all manner of sound sources--including blowing bubbles in wading pools on stage--creating a sort of aural bubble-gum for devotees of the oh-wow! school of meditation.

The Repercussion Unit also played "She Is Asleep" and "Music for Two," sounding secure and committed even where the music seemed tenuous and tepid. Nexus offered a tight, incisive account of the early Trio.

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