The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Clocks in Motion will perform percussion works in Stoughton this Saturday night

February 10, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following invitation from the Madison-based percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), which has released a CD, is building quite the reputation and  is receiving a lot of critical acclaim:

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Hi everyone!

I would like to cordially invite you to Clocks in Motion’s upcoming concert at the historic Stoughton Opera House (below) at 7:30 p.m. on this coming Saturday, February 13.

Stoughton Opera House ext


We have a great program including music by Steve Reich, Marc Mellits, John Cage and James Tenney (below).

James Tenney

In addition, we will be joined by composer/guest artist Marc Mellits (below), in performing his mallet quintet “Gravity.” (You can hear Clocks in Motion performing the Minimalist and hypnotic “Gravity” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

marc mellits 1

You might also want to check out our all new concert TEASER video here:

Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or for advanced sales online HERE

Even if you can’t make the concert, could you please help spread the word or just let your friends, family, students, and colleagues know about the event?


Sean Kleve, Clocks in Motion Percussion

“Grace Presents” opens its new season this Saturday at noon with a FREE one-hour concert by the local percussion group Clocks in Motion, which has just released its first recording.

September 16, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

“Grace Presents,” which just got a new program director Andrea Mauch (below), continues to develop as one of the most innovating and welcome FREE music events in Madison.

Andrea Mauch - long scarf color

The once-a-month series, which is sponsored by and hosted at Grace Episcopal Church (below), 116 West Washington Ave., in downtown Madison on the Capitol Square, offers classical music but also folk, bluegrass, roots and jazz. The quaint historic church has great acoustics and decorating inside.

grace episcopal church ext

MBM Grace cantatas ensemble

For the opening concert the performers at the unusual percussion group “Clocks in Motion,” which grew out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where the group is now an “affiliate ensemble in residence” for the percussion program. (You can hear them perform in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clocks collage 2014

Clocks in Motion has also just released its first recording,  “Escape Velocity,” which is an impressive CD that includes a work by Madison composer John Jeffrey Gibbons (below, in a photo by Milt Leidman).

clocks in motion percussion CD

Clocks in Motion John Jefffey Gibbens cr MiltLeidman

The hour-long concert on Saturday -– to run from noon to about 1 p.m. –- will feature rarely heard instruments and unusual compositions that will use contemporary music to highlight the power and diversity of percussion music.

Clocks in Motion’s fresh and innovative approach to contemporary classical performance will provide an exciting concert experience for the Madison community.

The program this Saturday includes:

The new mallet quintet, “Gravity, by Marc Mellits, was commissioned in part by Clocks in Motion in 2013. This piece features Mellits’ pop-minimalistic style with driving rhythms and lush harmonies.  The sectional work builds in intensity, resulting in a climactic and satisfying ending.

marc mellits 1

In “Music for Pieces of Wood” minimalist pioneer Steve Reich liberates the listener from the downbeat with interlocking rhythm and shifting musical gestures. Five performers using warm-toned paduk instruments become one mesmerizing voice.

“Drumming Part 1”, also by Reich, is a driving minimalist piece in which four musicians play four pairs of tuned bongos. The work was highly influenced by the rhythms found in western Africa, but Reich (below) also employs original compositional techniques, such as rhythmic phasing and pattern construction.

Steve Reich

“Four Miniatures” is an original composition by Clocks in Motion member Dave Alcorn (below). It explores the sonic possibilities of handheld percussion. Comprised of four mini-quartets for triangles, tambourines, Uchiwa Daiko and woodblocks/reco-reco, this attractive piece proves that even the smallest instruments can make one move in their seat.

Dave Alcorn

Third Construction”, by John Cage (below), features a wildly diverse instrumentation. Clocks in Motion will use tin cans, maracas, claves, cowbells, Indo-Chinese rattles, quijadas, cricket callers, a conch shell, ratchets, and various drums in this singular and innovative 1941 work.

John Cage and cat

Here is more form a press release:

“Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” by, Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

“With a fearless and uncompromising ear to programming challenging and adventurous contemporary percussion ensemble repertoire, Clocks in Motion consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater, and computer technology.

“Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, this ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

“Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate the young audiences of the future through master classes, residencies, presentations and school assemblies.

“The individual members of Clocks in Motion’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of musical styles including, rock, jazz, contemporary classical music, orchestral percussion, marching percussion, and world music styles.

Clocks in Motion overture

“Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as the ensemble-in-residence with the UW-Madison percussion studio.

Members of Clocks in Motion are Dave Alcorn, Jennifer Hedstrom, Sean Kleve, Michael Koszewski and James McKenzie.

Classical music: University of Wisconsin percussion group Clocks in Motion will give a FREE concert of unusual new music, including the world premiere of the winner of its first composing contest, this Sunday afternoon. Plus, on Saturday a harpsichord recital of Baroque masters will be given at the First Unitarian Society.

February 13, 2014
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the historic Meeting House at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Stephen Alltop of Northwestern University will give a harpsichord recital. The program features the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (Toccata in E minor, Preludes and Fugues in D major and D minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I), Domenico Scarlatti (two sonatas), Jean-Philippe Rameau (Suite in A Minor), Franz Joseph Haydn (Sonata No. 6 in G Major) and George Frideric Handel (Suite in G Minor). A free will offering will be taken. 

Stephen Alltop harpsichord

By Jacob Stockinger

Clocks in Motion, Madison’s cutting-edge new music ensemble, will present Unfamiliar Voices 1.0, an expansive program featuring music from both the heart of the established percussion ensemble literature and the forefront of modern percussion composition. 

The FREE performance is this coming Sunday, Feb. 16, at 3 p.m. in Mils Hall. It will celebrate composer and UW-Madison student Ben Davis, the 2014 Clocks in Motion Call for Scores winner, with the world premiere of his exciting new work, “Night.”

The ensemble will also perform the meditative percussion quartet, “Threads,” by Paul Lansky and the grand percussion sextet, “Kryptogramma,” by Georges Aperghis.

clocks in motion in concert

Ben Davis (below), a composer, trumpeter and teacher from Richmond, Virginia, writes for unique instruments built by Clocks in Motion. His new work employs sixxen — large aluminum keyboard instruments that are tuned microtonally (vastly different from the standard repeating 12-tone scale in most western music).

ben davis

The three sets of sixxen (below, in the foreground with other percussion instruments) in the piece are purposefully out of tune with each other, creating an entrancing sound cloud of beading frequencies for the listener.  In contrast, the other three players in the piece each play a bombastic multi-percussion setup of tom toms, snare drums, kick drums, and china cymbals.  Davis’ innovative work is sure to impress.

sixxen ensemble foreground-1

Paul Lansky (below) shares some insightful thoughts on his 2005 work: “Threads… is a half-hour long ‘cantata’ for percussion quartet in ten short movements. (You can hear it at the bottom in a YouTube video performance from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.)

Adds Lansky: “There are three “threads” that are interwoven in the piece: Arias and Preludes that focus on the metallic pitched sounds of vibraphones, glockenspiel and pipes; Choruses in which drumming predominates; and Recitatives made largely from John Cage-like noise instruments, bottles, flower pots, crotales, etc. The aim of the different threads is to highlight the wide range of qualities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous ‘thread.’ The movements are performed without interruption.”

paul lansky

Georges Aperghis’ 1970 composition “Kryptogramma” is a massive undertaking. Puzzling instrumental combinations and bizarre rhythmic structures make this one of the most fascinating and complex percussion ensemble works ever written.

“Kryptogramma” means “concealed text/writing”.  In the  words of composer Aperghis (below): “Every cyptogram [in the piece] conceals a text or number sequence, behind which information is hidden…simple rhythms…are developed in a tapestry of soaring movements, and…subjected to a mass of variation.”

georges aperghis

Clocks in Motion members are Dave Alcorn, Jennifer Hedstrom, Sean Kleve, Michael Koszewski James McKenzie, and Joseph Murfin.  For the concert on Feb. 16, Clocks in Motion will welcome percussionists Vincent Mingils and Somali Wilson as guest performers.

All performers are either current or former students of the UW-Madison percussion studio.

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (, Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds rare instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

Formed in 2011, the ensemble is currently in residence at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.  The individual members of Clocks in Motion’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of musical styles including, rock, jazz, contemporary classical music, orchestral percussion, marching percussion, and world music styles.

Among its many recent engagements, the group served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Rhapsody Arts Center, University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Admission is free. For more information, including repertoire, upcoming events, biographies, and media, visit

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Classical music: The UW-Madison percussion group Clocks in Motion once again shows its impressive virtuosity in new music and world premieres that take listeners out of their comfort zone.

December 16, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Chamber Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of a concert this past weekend by the group Clocks in Motion. I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

Friday night’s “New Discoveries” concert at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom) was everything Madison concertgoers have come to expect from the virtuoso ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), which is to say nothing short of remarkable. 

The group, founded in 2011 as an extension of the UW-Madison‘s graduate percussion group, has already developed a reputation for innovative and challenging programming, impressive technical ability, and concerts that push the audience out of their comfort zone.

clocks in motion in concert


On all three of those counts, “New Discoveries” was an undeniable success. It also brought in the largest audience yet for the ensemble’s concerts, a crowd numbering around 150 people.

The program included two world premiere performances, the first being Thomas Lang‘s Percussion Duo. Written for music director Sean Kleve and pianist Jennifer Hedstrom, it is a rhythmically exacting work that feels as though it was composed for a single instrument that happens to consist of two players (though the percussionist is in fact responsible for both a marimba and vibraphone).

The precise unison playing of Kleve and Hedstrom was all but flawless, more than meeting the considerable demands of Lang’s writing. Kleve’s handling of the crossed writing for both mallet instruments was particularly commendable — often a phrase would begin on one instrument and end on the other, creating a kaleidoscopic shift in color that Lang exploited to its fullest capacity. The slow movement was hauntingly beautiful. (I particularly enjoyed the use of marimba rolls to sustain chords articulated by the piano or vibes.)

Kleve and Hedstrom were joined by three more players for the next work, also a premiere: “Allhallows” by Madison composer John Jeffrey Gibbens (below), the first movement of which (“Prelude”) was given its first performance by the group back in late September. (You can hear Gibbens discuss his work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clocks in Motion John Jefffey Gibbens cr MiltLeidman

Kleve (below) played Quarimba (a pair of stacked marimbas tuned a quarter tone apart), Dave Alcorn the vibraphone, and Joseph Murfin and James McKenzie each presided over sets of quarter-tone galvanized steel pipes (a new instrument developed by Clocks for this piece, and nicknamed the Galvitone) and large arrays of tuned gongs.

Sean Kleve

The instrumentation can give the readers some inkling of the innovative use of extended pitch collections explored in this extended work, which seems conceived on an even larger scale than its present form for piano and percussion quartet.

The first movement’s lilting, almost dance-like rhythms made a stark contrast with Lang’s more angular work. It seems the most substantial of the three, and is written for a smaller group than the whole work – percussion trio, with a fourth player muting the gongs. (This part of the piece was almost theatrical — McKenzie stood facing Murfin with the array of gongs (and the music) between them, mirroring the latter’s motions to muffle the resonance after he struck each pitch.) It is densely contrapuntal, carried forward by an inexorable rhythmic drive.

The latter movements, “Witness” and “Nocturne” (both including piano), contrast sharply. In the latter, the ensemble is used (like in Lang’s Duo) as a single instrument; in the former, complex and virtuosic interplay between players highlights the music’s dramatic contrasts. This second movement also features stunningly difficult writing for the two Galvitone players, whose back-and-forth and rhythmic unisons were executed cleanly at a blisteringly fast tempo.

Gibbens works in shades more subtle than the average ear is fully accustomed to hearing, particularly with his use of quarter tones, and I suspect the piece would reward repeated listening — an opportunity afforded by its inclusion on the ensemble’s first studio recording, which is currently in production. 

Clocks in Motion Group Photo 2 cr Megan Alley

I often find with Clocks in Motion that my favorite works are the ones using mostly unpitched percussion. After two harmonically complex works, each rewarding in its own way, I found the same to be true in this concert: the only “standard” work on the program, the massive 1969 sextet “Persephassa” by Iannis Xenakis was undeniably its highlight.

For this monumental work, the venue played an important role. The H.F. Deluca Forum (below top) of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery is a totally round room, and the audience was seated in the center, surrounded on all sides by percussionists (as demanded by the composer).

SEW Forum room

“Persephassa” is an aggressive, overpowering piece of music that can at times feel overwhelming, even in the sheer volume of sound produced, and the feeling of being boxed in by that sound is integral to the experience of the performance.

It is not a comfortable piece to hear, nor should it be. Composed at the end of the 1960’s, it is an attempt by Xenakis (below) to depict some of the turbulence and violence of that decade – and violent music it is. The sound comes in waves, crashing in upon the audience in the center relentlessly. It demands total investment from every player involved, and a high technical standard of performance, both of which were met admirably by Clocks in Motion.

Rhythmic complexity is par for the course for a percussion ensemble, but the demands of this work are extraordinary. Apart from the difficulty of coordinating six separate players over large distances with no conductor and an audience in the way, Xenakis (below) writes different tempos for all six performers at various times, bringing them together again only intermittently. To facilitate this, the ensemble used technology Xenakis could only imagine at the time of composition – six separate computer-controlled click tracks, fed to the players through headphones. With this aid, performance is merely colossally difficult. Without it, it would be impossible.

Iannis Xenakis

“Persephassa” is a work best experienced live — no recording can do justice to the overwhelming, chaotic nature of the staging, and of hearing the music move around you. Motives pass from player to player, sometimes in contrary motion, around the circle – luckily the chairs in the DeLuca Forum are not bolted down, and we were able to follow them around the room and watch the players situated behind us.

Xenakis is endlessly inventive with his sound-world, and the piece moves from the initial thunderous pounding of drums to a plethora of diverse and contrasting timbres — woodblocks, metal pipes, cymbals, gongs, maracas and even siren whistles (a hand-cranked siren would have required one player to have a free hand, which they never seem to). The combination of timpani glissandi and sirens was particularly colorful.

Performances such as this reinforce the need for music in our lives, to remind us of the value in allowing ourselves to be totally overwhelmed, to surrender to sensation and simply experience our surroundings, even when we find ourselves in circumstances as terrifying as those evoked by Xenakis’ music. They open our eyes to the level of musical talent, both performing and composition, present in this city – all the players are trained at the UW-Madison by Professor Anthony DiSanza (below), and both of the composers with new works on the concert have local connections.


They also remind us of the value in an ensemble such as Clocks in Motion, which so reliably presents music that challenges and provokes thought. They will be back in February for a spring season including six more world premieres — take a chance on one of their concerts, even if you don’t usually listen to the sort of music they perform (not that it can be generalized): You will not leave unimpressed, and you might just come back. I did.

For the sake of full disclosure: I am a frequent collaborator with John Jeffrey Gibbens in his work as a collaborative pianist, and I will be appearing with Clocks in Motion this February in one of their spring semester concerts.

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