As related in a Zen koan, Ryonen was the name of a Buddhist nun who lived in the early 19th century. The granddaughter of a famous Japanese warrior, Ryonen was inspired to study Zen when the empress she served died suddenly. Several Zen masters rejected her because of her beauty, so she burned her face with a hot iron.
More importantly, if Google’s search results are any indication, Ryonen is the name of a thin, large-eyed nude model. “I was excited to see that,” says John Colpitts with a laugh, “but it had nothing to do with the piece.”
Ryonen (Thrill Jockey), the latest release by Colpitts’ Man Forever project, was indeed named for the more philosophically-oriented of the two beauties. The album features two lengthy, intense all-percussion compositions written by the drummer (better known as Oneida’s Kid Millions) and performed by him along with the renowned So Percussion ensemble. He’ll perform an expanded 30-minute version of the album’s opening track, “The Clear Realization,” with Brooklyn-based percussion trio TIGUE at Kung Fu Necktie Wednesday night, on a bill with Stoner Boner DJs.
On the CD, “The Clear Realization” floats Colpitts’ hazy, ethereal vocals over intricately interlocking polyrhythms, building to a mesmerizing, almost spiritual, pitch. Live, he promises, the piece is “heavier in terms of the patterns and the impact. It’s more evolved and a little less raw.”
Man Forever was born at the suggestion of Ben Swanson at the now-defunct vinyl-only label St. Ives, an offshoot of Secretly Canadian. “Ben said, ‘I’d like to hear a solo drum record from you. We’ll put it out if you get it to us.’ I hadn’t even considered doing something like it,” Colpitts recalls. He was at a loss as to how to even approach such a project until hearing Fireworks Ensemble performing a chamber rendition of Lou Reed’s polarizing Metal Machine Music in 2010.
“I saw that and thought it would be really interesting to try to do something like Metal Machine Music but with drums,” he says. “So I had some conversations with Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about tuning drums to just intonation and different pitches and I recorded [the first album] by myself.”