Local composer Eric Roth can knock out music that sells. The son of Grammy-winning conductor, composer and producer Arnie Roth and assistant music director at his father’s multifaceted firm, AWR Music, Roth has arranged and orchestrated music for feature-length Barbie films, Final Fantasy video games and iPhone apps.
Given his day job, it’s refreshing that Roth doesn’t pussyfoot around less-accessible turf when it comes to his solo projects. This is a guy who attacked the railings of the Clark Street Bridge as part of a performance with 80 other percussionists back in 2007 and cites influences as far flung as Iannis Xenakis and crime rappers Mobb Deep. His third solo album, Battery, comes supercharged with three challenging, highly original, extended percussion compositions—testament to the wealth of lyrical possibility held in only one or two drums.
Sixteen-minute opener “Both Teams Played Hard” relies on just one stick and snare drum. Played by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra percussionist Chris Froh, the piece is unleashed with kinetic fury settling on a stop/start pattern. Froh presses the head of the drum with his free hand to create a cycle of melodic pitch bends, allowing each groove to build upon the one before it. Roth takes a wilder turn on “Bible Thumpin V.” Three performers “fist,” “scrape” and “sweep” their hands over the good book. “I think the Bible is a terrific musical instrument,” Roth notes in the liner notes. A Barbie storybook just wouldn’t pack the same blasphemous oomph.