Composer and multi-instrumentalist John Colpitts (aka Kid Millions) was known in indie rock circles as the drummer for Oneida when, in 2012, as Man Forever, he released the album "Pansophical Cataract," inspired by Lou Reed's landmark "Metal Machine Music."
Since then, Colpitts, a Lakeville, Conn. native, has pursued a musical career limited only by his imagination, touring and collaborating with Spiritualized, Akron/Family and People of the North. This month, as Man Forever, he'll set out with So Percussion, a New York-based quartet, to perform "Ryonen," his latest project. The first stop on the tour is Sunday, July 6 for the Hygenic Art Park Concert Series on Bank Street in New London.
Each of the two composed halves of "Ryonen," as recorded by Colpitts and So Percussion on the Thrill Jockey release, are performed on two drum sets (one played by Colpitts), two sets of bongos, snares, a bass drum and various cymbals, with vocals dropped into certain spots. "The Clear Realization" is relentless, building and crashing in polyrhythmic waves, with overlapping meters unified by a constant pulse; "Ryonen," the second half, is more dramatic, with two different tempos, drones, tuned drums and climactic stop-starts.
"There is some flexibility at times, where the players will do a little bit of improvising," Colpitts said. While the album versions, Colpitts continued, were somewhat freewheeling, he's since put limits on what the players can do. Each section is timed; on the recordings, the whole piece runs about 30 minutes, but each half will be extended on tour. "It's mapped out in advance but cued by me. So everybody's kind of keeping track of where we are in a piece, but the final cue comes from me. It's more like the way people situate themselves in time."
The original idea for the piece, Colpitts said, was "to have the drum-set players never have a repeating time signature.. Now it's more like I want the drummers to be playing strict patterns that may be longer or shorter each phrase… The improvisation is more about the phrase length."
Colpitts left Lakeville, a village situated in the Litchfield County town of Salisbury, after high school to attend Middlebury University in Vermont. Upon graduation, he landed a job at NYC's fabled Knitting Factory, a downtown club, booking tours for John Zorn, Thomas Chapin, William Hooker, Charles Gayle and Rashied Ali. He eventually hooked up with the other members of Oneida in Brooklyn and started making records for Jagjaguwar, an independent label.
In New York, Colpitts gained a new appreciation for Connecticut's experimental music scene; befriending and playing with freak-folk artist Gary Higgins and Simeon Coxe III, of the group Silver Apples of the Moon, who lived in Falls Village.
Colpitts and So Percussion have performed "Ryonen" only twice before, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and forward-thinking NYC club Le Poisson Rouge. "That's the only time that So and I have played together," Colpitts said, "just those two gigs. So it's a pretty cool thing, it's a rare thing." In the past, Man Forever's changed depending where Colpitts performed: past participants include Yo La Tengo's James McNew, Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio and Greg Fox, the former Liturgy drummer. "It was like a band, but then [in] each town I'd have a couple of people join," he said.
Colpitts eventually lost faith in that arrangement. "I was not feeling super thrilled with certain performances," he said. "I'd show up and who knows what would happen… And it was great. I met so many musicians, and that was a really fun element of it. But I thought, 'Okay, I need to play the drum set, and I think I need to have a band… So I kind of used that as a jumping-off point for the new pieces."
For the duration of "The Clear Realization," Colpitts plays 16th notes on the kick drum. That's not easy. Think of it like playing a slow drum roll using only one foot. "It's like there's a bit of a physical problem," he said. "You have to climb this mountain." The listener, meanwhile, experiences "different auditory elements you can clue into… It's like the flow of a river."
So Percussion's credits, meanwhile, read like a who's who of contemporary artists and composers — Steve Reich, David Lang, Paul Lansky, Steven Mackey, Fred Frith, Arvo Pärt, Medeski Martin & Wood, Dan Deacon, the Dirty Projectors, on and on — and the second half of "Ryonen" summons their group virtuosity. "I was thinking, 'Okay, I'm gonna work with So Percussion, and these guys can play anything that I write,'" Colpitts said. "I don't need to worry about technical problems, so let me just see what kind of weird types of rhythmic complexities and issues I can explore here."
While the album version gives a sense of the experience — somewhere between meditation and wooden roller-coaster ride — it's no match for what will happen live.
"It's meant to be immersive," Colpitts said. "But I don't know what's going to happen."
MAN FOREVER WITH SO PERCUSSION perform on Sunday, July 6 at Hygienic Art Park in New London. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. Information: hygienic.org.