One of the highlights of the 2012 classical season was August's performance of the John Luther Adams percussion piece Inuksuit, which took place all over the Pritzker Pavilion grounds despite steady rain. Percussionist Doug Perkins masterminded the concert (as well as a New York performance in February), and it was an auspicious sign for him: he'd just moved with his family to suburban Glenview, where his wife works as a doctor, to begin an open-ended residency with Eighth Blackbird at the University of Chicago.
Previously Perkins and his family lived in rural New Hampshire while he taught at Dartmouth, but he's no stranger to Chicago. He's played here regularly with the acclaimed So Percussion (which he cofounded in 1999 and left in 2006), in the Meehan/Perkins Duo, and with Eighth Blackbird and International Contemporary Ensemble. "I really fell in love with Chicago," he says. "My wife and I would always talk about how much fun it would be to live here, and I think the opportunity to be in residence with Eighth Blackbird at the U. of C. was the final excuse we needed."
Perkins will take over for Eighth Blackbird's Matthew Duvall at all the group's U. of C. events, but neither he nor the group has any local performances scheduled for the near future. On Tuesday, though, he's releasing his first solo recording, Simple Songs (New Focus), a stunning collection of recent music that includes commissions from Beau Sievers and ICE member Nathan Davis. Some pieces, including Davis's "Simple Songs of Birth and Return" and Tristan Perich's "Momentary Expanse," incorporate electronics; compositions by David Lang and Michael Gordon use dizzyingly complex polymetric patterns. Perkins also has a healthy sense of fun, skipping the usual dry liner notes in favor of a comic by cartoonist Matthew Guerrieri. "I almost never read those booklets, and I sure can't remember one that was fun or memorable," says Perkins. The booklet in Simple Songs explains the works via a time-traveling "Drummer Person" who schools a group of Ottoman janissaries besieging a city—he brings peace with the motto "Percussion not plunder!"