Although the DAMA DAMA Central European Percussion Ensemble was officially formed in 1990, the ideas behind the group reach back as far as 1985, when two of its founding members - Adam Kubíèek and the author (Dan Dlouhý) - began their career in the field of contemporary music as the percussion section of the chamber ensemble Art Inkognito.
At that time, our objective was the same as that of many other percussionists playing in so-called classical music orchestras - to win an equal place among the other musical instruments for what is apparently the oldest group of instruments of all. Therefore, we began to "force" the most varied sonic and performance possibilities of percussion instruments on Art Inkognito's resident composers (Karel Horký - Daniel Forró, Ivo Medek, Zdenìk Plachý and Jaroslav Pokorný), and so the sets of instruments we made use of then began to attain considerable dimensions.
Once we started getting acquainted with the work of percussion ensembles in Western Europe (Kroumata in Sweden) and neighboring countries (Amadinda in Hungary), as well as in this country (the Prague Percussion Ensemble, directed by Vladimír Vlasák), our aim shifted to founding an ensemble of our own, one which would fulfill our musical expectations. This meant using transformed elements and influences from ethnic music and the compositional achievements of contemporary Western classical music, combined with the vitality of rock music. The concerts of contemporary music we were attending back then, both as listeners and as performers of the most diverse compositions, struck us as incredibly dull. (Examples of this are many of the works that were heard at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, the festivals in Mannheim and Dresden, and so on...)
We therefore began to undertake a subtle form of expansion from within at Art Inkognito's concerts - more and more compositions for percussion alone, with an ever greater conceptual and personal aspect. And since the other members of the ensemble were taking an ever smaller role in its work (in other words, for various reasons they gradually ceased to have a role), nobody was bothered by this.
In its final phase, a typical Art Inkognito concert was made up of eight works "purely" for percussion as composed or recomposed by us, one work for solo piano performed by its composer, Ivo Medek, the leader of the ensemble, and one group composition. Given this situation, it seemed entirely logical to change the name of what was originally an eleven-member orchestra, made up of guitar, violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, two percussion players and voice, and create DAMA DAMA, a new, four-member percussion ensemble (together with Josef Blaha and Martin Oprál), in 1990. The basic program was clear: original compositions written by us or by Brno composers (the Brno school of composition centered around the Janáèek Academy of Music seemed to us the most progressive and energetic in Czech music) and leading world composers (Cage, Xenakis, Reich, Minoru Miki and others) for both standard percussion instruments and the special ones made by Adam Kubíèek and myself.
But the group's evolution did not stop there. A further step lay in the effort to go beyond the bounds of the ordinary classical music concert by creating a kind of dramatic-musical program. (At that time Adam Kubíèek was not playing with us - he left at the end of 1991, after the group's victory at the European percussion ensembles competition in Enschede in Holland, and only joined the group again in 1994, appearing in the meantime as a guest performer. He was replaced by Jan Øihák, who remained with the group until the beginning of 1997. Josef Blaha was replaced by Ctibor Bártek in the fall of 1991, and Martin Oprál left the group at the end of 1997.) I had the idea of assembling what were often only parts of different compositions according to their musical quality and form of expression, thus creating a semantic axis for the concert. After this it was an entirely logical step to start making use of theatrical costumes and masks which changed in the course of the concert, as well as theatrical lighting, a number of special instruments and compositions of mine, and stylized movement, in order to underscore this idea.
Despite the uneasiness sometimes shown by members of the musical profession and even certain members of the group, our idea was received positively by the public at the first concert of this type, which we gave in the "Býèí skála" Cave in the Moravian Karst region near Brno in 1993. This concert, organized by the rock group Bratrstvo, enabled us to begin appearing before rock audiences (at rock and alternative music festivals and clubs), as well as at classical music events like the Prague Spring Festival. In 1994 Lenka upková and I founded the CONVERGENCE Duo, a smaller-scale and more theatrical version of the DAMA DAMA ensemble. From here just one more step was needed to fulfill my desire of creating a kind of concert-theater with original music, script, direction, costumes and specially-created instruments, along with sound installations whose visual design was derived from the content of the composition. The result of this came in 1995 with my "Wave Fronts" - "musical-visual journeys between the micro-, macro- and megaworld and the human psyche", a work which was played at the opening concert of the Experimental Music Exposition at the Moravian Autumn International Music Festival in Brno.
Since then there has been "no turning back". For a long time now DAMA DAMA's aim has not been just music for percussion, but music itself (this led to my studying composition at the Janáèek Academy, and may be seen in the frequent use of non-percussion instruments by members of the group, such as piano, synthesizers, guitar, accordion, voice and so on). The semantic aspect is now an essential component of both our concerts and our CD recordings, and is perhaps the most important part of my work as a composer and performer as well (without, of course, neglecting musical quality in any way). The result is a truly interdisciplinary activity with fairly broad ambitions. The author seeks musical means appropriate to the chosen idea and the substance of the work that proceeds from it, if possible with maximum innovation in the parameters of rhythm, tone color, the ordering of pitch, form, etc. He creates or adapts the musical instruments needed in order to realize the work, and either performs or directs the work himself. Finally, having made a conceptually suitable combination of compositions, he makes a compact disc recording with maximum use of existing recording technology.
All this, of course, depends on the formation of a well-functioning team, in which even extra-musical tasks are divided among the individual members of the group. In DAMA DAMA I myself am responsible for organization, composition and concept and the manufacture of musical instruments; Adam Kubíèek, as the author of the documentary portions of some eight visual arts catalogues, handles the visual aspect of the ensemble's work (costumes, scenery, printed and electronic promotional materials); Ctibor Bártek takes care of copying and distributing promotional materials; and Martin Oprál is involved in copying out scores, arranging certain compositions for the group and broadening its repertoire with the works of foreign composers. Besides this, we all take part in writing team compositions. Ctibor and Adam sometimes write a composition of their own, and each of us is to some degree a specialist on a certain percussion instrument: Martin on marimba, Ctibor on jazz percussion, Adam on the body as a musical instrument and on the drum kit, and I myself on my own unusual, handmade instruments.
Despite all the dreams Adam and I have of permanently escaping into transcendence, or else into hedonism (according to our frame of mind and level of exhaustion at any one moment), I hope that we are still only at the beginning of our search for music for both composers and "ordinary listeners", music which is innovative and, at the same time, makes a maximum emotional effect.