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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Eduardo Cossio

‘Interior Echo’ by Piñata Percussion, Fremantle Arts Centre

Andrew Ryan

Photographer: Olivia Davies

Photographer: Olivia Davies

Music and space share an interesting relationship. Musicians ‘play the room’ by using its acoustic properties or by adapting to its deficiencies. Space may also evoke an emotional response or reflexion in the listener—the Western Australian pianist Ross Bolleter performs outdoor concerts in the outback, playing on ruined pianos as a way of connecting with the land and its history. ‘Interior Echo’ by Piñata Percussion presented a similar concept with performances in various spaces inside the Fremantle Arts Centre. The program consisted of works by Australian composers, adding a relevant perspective.

The concert starts in the inner courtyard with ‘Popular Contexts Vol. 6’ by Matthew Shlomowitz (b. 1975). Performed by Euphina Yap on marimba, Jackson Vickery on drums, and Jet Kye-Chong on sampler, the piece is a satirical take on music clichés with sections of 80’s pop, free jazz, classical atonality, and funk arranged in a collage-like manner. Chong injects a tongue in cheek attitude by adding slap bass to the rock drumming of Vickery, or by interjecting synth-pop riffs in the virtuoso runs of Euphina Yap. The playful humour continues as the musicians ‘compete’ with each other, and push for greater displays of dexterity.

After a short introduction from Louis Devenish, the ensemble’s music director, we enter one of the main galleries for ‘Dijilile’ by Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014). This is a landscape-inspired piece that quotes a traditional song from Anherm Land (Djilile means “Whistling duck on the billabong”). Weather effects are recreated with a rain stick and thunder sheet, and a mournful melody is stated in the marimbas as a vibraphone adds counter-rhythms to hypnotic effect. Unfortunately, the high ceilings and bare walls of the gallery create a reverberant sound that tampers with the clean orchestration.

After the pensive ‘Dijilile’, we are lead into a small room for Rebecca Lloyd-Jones’s ‘Bricolage’, a fast EDM-influenced piece that sees the musicians play an array of percussion and found objects. Quirky melodies played on the melodica stand out from the vibrant clang. The ensemble is buoyant in the groove-oriented work—playing overlapping lines, adding variations, and accelerating during the call-and-response sections. These loose leanings continue in ‘No rest from the dance’ by Michael Askill (b.1955), this time with African and Latin American styles.

We enter a dimly lit studio for ‘Love Letter’ by the Perth-born Liza Lim (b. 1966). Lim is known for exacting scores that explore intricate instrumental timbres, but ‘Love Letter’ is an unusual piece in her canon, being more in spirit with the indeterminate works of John Cage. The score is a series of written instructions whose realisation is entirely dependent on the performer. Featuring Jackson Vickery on hand drum, the musician introduces rhythmical patterns, but it is the subtle exploration of timbre that I find fascinating: the elongated pauses that add tension or the vocal sounds obtained by applying pressure on the drum’s skin—these gestures are suffused with longing. Vickery’s rendition is informed by the solemn style of Liza Lim, but also by a more personal zest.

The closing number is by Erik Griswold (b.1969), whose refined blend of jazz, minimalism and idiosyncratic sonorities are at the fore in ‘Action Music’. The audience returns to the inner courtyard where the full ensemble plays behind a barrage of instruments, toys, and kitchen utensils. Sharp rhythmical sections are contrasted with freer ones in which the group explores rarefied moods and textures.

Praise goes to the musicians’ impeccable presentation and the aplomb with which Louise Devenish advocates contemporary music in Perth. Personally, I found the concert thought-provoking. The use of Aboriginal instruments and melodies in Western Art Music is a sensitive issue that brings up questions of artistic licence and power relations. Also worth considering is the fact that every work offered insight into generations of Australian composers grappling with personal and national identities, from Sculthorpe’s tribute to land and country, the post-modern pastiche of Shlomowitz, to the questioning of the composer’s role by Liza Lim. ‘Interior Echo’ asked important questions of what it means to perform, program, and write music in contemporary Australia.

 

Keith Tippett Solo Concert

Andrew Ryan

State Theatre of WA, presented by Tura New Music

When Keith Tippett began his career in the late sixties, the British music scene was host to a variety of influences that proved decisive to him: rock musicians were expanding song structures through instrumental virtuosity and epic narratives; the Classical and Jazz avant-garde coalesced into free improvisation; and South African musicians fleeing Apartheid brought their own take to Western styles. Thus Keith Tippett became a ubiquitous figure, recording with King Crimson and members of Soft Machine; playing with South African ex pats Louis Moholo and Harry Miller; and incorporating a “free” aesthetic into his strong compositional outlook.

The pianist was in Perth for Tura New Music’s residency program, which included workshops and performances with local musicians. A solo concert was a rare opportunity to witness Tippett’s individual approach to the piano, with his penchant for folk-like melodies and whimsical explorations of timbre.

The concert was a summation of his style delivered in a through-composed manner, a classical suite exploring specific ideas with tight focus, whether it was the timbre effects on the prepared piano or the lyrical passages that revealed an inspired melodic sense, the pianist favored intent and clarity over the “process” approach of a freely improvised set. He juggled themes and variations building a mosaic of pastiche styles, at one point quoting the stamping chords from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”; and at another, making use of Blues inflections and embellishments. Tippett’s engagement with tradition was creative and playful, and yielded unexpected turns as the concert progressed.

Similarly, the prepared piano was used as an extension of his personal style, but unlike the preparations of John Cage which are fixed by the use of bolts and screws, Tippett’s approach is more flexible. He applies objects that can be easily moved inside the instrument, some of which have personal significance, like his children’s toys, gifts from friends or objects acquired in travels. A smooth pebble over the strings creates an oscillation in pitch when rocked; plastic toys and wood blocks rattle to produce sounds akin to modulation effects; and a pellet drum, also known as “Den-den daiko”, is struck against the high strings to mimic a sped-up ragtime tune.

His Dickensian sartorial style and predilection for musical boxes reinforced an air of old world quaintness, at one point he wound-up three of them for a polytonal effect: “Amazing grace”, Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s theme” and Elvis Presley’s “Love me tender” were harmonized at will, following one or the other like a toss juggling act. At times, he seemed to channel the travelling minstrel figure, presenting scenes of whimsy to the crowd; for despite his uncompromising practice, the pianist was always generous and mindful of his audience.
There were stylistic traits that hark back to the late sixties, like the overt emotionalism of the music or the clamoring, ascending gestures that evoke spiritual longing. But present as well were references of a more personal nature, the musical boxes served to convey the nostalgia of a goodbye: “this may be my last visit to Perth” the pianist confided after the concert. Tippett’s shuffling of episodes displayed an elegant knack for pace and form, but what struck the most was his ability to integrate different styles in resourceful, very personal ways. 

 

Interview with Zubin Kanga

Andrew Ryan

Zubin Kanga was in Perth touring “Cyborg Pianist”, a new program of multi-media works commissioned to Australian and European composers. I caught up with him at the WA Academy of Performing Arts where he had been rehearsing John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” for upcoming shows over east. The pianist spoke with the same intensity present in his performances, and seemed energized by various artistic projects as well as his current research at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

A big part of your practice involves collaborating with contemporary composers, commissioning works from young and established ones alike. What kind of relationship develops between you and the composers you work with?

This was the subject of my PhD actually, I looked at whether there is a difference in working with someone who is younger or a more senior composer. But I found that composers of similar seniority and standing had very diverse approaches. George Benjamin, for example, is someone who is very precise about what he notates and the workshops focus on all those details, while Michael Finnissy is very much about drawing the performer into the notation, leaving dynamics and articulations off the score and saying “I want you to show me whether it’s forte or piano”. So it was more about the attitude of the composer rather than seniority, and both these approaches by these composers to the workshop were well tailored to complement their scores.  There were other similar explorations of factors that affect the collaborative process: when using graphic notation the relationship changes, because you need to talk about what are you going to do; or if you are working with technology, the technology takes so much of your focus. The most interesting collaborations are the ones you develop over several commissions. You develop a common language and composers get to know what you like to do, what are good at and what you enjoy doing on stage.

On the subject of graphic notation, you have performed David Young’s “Not Music Yet” a piece whose score is an abstract watercolor painting. What possibilities do you find in graphic notation compared to traditional notation?

Graphic notation is in a way an old movement dating back at least to the graphic scores of John Cage in the fifties, when it was in vogue. But now composers are coming back and reassessing it. David Young produces notation as a watercolor painting that is much more free and performative in itself than those older printed scores, but he is very specific in the realization. You play each color in turn – the black, then white, then blue – the pitch is specific as well as the duration, as you either have a 7 minute version or a 42 minute version. So there is an interesting tension between the loose character of the painting and the strictness of the instructions. From those experiments new types of notation are emerging, Aaron Cassidy writes tablature lines specifying every parameter of performance, like the angle of the bow or the position of each finger. New approaches to notation allow these new ways of choreographing the musician or drawing a different type of performance out of them.     

Choreography is an interesting term for it. Your current tour “Cyborg Pianist” explores extending the piano as an instrument but also the extending the body of the performer. When did you become interested in more theatrical practices?

When I went to London, one of my teachers was Rolf Hind, who has been a major figure in the UK, he has always had this interesting left-field side to what he does. He worked with major figures George Benjamin and Olivier Messiaen, but his first record deal was with Factory Records, which was at the centre of the 80’s British eighties alternative music scene with bands like Joy Division. He released two albums with them, played Ligeti at clubs and worked with contemporary dance groups so he was working outside of the classical scene from very early on. He showed me pieces where he uses movement and extended techniques inside the piano such as his own work “Towers of Silence”, and there is a certain choreography to how you do that, moving to play inside the piano and back to the keyboard in an elegant way. There were also works like Claudia Molitor’s “Tango” which had explicit choreography, performing yoga moves around and on the piano. So playing the repertoire that was written for him I began to think about the visual aspect of performance, because music is not a just sonic medium, it is an audio-visual medium.

A few of the works in Cyborg Pianist, like Johannes Kreidler’s “Study for piano, electronics and video” and Adam de la Cour’s “Transplant, the movie!”, are parodies on music and culture . Can you expand on the concepts these works explore?

There has always been theatrical and absurdist music since the sixties and seventies, but in the last ten years there has developed this new scene, particularly in the UK, Denmark, Germany some other pockets around Europe. Composer Jennifer Walsh wrote an article recently, calling it the “New Discipline” and named Matthew Shlomowitz, Kreidler, Simon Steen-Andersen and others as composers in a kind of new scene or genre drawing on diverse influences like film, video art, stand-up comedy, the internet and pop culture. In this recital, Adam de la Cour is commenting on the piano tradition while a horror movie is shown on screen; while Kreidler explores the idea of being overwhelmed by multiple TV screens where there is so much happening at once but at the same time everything on the screens is so similar. And Neil Luck draws on B-movie sci-fi influences in his work about mutant pianists of the future. It is an interesting scene and an important new development in Europe, and I wanted to bring some of that repertoire to Australia as it hasn’t been seen here that much. 

Michael Finnissy wrote a piece for you titled Z/K, what can you tell us about this work?

Z/K is a portrait of the history of the symphony and also portrait of me as well. It takes as a model an early symphony by Sammartini who was one of the first symphonic writers in the early 18th century; and then uses material that is sort of Second Viennese school, like Berg and Mahler, and constantly transitioning between those two. It’s a very different approach to the referencing of older canonical works in the works I’m playing on this tour by Kreidler, Ricketson, Whale, and de la Cour, but what all these composers have in common is that they are commenting on the past as a way of looking forward to the future.

 www.zubinkanga.com

www.facebook.com/ZubinKangaPiano

https://www.youtube.com/user/zubink1

 

 

Interview with Pedro Alvarez

Andrew Ryan

Pedro Alvarez is a Perth-based composer active in contemporary art music, free improvisation, sound installation and collaborations with dance and video artists. I caught up with him last week to ask about his musical influences and current projects.

 When people think about Latin American composers the names of Hector Villa Lobos, Alberto Ginastera and Carlos Chavez come to mind. They were active around the first half of the 20th century, what other figures have emerged since then? 

 I don’t feel fully qualified to give an insight of music in Latin America because I have been away for many years. That said, Julio Estrada in Mexico has been an interesting figure for many decades. He was a student of Xenakis so his works depart from there, but he has achieved a very original approach of his own. Personally, though, geographical labels make little sense to me. Take Xenakis; born in Romania, identified himself as Greek and made his whole career as a composer based in France. Art is fluid and so are artists. I’m suspicious of strong nationalistic identities pervading an artists’ work. Haydn, Beethoven or Schumann are more present in my musical background than any composer who happened to be born in the same country or region as myself.

That is interesting, composers like Schuman and Beethoven wrote with a strong narrative sense, sometimes including extra musical or programmatic elements in their music. But your work seems to explore different aesthetics, with a focus on “static situations as objects of contemplation” and “music in a state of being rather than of becoming”. 

I like to think music not so much as a story that you tell but rather a window that you open, where the listener can have a glimpse outside, get fresh air and aromas, see the landscape, observe it and then move on. I remember a beautiful quote by writer Roberto Bolaño, who was asked in an interview “How would you like your readers to remember you?”, he responded: “Each person owns their own memories and I have no influence over them, but if anything, I would like to be remembered as someone who opened windows and doors, and then disappeared.”

Can you share any formative experience or influences in your decision to become a composer?

I never really decided to ‘become a composer’. I just wanted to make music, and after flirting with many instruments and engaging with different musical traditions for years, I found myself increasingly focused on music composition. As a teenager I was fascinated by the music of Sibelius, but also with Charlie Parker, Zakir Hussain or Camarón. Along the years I’ve happened to find in Western art music a fertile field, open enough to find new forms of sensing and thinking music. I’m more concerned with making music –be it composed or improvised– than with ‘being a composer.’

You have studied with Australian composer Liza Lim, one of the most well regarded figures in contemporary music. Can you tell us about that experience? 

Liza has been a hugely inspiring and supportive figure to me, and I was lucky that she supervised my PhD. I met her the first time I went to the Darmstadt summer courses, but I already knew and admired her work. I was living in London and was a regular at Elision Ensemble’s concerts back then, which fortunately happened quite often. The freshness of the music they presented, and the energy they conveyed on stage simply fascinated me; especially in Liza’s music, both daring and highly refined.

You did a PhD at the University of Huddersfield, which seems to be the centre of new music at the moment, what is the environment there like?

For some strange reason this town in northern England has attracted a lot of very interesting minds from around the world. The fact that Huddersfield hosts the biggest international New Music festival in the UK, the HCMF, is another contributing factor. It is also interesting how different generations of students have had different orientations in terms of aesthetic goals and what they are looking for in music. There’s no one “Huddersfield school” but a very interesting mix of different artistic personalities –both staff and students– that have converged there over recent years. 

Your piece “Etude Oblique I” got premiered at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. It is a very beautiful work with novel instrumental sonorities, I felt like I had no point of reference when listening to them...

This is a piece I wrote 10 years ago and for different reasons it never got premiered until a couple of weeks ago in this amazing festival that takes place in Bendigo. During these ten years I had the chance of making extensive revisions, not so much in the sounding result but in the way I notate the ideas. I tried to think about the string quartet as an open set of possibilities within which to build my own imaginary instruments. This allowed me to devise the form as a space to be explored rather than a narrative to be followed. I am fascinated by the idea of strangeness, odd forms, strange ways of organising sounds, the idea of musical forms that don’t quite work, as well as the metaphor of “space” for sound exploration. I have to be emphatic that in this case it is only a metaphor, because I am not too concerned with sound spatialisation. I mean space as a conceptual ground for imagining music, a field where to project our thoughts. 

You will be presenting a new piece as part of Tura’s Scale Variable series on November 2, what can you tell us about it?

It is a very exciting project organised by Dominik Karski and Dobromila Jaskot, which includes this new piece I’ve just written in collaboration with two incredible Perth musicians: double-bassist Joan Wright and percussionist Louise Devenish, both accomplished new music champions. We have had a few sessions exploring instrumental possibilities, which has been a great opportunity to revise my conception of these two instruments and re-think their possibilities in terms of the roles they can play in what I’m interested in constructing. This piece is called ‘Untitled on Earth’ and is dedicated to Liza Lim on the occasion of her 50th birthday. The concert will also include an older piece of mine, ‘De Mares Imaginados’ for solo flute, as well as music by Karski, Jaskot and Scelsi.

For more information please visit www.pedroalvarez.info/ 

Scattered Experiments: Louise Devenish & James Hullick

Andrew Ryan

Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre

Scattered Experiments is the second instalment in the Scale Variable series run by Tura New Music. The concert saw percussionist Louise Devenish present three new works commissioned to Australian composers, concluding with a solo piece performed by composer James Hullick.
 
“Tone Being” by Cat Hope is a work for Tam-tam and sub woofer that continues her explorations of low frequencies as aural and structural elements in composition. There was a feeling of spontaneity in the way Devenish approached the piece, as if it was her intuition and not the score what guided the realisation. Physical movement, the trajectory of lines and pressure served to elicit a wide variety of timbres: scrapes for a harsh chirring, brushes for a whispering hush and rubber mallets for vocal-like phrases born out of friction against the metal. At intervals during the piece, low frequencies sounded from the subwoofer, spreading across the room like a tremor that the audience felt on limbs and chest. Throughout the performance, Devenish established a restrained tension between the physicality of lines and the elusive rumble of low frequencies.  

Kate Moore’s “Coral Speak, for vibraphone, music boxes and electronics” is an ode and a lament to the Great Barrier Reef that began with rippling chords evoking the exotic underwater landscape, there was a Baroque-like unfolding in the steady quavers that slow down at the end of each phrase, and the sustain pedal created a haze of echoes that followed the music with slight dissonances. But in contrast to the lush first movement, the second movement was characterised by bleakness. The vibraphone bars were dampened and their dryness reinforced by a recording of crisp shell-like sounds, even the way Devenish stood facing the audience once the piece was over had an air of resignation about it.

James Hullick’s “Instrument of the Galactic Interior, for double bass and animated score”, places the double bass in a multi-media setting; the instrument was prepared with triangles, sticks and chains hanging over its soundboard like toys on a crib. An animated score was projected featuring celestial bodies courtesy of artist Milica Stanojlovic (aka ZZAA), and an accompanying track played granular and spectral figures along with more melodic synth lines. Unfortunately the track’s loud mix and overwhelming visuals robbed attention from Devenish, whose approach to the acoustic instrument was subtle. Perhaps giving the performer more control in interacting with the images and recorded sounds would have changed things. 

Whereas the works of Hope and Moore featured a cogent series of events, Hullick’s “Scatterman” presented a non-linear narrative tied by his solo performance as a delusional artist going through a personal and family crisis. The audience followed Hullick as he talked to himself, gesticulating and staggering around a couch or playing a prepared piano while opening one beer can after another. Before launching into a drunken rendition of Arlen’s “Over The Rainbow”, he addressed the audience to talk about the dead of his mother: “here in Brisbane, at Subiaco beach where she was taken by a crocodile”. The uncouth antics are contrasted by candid images of his family and an undertone of failure pervades the character’s indulgences.  According to the composer, “Scatterman is not a show or a composition”, it is concerned with the self-defeating idea of seeking the perfect life: being the perfect husband, mother, child, society or artist.  

As distancing as his performance might seem, Hullick’s kept the engagement with a well-timed use of sounds, visuals and a strangely heartfelt portrayal of a lost man. It brought to mind the attitude of Fluxus artists who consciously avoided an entertaining or edifying component to their works, rather they sought to bring a stimulus in the audience. The piece certainly invites for reflection on topics such as gender, self-awareness, the composer – audience relationship and artists battling the cultural cringe.

Scattered Experiments was valuable in presenting works that broaden the concert experience and where composer and performer are willing to break away from their traditional roles, inviting the audience to be part of a more equal and open dialogue.

INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE ASHLEY

Andrew Ryan

Catherine Ashley is a tireless proponent of new music for one of the oldest musical instruments. I met her for a chat at the ECU Mt Lawley Campus where she prepares to undertake a Masters Degree.

 You are a musician who has used the harp in a variety of contexts, from playing in a rock band to being part of classical ensembles. Yet you are very invested in the Perth New Music scene, playing with GreyWing Trio and doing solo improvised sets. What attracts you to experimental music practices?

I feel like the time has come for the harp to move in more directions than it has over its history, and a lot of harpists are starting to find these new areas. There has always been a stereotypical image of the harp… classical music, the angels with wings or the folk musician… other instruments have moved into new music and the harp has kind of been left behind. I love breaking away from stereotypes and finding different sounds and different ways to use the instrument, it offers so much potential outside its traditional use.

Who are the contemporary harp players that inspired you?

Zeena Parkins, whom I am doing some research on at the moment, I think she is absolutely phenomenal and a real pioneer. Anne LeBaron has done some exciting things not only with the harp but in composition generally. And of course pop artists like Joanna Newsom who was a huge inspiration for me when I was in high school. Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby are also incredible jazz harpists.

Interesting to note they are all female musicians

The harp tends to drive that, there are predominantly more female artists than male artists and there are different theories as to why that is… Queen Marie Antoinette for example was a harpist, and this drove the ladies of Paris and continental Europe to study the harp. There are many prominent male harpists but it has always been a female dominated world. Which is interesting because you need a considerable amount of strength not just to be able to move the harp, but to be able to play it… finger dexterity, gross motor skills, core strength… there is a lot of strength involved in playing this instrument.

Does your classical background and technique inform your approach to improvisation?

I feel very lucky to have had a classical background. My harp teacher (Anthony Maydwell) was very picky about technique, he also encouraged me to explore various modernist works from the early 20th century and that propelled the way in which I improvise. I guess not consciously but I do use some of those ideas and idioms in my own work.

Recently you joined violinist and composer Jon Rose at TURA’s annual regional residency in the Dampier Peninsula, visiting the communities of Lombadina and Djarindjin. How was the experience of working with him and collaborating with the local people?

To start with Jon Rose, he is an incredible musician and I feel so lucky to have spent those few days with him. He is very generous with his time and advice, we had many long chats about his and my own work, we discussed different music philosophies… it was a wonderful experience to work with him.

I feel like working in those remote communities has been one of the top experiences of my life. I had never been to the top end of our country… the people we met were just incredible, the kids are eager for this cultural interchange that TURA provides, and they were blown away when Jon played for them.

What was the residency about?

The residency was a work by Jon Rose called “Wreck”, an old car wreck is rigged up with metal and things welded on the sides, huge cables suspended over the top and then bowed like a violin, obtaining different pitches and harmonics; the rest of the wreck was used like a drum kit. “Wreck” was then developed into a musical piece involving people from the community, we also had a sampler with sounds of cars being started, doors being slammed… so I was triggering all kinds of samples and beats. There were garish flashing lights and smoke machines that the kids loved every time they went off.

You are a creative artist, an in demand musician and a mother. How do you balance all these different responsibilities?

That is something I ask myself everyday! (laughs) It’s a combination of things; I try to think where do I want to be in a few years and try taking steps towards that each day. I ask myself what is the next right move and it has to include my daughter because my life affects her life and vice versa. It’s a lot of juggling… a lot of time management, sometimes not enough sleep, a lot of driving around madly doing things until late at night. But we push through and everything is a new experience that guides the next experience.

Going from the personal to the wider community, how do you find Perth as a place to make music?

In some ways Perth is a wonderful place because we are very concentrated in the musicians that we have, being isolated makes a breeding ground for creating without being overly influenced by external things. But we also loose so many creative artists that feel there are not many opportunities here. I am often blown away by the quality of music we have in Perth, and people from around the world often comment on that.

In your teaching practice, what do you as aspire to instill in your students?

That is a complex question (laughs), like most teachers I want them to love music, I want them to love playing the harp, not necessarily to become a professional musician but simply to love having the harp in their lives. I like to challenge my students to explore different music, to be aware of the things the harp is capable of, the different styles in which you can play. I want them to be very aware of the harp community; I was one of the initiators of the WA Harp Society, I organize harp camps and run the WA Harp Centre, selling music and strings, things which were almost impossible to find in Perth before. I try to get my kids engaged not just in the technical aspect of music but in the wider context of the community.

What projects do you have at the moment?

The main project is getting ahead with my research, I am looking at harpists that are both performers and composers and how they incorporate interactive electronics in their works. I'm also playing at TURA's Scale Variable “Soundstorm” concert on the 2nd of November at the State Theatre; running harp workshops and master classes in Albany at the end of October, and playing in Shark Bay mid-October as part of the 400th anniversary of Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog landing in WA. I have also been commissioned to write and perform a harp concerto with Decibel Ensemble in September next year.

Find out more about Catherine and her upcoming projects on Catherine Ashley – Harpist: https://www.facebook.com/catherineashleyharpist
 

WANMA Series: Stuart James and Louise Devenish, State Library of WA

Andrew Ryan

The Western Australian New Music Archive is an ongoing project that collects the work of WA composers and performers. In partnership with the State Library, it curates a series of lunchtime concerts that present library patrons with music in an informal setting. The July concert closed a cycle of performances focused on New Music, a loose term that refers to western art music and its intersection with contemporary practices. Stuart James’ “Kinabuhi | Kamatayon for Reyong and Bonang Gamelan and electronics” is a good example of this confluence with its reference to non-western traditions, its notated score and use of technology. The work was commissioned by percussionist Louis Devenish and premiered at the Astor Theater in 2015.

Their set began with a short improvisation featuring snare and electronic processing, Devenish played rhythmical figures using minuscule, insect-like gestures followed by sustained scrapings, microphones picked up on these textures expanding and amplifying their timbres while serving as sounding board to her probing lead. James and Devenish explore a different kind of performance, one in which a soloist interacts with the ineffable world of electronics, this practice gives new identity to traditional instruments, encourages new settings for performance and extends the range of instrumental techniques.

The Gamelan has attracted many 20th century western composers, the most notable being Claude Debussy who found in the lack of a definite tonal center an incentive to break away from traditional harmony; later, Lou Harrison and John Cage referenced Gamelan in works that sought an alternative to the equal tempered system. But in expanding the sound palette available to composers, no approach has been as influential as the use of technology.

All of these strands are present in “Kinabuhi | Kamatayon”, a work whose main concept is the compression and rarefaction of time through different time scales. This refers to the use of different rhythmic durations to affect our perception of time; in the words of the composer, the piece is also “a celebration of life and death”. These ideas are at the heart of Gamelan, where gongs are tuned with slight pitch variations that create an auditory effect known as “beating”, the fluttering in volume that results from frequencies interfering with each other. The word “Ombal” (wave) is used as an analogy to describe the beating of the heart, the breath of the life, the expansion and compression of the lungs.

In “Kinabuhi | Kamatayon”, a selection of gongs are laid on a table and microphones placed around for electronic processing. Devenish began by scraping the rim of a gong with a stick, eliciting a soft chirring that was followed by a full strike on a bonang, this gesture was repeated a few times to an incantatory effect. The world of percussion is kindred to theatre and Devenish has explored this intersection in her own practice; she assumed a ceremonial port for moulding sounds with hands and arms, directing them towards the audience or using them as the impulse for her next action.

The first of section of “Kinabuhi | Kamatayon” focuses on the natural tremolo produced by gongs, a mortuary character settles in as their ringing start, sustain and decay. The second movement is rhythmical and ceaseless with motion, textures are thickened by the use of looping, creating the impression of a big ensemble. The third movement treats rhythm in a more flexible way, with the electronics spinning out delicate strands that evoke the fall of droplets in a cavern. The pace then quickens with polyphonic layers and the slightly out of tune pitches that enrich their timbres. It all comes to a halt during the coda, where Devenish’ slowed down gestures mark rhythm as a supple element. 

Once the piece was over, its rarefied effect lingered among the audience for a short time before other sounds appeared: the wind pushing at the library entrance and voices talking.

 

 

 

GreyWing Ensemble: Tokyo Sound Space Ark

Andrew Ryan

GreyWing Ensemble: Tokyo Sound Space Ark

WAAPA Music Auditorium

GreyWing: Lindsay Vickery: Clarinet / Catherine Ashley: Harp / Jameson Feakes: Guitar / Paul Tanner: Percussion / Kirsten Smith: Flute / Kevin Penkin: Piano

Tokyo Sound Space Ark was the name of an ensemble whose collaboration with Toru Takemitsu in the seventies championed the music of young Japanese composers. In a similar fashion, the GreyWing Ensemble asked Western Australian composers to respond to the legacy of Takemitsu and Joji Yuasa in works that explore sound as evocative of space.

Yuasa’s A Winter Day: Homage to Basho (1983) for flute, clarinet, percussion, harp and piano, is part of a series of chamber works inspired by the Haiku master; the impressionistic music consists of fragmentary gestures that create a rarefied atmosphere, one in which time seems to stretch or contract along different rhythmic durations. The ensemble was self-assured in interplay and their sensitivity to timbre was effective in recreating the elusive world of Yuasa, a composer whose fleeting musical language seems more focused in the present moment rather than on sequential structures.

Tints Of July (2011) by Haruka Hirayama was one of two works in the program to employ electronics, a nod to the legacy Yuasa and Takemitsu who in 1951 founded Jikken Kobo (The Experimental Workshop), a collective of artists that pioneered the use of tape and multi-media projects in Japan. Performed by Kirsten Smith on flute, Jameson Feakes on acoustic guitar and Lindsay Vickery on max/msp processing, this is a lyrical work that nonetheless treats acoustic instruments to washes of delay and modulations. The performance is interactive in that the players react to their own sounds fed back to them with dramatic changes. Smith and Feakes balanced well the integrity of the acoustic playing with a more abandoned response to the electronics.

Kevin Penkin’s “Throughtones” (2016) was led by a flute melody that reappears throughout; harp, piano and marimba function as a unit that punctuates with rhythmical stabs or filigree runs the wistful theme. The composer used a predetermined series of pitches as a way of disguising tonality, yet his way of phrasing the melodic lines and making them intersect with rhythms is informed by a traditional practice that made the music accessible. Penkin currently resides in the UK where he has built a career writing for film and video games.

Josten Myburgh’s “Mechanical Falls from the Sky” (2016) for piano, snare drum, sustaining instruments and electronics had the austerity consistent with the composer’s style, yet every work sheds a new light on his reductionist aesthetic. Piercing sine tones, drones at low volume and white noise gave the music an icy quality; the daring piece affected the audience’s sense of time with its slow evolving, Myburgh’s (and the performers’) attention seemed to be directed at space and time, not as mere props for music to happen, but as the elements of importance.

Rebecca Erin Smith’s “Femme” (2016) for flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, piano and guitar, made deft use of the ensemble in a work exploring female identity and sexuality, the music was accompanied by a projection of five black and white photographs by Kaori Iwasaki. Smith’s driving style was a departure from the non-metrical pieces in the program, the clear orchestration revels in the sensuality of patterns and in the journey-like progression of lines. With its celebratory and assertive manner, “Femme” seemed to channel the human body: soft thuds on the bass drum, breaths and the sound of hands rubbing were used to striking effect.

Lindsay Vickery’s “Tokyo Avian Sound Ark” (2016) was performed by Catherine Ashley on harp, Jameson Feakes on electric guitar and the composer himself on clarinet. The work continues with Vickery’s practice of using field recording as a springboard for compositional structures. To create the score, a spectrogram of bird calls was used to establish pitch and rhythmic contours; the result was a sort of scintillating “night music”, with the musicians playing against the background of bird noises and maintaining a subtle balance in which no sound prevailed above the others. “Tokyo Avian Sound Ark” and “Tints of July” are two examples of music calling for a different listening environment, one that accommodates for surround systems or multi-media arrangements. The WAPA Music Auditorium, with its rigid and hierarchical seating arrangement, unfortunately did not serve these immersive works that well.

The last piece in the concert was “Rain Spell” (1982) by Toru Takemitsu, a composition that showcases the composer’s mastery of instrumental colour and the avant-garde techniques that influenced him early in his career. The work explores the concept of “oto no nagare” (stream tone) or the fluidity among different states; this was manifested in sections of free interplay lacking in clear meter and use of quarter-tones that made pitch a flowing item. GreyWing Ensemble chose a slow pace to convey the journey of water, the guiding image behind the piece. “Rain Spell” was also a summation of the music heard in the concert with its evocation of the outside world through a personal prism.

GreyWing Ensemble is known for presenting works with pointed social commentary, and though none of the pieces was overt in this regard, by performing works of non-European composers, championing female artists and commissioning new music from Western Australian composers, their bold programming is a positive shift in the Perth concert scene.

 

WA Youth Orchestra: “Romantic Rachmaninov”, Perth Concert Hall

Andrew Ryan

Under the title “Romantic Rachmaninov”, the WA Youth Orchestra presented works by Elgar, Rachmaninov and a new piece commissioned to Perth composer Rebecca Erin Smith. The Orchestra provides young musicians with the opportunity to work under the guidance of world-class educators and on this occasion, Tze Law Chan served as their conductor.

“Cockaigne (In London Town)” written by Edward Elgar in 1901, is an overture that evokes the city of London at the turn of the century, its themes provide plenty of interaction for the instrumental sections, racing the listener through a remembered city landscape where every sight and sound seeks to be captured. Tze Law Chan balanced the light-hearted mood of the work with the wistfulness that pervades it, bringing out the overlapping themes with forcefulness and poised phrasing.

“Cockaigne” also set the tone for the concert, with works that dealt with loss and the passing of time, but while Elgar does so with nostalgia, “Murakami’s well” by Rebecca Erin Smith is an expression of grief for the loss of loved ones. The premier of this new work was highly anticipated, Smith is WAYO ex-alumni and has gone to build an impressive career studying at the Manhattan School of Music and presenting works locally and abroad.

It begins with the low strings coaxing the woodwinds into action, perhaps a nod to the start of Rachmaninoff’s second symphony; but soon the work takes another direction, moving away from the push and pull of harmony so characteristic of Romantic music, emphasizing instead self-contained gestures that express an almost physical pain. An austere brass-fanfare leads one of the sections but it is the percussion that drives the work, providing the rhythmic backbone for the impressionistic orchestration; despite the grief that inspired it, “Murakami’s Well” contains hopeful passages where the melodies lighten up with dance-like rhythms that bring Ravel to mind. Smith’s self-assured handling of instrumental timbres, combined with a focused narrative make the piece sit well in a program of Romantic music; at the same time the lean, sharp style is more in line with the legacy of Minimalism, which validated a lyrical bent on contemporary composers.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, a work that was first premiered in 1908 and remains one of the composer’s undisputed masterpieces. It brings together his gift for lyrical melodies and opulent orchestration. The long breathed melodies capture the listeners attention as they move forward, rising and falling with a sighing quality while the orchestra broadens the narrative to epic proportions; these melodies seem to drag the past along with them, clinging to it with resigned melancholy and yet, their forward momentum is fatalistic, not defiant as in Beethoven, but full of an aching sensuality.
The Symphony posed challenges to the young orchestra as some passages suffered from shaky intonation, and at times it felt the music was a series of disconnected episodes rather than a unified whole. Their best playing came on the fourth movement, where Tze Law Chan led a taut rendition of the finale.

Concluding the concert was “Tico Tico”, by the Brazilian composer Zequinha de Abreu, this charming Choro written in 1917 served as the encore that enlivened the mood at the Perth Concert Hall, doing away with all solemnity and bringing the focus into the here and now.

Tone List Label Launch

Andrew Ryan

Tone List is a new record label of explorative music and its launch at the 459 Bar had the inclusive vibe the label is building around itself. Founded by Dan O’Connor, Jameson Feakes, Josten Myburgh and Lenny Jacobs, the night was a feature for their own projects with DJ sets in between.

Opening act Breaking Waves was led by composer Josten Myburgh, with Michael Caratti and Ben Stacy (percussion), Jameson Feakes (electric guitar), Dan O'Connor (trumpet), Lindsay Vickery (clarinet), Sage Of Pbbbt (vocals) and the composer himself on laptop. When introducing the ensemble, Myburgh said to the audience: “this piece is very quiet... please do not talk very much or you won’t hear anything”. The musicians played drones at low volume, being quiet happy to blend their sounds with those of the environment, like glasses clinking at the bar or conversations in the adjacent room; it was as if all sounds were acknowledged and embraced. The audience had the interesting experience of listening to them mingle: the quiet wilfulness of the musicians with the quiet randomness of the environment.

Performing off stage and surrounded by a rack of synthesiser, Lana brought an exuberant mood that was in contrast to Octet’s austerity. Her vocal style is languorous and consistent, yet the music puts her voice in a rarefied atmosphere of ever-shifting textures. The crowd warmed up readily to her animated stage persona, with many sitting on the floor or standing close around her.

After a brief change over, the unassuming manner with which guitarist Jameson Feakes and drummer Alex Reid started to play took everyone by surprise, the noisy atmosphere turned to silence as the guitarist probed chords, establishing his lyrical conception and intriguing the audience with sudden pauses. Alex Reid gave his partner ample space before choosing a methodical approach to his instrument, starting with the cymbals and then making his way down to the toms and snare, thickening the textures until the kick sounded with deep rumble. But the musicians deferred release, preferring to focus instead on finesse and intelligent interactions.

Maybe there is a perception that experimental or new music gigs are overly serious events, but the atmosphere at the 459 was casual and relaxed. Producer A. R Jones got it right with a DJ set that supported the growing conversations among punters; but those who paid attention were treated to the hyper-active pace of his tracks: one not so much listens to A. R. Jones as to chases his lead ahead.

“In / Ex” is the first release of the new label and consists of solo improvisations by trumpet player Dan O’Connor. The artist uses restraint as a springboard for creativity, with single breaths giving shape to his solo improvisations. O’Connor’s set reminded me of a quote by Derek Bailey about how improvisation may have been the first music done by humans; there was something awe-inspiring in hearing him etch his sounds against the silence. Uncommon as his practice is, the audience felt connected and identified with what he was doing.

A set by Lana and Hayden was interrupted constantly by the next act setting up on stage, it was distracting to those who wanted to listen, and I imagine to the performers too. But nevertheless, they brought a misunderstood delicacy to the venue. Hayden’s warm guitar swells and Lana’s bold electronics blended with gentleness and sensitivity for each other. The pair is into something very rewarding and I hope to see more of this project.

Lenny Jacob’s Spookhouse was the opposite to his Tone List partners: If Myburgh embraced the environment for performance, Spookhouse stamped out any sound that wasn’t theirs; if O’Connor sculpted with noise, Spookhouse’s scale of noise was too big to handle; if Jameson and Reid were cool headed and composed, Spookhouse couldn’t contain their explosive nature for too long. Featuring Jacobs on drums, Djuna Lee on double bass, James van de Ven on trombone, and guitarists Dom Barrett, Elliot Frost and Paul Briggs; they were led by Jacobs, who banged so hard on the drums that the white felt of his mallets began to snow on stage. It would be interesting to see how they develop their identity as ensemble, the unique instrumentation and musicianship is an asset, yet some of the finer instrumental textures were lost once the volume got up.

The night was bookended by DJ sets from FRIENDSFRIENDSFRIENDSFRIENDSFRIENDS; Josten Myburgh’s plunderphonic project of glitchy Hip Hop. Taking samples from obscure recordings, he added his own commentary of piercing sine tones, grating noises and stutters. That a Hip Hop set featured in the already diverse line-up was testimony to Tone Lists’ broad artistic scope.

The label has a young support base and their progressive values encourage an inclusive community, one that welcomes different backgrounds and champions the work of female and LGBTIQ artists. The experimental scene in Perth is in renaissance and the members of Tone List are at the helm, inspiring many with their work and resolute attitude. 

 

 

Review: Club Zho 127

Andrew Ryan

Club Zho is an ongoing series of concerts run by TURA New Music and its latest edition featured Melbourne-based clarinettist Aviva Endean in collaboration with Josten Myburgh, solo artist Nathan Thompson and Lee / Jacobs / O’Connor.  

First up was Thompson, who performed on a modular synth built by the artist himself, the instrument included a series of effect pedals, microphones and sensors that responded to Nathan’s actioning. His approach to performance reminded me of the tinkering and soldering composers of the sixties, people like Gordon Mumma and David Behrman who pioneered the use of scratch parts to build their own interactive synthesisers. Like them, Thompson’s focus is on process and spontaneity, he allows sounds the freedom to act on their own while modelling them if he finds something interesting. There is a high level of respect for the intelligence of this machine, forming a two way relationship that is open to the unexpected, like when a radio signal was picked up by one of its sensors. After the set, the artist graciously talked to audience members who wanted to have a closer look at his creation. 

The second set featured Djuna Lee on double bass, Lenny Jacobs on drums and Dan O’Connor on trumpet; musicians who drew on their jazz background as a springboard for a freely improvised set that did away with meter and harmonic structures. The rhythm section worked as a unit, amplifying the minuscule gestures provided by O’Connor; but there was a tension coming from O’Connor’s predilection for non-pitched sounds, and the rhythm section wanting to assume a more functional role. A give and take that saw the trumpet player running through jazz inflected patterns, or pulling Lee and Jacobs into less referential territory. Bassist Djuna Lee weaved her solos around her bandmates, using them as foils to create inventive lines with clarity. Whereas most improvisers prefer spontaneous collaborations, long term projects can have benefits and it would be interesting to see more groups like this in Perth. 

The last set of the night came from local improviser Josten Myburgh and Aviva Endean, a clarinettist and composer based in Melbourne whose visit to Perth included a series of concerts and workshops organised by TURA New Music. Her practice is multi-disciplinary and incorporates installation, video and audience participation. All of these elements offer a considered engagement with sound and an awareness of space. At the same time, Aviva does not shy away from social commentary - a recent work comments on the detachment globalisation and wealthy lifestyles bring about. 

The set started with a strong call of their individual styles, Myburgh is a musician who is forthcoming in his ideas and aesthetics; he used a laptop and a “no input mixer” to create abrasive outbursts of noise and piercing sine waves, contrasting with Aviva’s more pathos-filled sensibility. She possesses a formidable technique that allows her to play idiomatically or to explore the clarinet as a found object, tapping on its amplified body, or clicking on its keys to compliment the electronic glitches of Myburgh. Even her changing of set up was used as performative aid, like when she began to take out the neck of the clarinet, twisting it slowly to obtain screeching sounds. The best of their improv came when both allowed space for each other; towards the end, they had settled into a static zone that enhanced the nuance of their sounds with tranquil interactions. 
 
From the soldering DIY aesthetics of Nathan Thompson, the jazz infused improv style of Lee / Jacobs / O’Connor to the electro-acoustic explorations of Myburgh and Endean; it is interesting to note how improvisation is not tied to a specific genre, but rather results from musicians engaging creatively with sound and the space it inhabits. 

AFTER / BEFORE AT BABUSHKA

Andrew Ryan

AFTER / BEFORE at Babushka featured a collective of artists that turned the venue into a warehouse space, inviting audiences to engage with performances and installation work in different locations.

Guitarist Jameson Feakes started the night with a short acoustic set, by strumming continuously he created drones rich in harmonics, a simple idea that yielded complex results through iteration. His focus on evolving timbres, on sounds that blend, clash or decay merits a longer set. It felt strange once it was over, as if harsh lights had been turned on abruptly.

But by the time Tourist Kid had finished, the atmosphere at Babushka had changed from chamber-like contemplation to a hard-edged club vibe. The local producer has an accomplished technique and a keen sense for contrast; he would focus on a section while a different one played underneath, creating simultaneous points of interest at any given time.

More straight forward was Opium, who seems happier playing in the background, interested in colouring the atmosphere with gentle pads and beats. It made me think of Brian Eno’s idea of music that is unobtrusive yet interesting, and Opium’s set was warm and considered towards the audience.

Those who came early could interact with an installation by Nathan Thompson, it consisted of a video synthesiser taking a live feed of people’s faces on a small screen, unfortunately a malfunction saw it being packed early. Thompson is an artist with an impressive practice and everyone should check out his website for samples of his work.

Impromptu performances by bass clarinetist Shosh Rosenberg and dancer Georgia Page took place in different locations, breaking the rigidity of the stage – seats divide. Their rapport radiated in the crowd and for many, Georgia’s interactions with the audience were the highlight of the night.

Once onstage Steve Paraskos and Ben Stacy meant business, the two brought an uncompromising attitude to music making that felt urgent and alive. Ben Stacy pounded on his drums with fury while Paraskos switched from guitar to sampler gesticulating like a madman. Everything that comes from these two conveys forceful intent, you forget you are listening to music, it transcends the event, the venue, their instruments: it simply cannot be contained because it taps into primal atavisms. Steve Paraskos’ defiant antics seemed to be saying “don’t get too comfortable in your seats people”. ‘

Heard with headphones, the music of Leafy Suburbs evokes an inner space in the listener. Because of this, it was interesting to hear his pristine sounds blended with the grittiness of a live venue. Joining him were the talented Lana on vocals and Alana Macpherson on saxophone, an apt line-up choice for their textural explorations, with Lyndon being the restless counterpart to Lana’s ethereal style, and Alana summing up the singer’s phrasing with rhythmical figures on alto sax. While each offered unique contributions, the interplay felt a bit sluggish during the second half. Yet, the audience was grateful to see musicians in collaboration and making an effort to bring something new.

Bronte Jones’ installation consisted of a black screen with a pulsating white light whose breathing-like glow slowed down if you got closer to it, and accelerated the farther you stood. A reference to the Macbook’s Sleep Indicator Light (SIL), the little LED brought a nurturing feeling in the spectator standing near, yet evoked feelings of distress if you decided to “abandon” it and walk away. Just like with Jameson’s set, this work revealed finer nuances the longer you engaged with it.

AFTER / BEFORE broadened the term “gig” at an established venue like Babushka, with audiences and artists keen to embrace the improvisational unknown of the event. Kudos go to Josten Myburgh for organising the ine up and to CoolPerthNights for allowing creative projects like this to happen.