GreyWing Ensemble: Tokyo Sound Space Ark

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.