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.