|Chris Williams' Il Pleut, Fresh Meat, 2011|
photo Melody Eötvös
the finite, the infinite & the infinitesimal
Melody Eötvös’ string quartet and Annie Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s quartet for clarinet, violin, viola and piano were united by a Bartokian minor-mode lyricism and a rather sad metaphysics. In Olber’s Dance in the Dark based on Olber’s paradox—that the universe could not be infinite as then the night sky would be bright with an infinity of stars—Eötvös’ strident chords of increasing density gradually confirmed the universe’s finitude. A deflating proposition, until the increasing wonder of the chords’ harmonic invention leads one to contemplate the possibilities that are opened up by restriction, in this case the universe of tonal constellations.
|Hui-Hsinn Hsieh’s Towards the Beginning|
Chris Williams’ percussion piece Il Pleut (based on Apollinaire’s poem) builds textures from infinitesimal points of sound. Through a sort of instrumental granular synthesis, washes of attacks build into blocks of sound that shift as the percussionists explore different instrumentation. As an examination of “the tension between the musical finite and infinite,” the piece was most interesting at the threshold between a sound and its parts, when staggered attacks were on train to coalesce or break apart.
Three works on the program looked at the way different instruments altered the same musical material. This idea is very, very old. At least until the advent of electroacoustic music the main way to discuss timbre was with reference to instrumentation. As such, musical ideas have always been subject to instrumental comment, even—I would argue—when instrumentation was not indicated in scores, at which times convention would have dictated the distribution of instrumental resources. It is therefore up to performers or a program to keep such naked exploration interesting.
Timothy Tate’s Departures focuses on sonic analogues between the clarinet, viola and piano. Viola pizzicati are interpreted as clarinet tongue slaps and plucked piano strings while glissandi become runs and arpeggios. With rapid question and answer phrases, the composition reminded me of a slapstick Loony Toons score, though this comic air was not to be found in the performance.
Alex Pozniak’s From the Formless, on the other hand, was hilarious. Favouring superimposition over juxtaposition, From the Formless has a crowded and chaotic texture. Simon Charles, Peter Dumsday and Jonathan Heilbron played up the comical energy of this pandemonium as the instruments, or rather the instrumentalists, simultaneously tried to make the scratchiest, burbliest, quackiest noises possible.
Such compositional devices do not always have to be humorous. Luke Paulding’s quartet for flute, clarinet, double bass and percussion combined juxtaposition and superimposition of timbres in graceful sound poetry. Titled In Her sparkling flesh in saecular ecstasy, the point of the work was not to find sonic analogues, but neighbouring sounds that lead the ear along the curves of a sonic sculpture: to be precise, the sonic sculpture that Paulding draws from Richard Wilbur’s poem “A Baroque Wall Fountain in the Villa Sciarra.” The largely impressionist sonic palette flows and splashes like Wilbur’s fountain: cymbal crashes and an arcing ejaculation from the clarinet release the cascade that rushes through rattling skewers and strikes of the double bass bow on the strings (“flatteries of spray”), shimmering woodwinds (“a clambering mesh of water-lights”) and a truly incontinent “ragged, loose collapse of water” played by all. The work concludes much as it begins, with the somehow obscene burbling of a clarinet mouthpiece in a glass of water.
|Amy Bastow's Never OdD or Even, Fresh Meat, 2011 |
photo Melody Eötvös
Invigorating works that would otherwise lie dormant in computer files, the performers’ commitment deserves special mention. In particular, clarinettist Karen Heath seemed to hold many of the performances together with the gestures and physical intensity proper to performing in small ensembles. The power of the performer was evident not only in the above works, but in the inspired execution of Joseph Twist’s jazzy Le Tombeau de Monk, Mark Wolf’s grotesque Hamarøy Troll, Mark Oliviero’s electro-acoustic memoir Tanox, and Nicole Murphy’s composition for ballet Eve.
Melbourne Recital Centre & New Music Network, Fresh Meat, 2011, composers Amy Bastow, Alex Pozniak, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, Luke Paulding, Timothy Tate, Melody Eötvös, Chris Williams, Nicole Murphy, Anthony Moles, Mark Wolf, Mark Olivero and Joseph Twist; Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, Aug 25
For more on young composers see review of Breaking Out at Totally Huge New Music 2011
RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web
© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org