photo Karen Steains
Though some seemed uncomfortable with this situation—“Oh my god!" the festival director was heard to mutter as muffled grunts and thuds mingled with the first sounds of James Rushford's Go—the sound bleed added an element of indeterminacy to proceedings that was not entirely incongruous with the prevailing aesthetic, though the recording technicians from the ABC could probably have done without the challenge.
Rushford's music conjured an eerie fragility, chirrups, squeaks, tinkles and chimes suggesting the cradle or even the emergent consciousness of the embryo. Utilising the soft hiss of gravel and sand as well as bowls of marbles, the performers busily created a sparse, playful texture, resting only as the swell of a pre-recorded electronica track, drowned the live sounds with menacing imminence—an effect somewhat undercut by the cheering next door.
No such problems with Alex Pozniak's Groove Destruction. Taking its cues from "noise music [and] heavy metal," Pozniak's first piece for percussion aimed to explore the "extroverted" side of the ensemble, the four players attacking a phalanx of un-tuned drums with gusto. Establishing then annihilating rhythmic cycles, the piece moved through phases of instrumental delicacy before allowing the group to indulge an unadulterated joy in hitting things, Timothy Constable becoming so involved in the energy of the music that he inadvertently smashed a cymbal to the floor.
Inspired by Xenakis' Pleiades, Amanda Cole's Intermetallic provided a calming counterbalance. Writing for metallic blocks of ostensibly indeterminate pitch, Cole worked out at what frequency each vibrated, pairing "similarly dissimilar" tones to achieve a shimmering, not-quite-consonant effect. Growing from an almost-pure fifth, the piece seemed suspended in liminal space, redolent with the half-heard, the almost glimpsed. Armed with soft mallets, the performers offered some of their most sensitive playing of the evening, producing a gentle rippling that recalled all the dappled grace of the gamelan.
Synergy upped the energy once more with their own work, The Fives, with Alison Pratt taking a breather while Constable, Bree van Reyk and Joshua Hill returned to the drums. Using various items, including Constable's suit jacket, as dampeners, the piece quickly descended into a Kurtzian nightmare, pounded skins suggesting the brutal certainty of a midnight jungle.
More whimsical, though perhaps less effective was Marcus Whale's Puff, so called because of the composer's instruction that toy harmonicas be breathed through by each performer for the duration of the piece. Gradually evolving patterns were articulated on wood blocks and thick golden cymbals to create an effect not dissimilar to "a year two's birthday party," as Whale drily put it. Although certainly unusual, it was difficult not to breath a sigh of relief once the incessant high-pitched whine of the harmonicas receded into silence once more, leaving nothing but the dull murmurs of ritualised violence next door.
Aurora Festival of Living Music: Synergy Percussion, performers Timothy Constable, Bree van Reyk, Alison Pratt, Joshua Hill; Casula Powerhouse, Sydney, May 5
Oliver Downes is a freelance writer based near Sydney. He is a trained pianist whose interests include music, literature and film. He has recently completed a Masters of Creative Writing through the University of Sydney.
RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. web
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