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pleasures synaesthetic & crystalline

sam gillies: tura 25th anniversary, robin fox, kynan tan, clocked out

Sam Gillies is a Perth-based composer and sound artist. He is one of three presenters on public radio RTRFM’s experimental music program Difficult Listening.

 Kynan Tan, Multiplicity (still) Kynan Tan, Multiplicity (still)
WHEN STRIPPED BACK TO RAW RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN SIGHT AND SOUND, GOOD EXAMPLES OF AUDIO-VISUAL PERFORMANCES CAPTURE AN ALMOST PRIMAL BRUTALISM THAT DIRECTLY STIMULATES THE SENSES THROUGH CAUSAL RELATIONSHIPS.

For Robin Fox the synaesthetic connection between sight and sound is the primary focus of his musical practice, while Kynan Tan has been moving in a similar direction for some time now, with a more distinct, thematic focus that underpins the music/visual relationship. Utilising dual screen projections, Fractal Shale featured an impressive display from two contemporary Australian artists in top form, in the first concert of four celebrating Tura New Music’s 25 Years.

kynan tan

Tan spent much of 2012 expanding his audio-visual language, a process that started with the premiere of Consciousness, the first part in a proposed three-part work that explores ideas of perception, thought and networks. At Fractal Shale, Tan performed the newly created second part of this series. Shifting between familiar touchstones of glitch and noise, Multiplicity is largely constructed from a range of familiar components (the hum of sine waves, the pulses of raw data and a mixture of other sonic elements). The implementation, however, of these elements gives voice to unique compositional structures that alternate between the tightly regimented and expansively freewheeling. Tan manages to shape information and data streams into a thematically satisfying narrative of six works that revolve around human interaction, climaxing impressively with a map of interconnected data hubs from across the world. The high-pitched chatter of these exchanges is masterfully manipulated into a dense labyrinth of texture.

The relationship Tan draws between sight and sound always favours the obtuse, while never being entirely unpredictable. This results in a work that immediately and clearly communicates its ideas while playing with the audience and their perceptual expectations. Ultimately, it is Tan’s ability to play with tension and expectation that makes Multiplicity such an original and engaging work.

robin fox

Robin Fox, New Work for Synchronator Robin Fox, New Work for Synchronator
photo Brad Serls
In New Work for Synchronators, Robin Fox manipulates the red, green and blue layers of video projection through multiple devices known as synchronators, fuelling a work propelled by the pure relationship forged from the conversion of sound energy to light energy. A continuous, half-hour work, the music was primarily derived from simple, raw synthesis that often pushed the boundaries of frequency perception, resulting in pulses of sound and colour. The work evolved slowly through juxtaposition of colour, shape and sound, with ephemeral structures being born from repetition before dissolving into a new state of falling sheets of colour or visuals akin to a broken TV with sound to match. The work was uncompromising yet playful, the exploration of pure synaesthetic relationships between sight and sound, nothing more nothing less, and fiercely unapologetic. On the dual screen setup, Fox’s New Work for Synchronators was a brutalist spectacle at its best, pure unrelenting interaction that slowly wore the audience down through the multitude of differences born of stream of consciousness-like changes.

TURA’s second anniversary concert was a celebration of everything great art should be, powerful and confronting, yet thought-provokingly cerebral at the same time.

clocked out duo

Clocked Out Duo’s premiere of their new work Time Crystals was a fitting end to a concert series that celebrated 25 years of activity from TURA New Music. In a week of performances and concerts that reminisced about TURA-related glories (Club Zho 101) and TURA’s ongoing support for promising young artists (Anniversary Concert #2, Fractal Shale), Clocked Out Duo’s performance belonged to the now. Drawing inspiration from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek’s 2012 article on the proposed existence of time crystals—perpetually moving structures that repeat periodically in the fourth dimension—Time Crystals consists of 13 charmingly minimalist explorations of recurring patterns and crystalline structures.

The musical ground covered by the work is impressive. From the contemporary classical motifs of the opener, “Time Crystals,’ to the jazz-like “Quantum Harmonics” and the rock-and-roll feel of “X-Ray Diffraction,” each work manages to balance its more distinctive sonic elements with cohesive structures that develop the work in exciting and unpredictable directions. This variation ultimately helps Clocked Out Duo retain their unique sense of play and adventure, an approach that helps infuse even their most serious works with a certain approachability that many of their contemporaries lack. Motifs are passed between performers as pitches and rhythms are mimicked, approximated and juxtaposed. While changes to these motifs often shift sharply they never feel out of place or awkward, rather complementing the economical pacing of each movement.

The timbral choices of Erik Griswold’s prepared piano were well made, the product of the composer’s work with the instrument for several years. While some performers of prepared piano simply attempt to create original sounds without thought to the role such sounds play, Griswold’s choices resulted in an extended sound palette of unique textures that shaped the central motifs of each work, while remaining distinct from Vanessa Tomlinson’s sharply articulated and rhythmically accurate percussion.

The more overt treatments of the piano sometimes overshadowed Tomlinson’s subtle handlings of percussion instruments in unconventional ways. These ranged from small microtonal changes elicited from slight manipulations of the drum skin in “Interstitial Defect” to subtle changes in resonance derived from varied bowing positions in “Quantum Harmonics.” Ultimately, however, it was the sixth movement, “Crystal Symmetry,” that allowed Tomlinson to truly exploit these timbral ideas through a constant stream of strikes in varied locations upon different triangles, eliciting memories for me of the subtlety at play in Alvin Lucier’s The Silver Streetcar Of The Orchestra (1988).

The TURA 25th Anniversary concert series celebrated a significant milestone for the organisation while maintaining the high standard of musical programs TURA realises every year. Clocked Out Duo’s Time Crystals was a timeless integration of minimalist ideas with contemporary classical performance style, serving to remind us all that, despite any elitist preconceptions, music of a more esoteric nature can be engaging and fun.


TURA 25th Anniversary Concert 2, Fractal Shale, Robin Fox, Kynan Tan, Dec 1; Concert 4, Time Crystals, Clocked Out Duo, Dec 5, PICA, Perth

Sam Gillies is a Perth-based composer and sound artist. He is one of three presenters on public radio RTRFM’s experimental music program Difficult Listening.

RealTime issue #113 Feb-March 2013 pg. 33

© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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