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Ensemble Offspring concerts are never less than educational and often inspirational. Whirlwind of Time instructively and entertainingly follows on from the ensemble’s 2002 Portrait of Kaija Saariaho (RT 50, p 9), the Finnish composer being one of the inheritors, in part, of ‘spectralism’ from founders, French composers Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey. Spectralism’s sensory focus is on overtones and the waves of their unfolding, inspiring the late Grisey to reflect on the nature of time and the differences between human time and that of other species. The music can sound familiarly mid-20th century modernist but also generates passages of ethereal beauty liberated from fundamentals or achieving strange transcendant harmonies. Occasionally, in its pulsing, it shares certain qualities with a parallel musical movement, minimalism.

For Christopher Tonkin’s IN (2005), Claire Edwardes created myriad resonances from a bass drum using fingers, spit, billiard ball, sticks and wire brush. Rustled against a microphone and then played on the drumskin, the brush yielded a Xenakian human-cum-insect chatter. In this appealing sonic adventure electronic sounds (Tonkin) were triggered by Edwardes and included samples from the drum’s interior as well as a fragmented reading of a Gertrude Stein text. Damien Rickertson’s Ptolemy’s Onion (1998), for string quartet and bass flute, conducted by Roland Peelman, commenced as a high whispering, vibrating reverie for flute and falsetto violin and moved into glides and shudders before taking a more formal quartet shape, then advancing into a delicate high strung keening, a melancholy cello-ing and a final cooing solo from the flautist on recorder. A commentary on classical conceptions of the relationship between music and cosmology, Rickertson’s richly textured piece is more complex than I can describe here. Gerard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (1994-96) for a small ensemble of strings, flute, clarinet and piano is even more challenging to describe from its almost minimalist beginning (fast arpeggios, pulsing strings) to its subsequent soaring chord mutations, various wave patternings and piano dramatics played to a growling cello. A funereal piano is then joined by the ensemble in a rising gentle wave, an upward ride that is quite hypnotic. A final, sudden high ensemble pulsing leads the way to a quiet end. A magical work, but requiring more than one hearing. Grisey’s not easy to find on CD, but his large scale Les espaces acoustiques (1976-85) is on Accord CD 465 386-2. Rachel Campbell’s program notes for the concert are a valuable guide to the intricacies of these works and should be posted on the ensemble’s website.


Ensemble Offspring, Whirlwind of Time, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, June 24

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 56

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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