info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

the drama & dance of xenakis

keith gallasch at an immersive synergy workout


Synergy, Bree van Reyk, Michael Askill, Alison Pratt, Timothy Constable Synergy, Bree van Reyk, Michael Askill, Alison Pratt, Timothy Constable
IANNIS XENAKIS IS REPORTED TO HAVE SAID THAT “TO ESCAPE FROM THE TRIVIAL CYCLE OF RELATIONSHIPS IN MUSIC, THE MUSICIAN, THE ARTIST, MUST BE ABSOLUTELY INDEPENDENT, WHICH MEANS ABSOLUTELY ALONE.” ONE SENSE OF THIS WAS EVIDENT IN THE SHEER DRAMA OF TIMOTHY CONSTABLE’S PERFORMANCE OF THE COMPOSER’S PSAPPHA (1975), A SOLO WHICH, WHILE EXPRESSING NOTHING LITERAL, SUGGESTED MUCH.

CarriageWorks’ Bay 20 is a perfect venue for such percussive theatricality. It’s an acoustically and spatially ideal venue for contemporary instrumental music, offering clarity, limited reverberation and opportunities for maximum expressiveness, realised here in the clear geometry of instrument placement and Neil Simpson’s pools of limpid light and casting of giant performer shadows.

The first half of the concert comprised two mesmerising works by Steve Reich. Six Marimbas [1996] was given great aural depth of field by placing the marimbas in a wedge widening out to the audience in twos. The rear two appear to provide the underlying machinery for the work, while the forward four at different times drop in out of the soundscape, sometimes quietly as Reich’s phasing is magically realised, sometimes dramatically with a loud, precise bell-like entrance. Amazing sounds are generated as if the six marimbas are one instrument, their overtones suggestive first of a deep organ and later of distant carolling bells. Here is work that takes you up with its insistent, contagious complexity.

Drumming [1971] Part 1 for eight tuned bongos is, as Reich intended, never imitative of African music, although inspired by it. There are certainly moments that seem to incidentally evoke that sophisticated percussion tradition; built around a bell pattern, the phasing generating layers of merging sound, create a high collective shimmering rattling and, out of the blue, strange half melodies. Again the staging is potent: a line of bongos at right angle to the audience with three percussionists on each side, the whole in a narrow line of bright light in an othewise darkened space, heightening the sense of musical and physical concentration.

The second part of the concert featured three works from Xenakis: Psappha [1975] and Claviers (Keyboards) and Peaux (Skins), both from Pleiades (1978). After the determined pulsing of Reich, we enter a world of radical changes in tempi and mood, familar to us from romantic and especially modernist idioms, but with their own very special character in the works of Xenakis

In Psappha, Timothy Constable stands amidst his instruments: two large drums, one of them huge on his left, a glockenspiel centre, small metal or wood blocks to his right, and overhead a small set of chimes. With this musical machine Constable performs a wordless dramatic monologue replete with moments of reflection, of passion and suspended actions—hanging over the big drum before belting it mightily and swinging about to tap out its sharp opposite, or breaking into a supple glockenspiel melody, almost oriental in feel, quite counter to larger antagonisms. There’s a compulsiveness and violence about the recurrent strikings that some have suggested reflects the composers experiences of World War II where he fought with the Greek resistance. Psappha is nothing so literal but its existential drama is here amplified by Constable being aptly cast as two huge overlapping shadows on the stony CarriageWorks’ wall. The drama concludes without lingering, with the loud and lone ringing of the small chimes. An ambiguous ending.

If Psappha is drama, Claviers is dance. Conducted by Daryl Pratt it features three vibraphones and two marimbas combining to create a bell-like asynchrony against rippling marimbas, all the instruments high, liquid and sparkling, then dipping into a constantly repeated scaling up until reaching a plateaux again of bell resonances rich in harmonics. There’s a little vibe solo and a return to the collective scaling, all the peformers leaning deeply to their right and darting left in a cohesive dance. Theres a pause and then a fast bright, almost minimalist beat interpolated with gonging overtones leading to a final transcendent humming harmonic, all the players, finally still, holding sticks aloft. Magical.

For Peaux, six players and eight timpani, with smaller instruments tucked in between, are placed in a wide gentle arc and variously played with sticks, as well as hands and pedalling feet. There are moments of complexity and then sudden, propulsive unison riffs. A storm of pummelling is followed by a deep unanimous drum-rolling, broken from and then returned to until the whole is tapped down to silence. Again the work is wonderful to watch, with Constable and guest player Eugene Ughetti ‘dancing’ on the outer ends of the arc to the demands of the scoring. There’s a heightened sense of teamwork all round, the players keeping an eye on each other, signalling, conducting, dextrously moving as one.

This was an impressive concert in every respect, musically complex, dramatically powerful and spatially well conceived, the extended ensemble (guests Eugene Ughetti, Jeremy Barnett) playing with confidence and a sense of exhilaration. The new Synergy (Michael Askill, Timothy Constable, Bree van Reyk, Alison Pratt) looks set to enjoy a great future. Not least, this concert was for many a revelatory introduction to Xenakis as a composer for percussion.

There’ll me more about Synergy in a feature interview in RealTime 86. See also page 51 in this edition.


Synergy Percussion, Xenakis & Reich, CarriageWorks, April23-26.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 48

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

Back to top