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music by design

simon charles: speak percussion & fritz hauser

Simon Charles is the Aphids-RealTime writer in residence, 2008/2009.

IN SPEAK PERCUSSION’S LATEST COLLABORATION WITH FRITZ HAUSER, THE IWAKI AUDITORIUM IS TRANSFORMED FROM ITS USUAL CONCERT SETTING. A SINGLE ROW OF SEATS IS ARRANGED INTO A LARGE SQUARE AND THE LIGHTING RIG IS LOWERED METRES FROM THE FLOOR. TWO PIANOS AND A MULTITUDE OF PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS ARE SPREAD OUT OVER A VAST PERFORMANCE AREA.

The program opens with Small Talk, a work for solo percussion composed and performed by Hauser. Gradually working his way around a table of small objects, he creates a mesmerising presence. The sounds are often simple, yet the intensity of this piece never wane.

For Speak and Unspoken, the centerpiece of the program, Hauser leaves the stage, but remains distinctly present through his composition and direction of Speak Percussion and special guest, pianist Donna Coleman.

Speak and Unspoken evolved from Coleman’s conceptual image of a pianist surrounded by a sea of percussion instruments. It takes the form of a partly structured improvisation. Opening the work, three percussionists play sparse, contrasting rhythms on woodblocks gradually moving from opposing corners of the room to the piano at its centre. Coleman depresses the piano’s pedal, leaving the sound of the woodblock as sympathetic resonance in its strings.

Following an improvisation passage, the piece enters into a structured section, cued by Hauser off-stage through a changed lighting state, illuminating three timpani. The percussionists play rolls with shifting dynamics, while Coleman plays thunderous clusters.

In the final section, performers play consistent pulses at independent tempi, creating a phasing effect. Percussionists move from sounds with short attacks, to sounds gradually becoming longer in resonance, concluding with resonating federation bells.

These ideas serve as departure points for improvised sections. The performers’ approach to improvisation appears to be in reaction to the sounds happening around them. The resulting sound is a complex blend of textures and klangfarbenmelodie [literally “tone-colour-melody”, where a musical line is distributed between several instruments. Eds]

Hauser’s role as composer not only defines these structures, but also facilitates in preparing an improvised dialogue between the players. This is a bold approach to concert music that challenges the conventional relationship between composer and performers.

The spatial arrangement of the instruments requires the players to blend sounds across the room. Coleman, Matthias Shack-Arnott, Eugene Ughetti and Peter Neville demonstrate great finesse in their musical interaction.

Speak and Unspoken represents an aesthetic interest in the arrangement of sounds in space. This is realised effectively not only in a technical sense, but results in a profound and moving experience. Credit must go to the creative partnership of Hauser and architect Boa Baumann, who oversaw the presentation of this work—space and sound were inextricably linked to delicately crafted and refined music.


Donna Coleman and Speak Percussion, Speak & Unspoken, in collaboration with Fritz Hauser and Boa Baumann, Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Centre, Melbourne, Sept 22, www.speakpercussion.com

Simon Charles is the Aphids-RealTime writer in residence, 2008/2009.

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 50

© Simon Charles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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