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Greg Schiemer, Pocket Gamelan, Tate Britain Gallery, 2011 Greg Schiemer, Pocket Gamelan, Tate Britain Gallery, 2011
photo Don Boustead
SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 2006 UNDER THE DIRECTION OF ITS FOUNDER, COMPOSER MATTHEW HINDSON, THE AURORA FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART MUSIC HAS BECOME A KEY PART OF THE BURGEONING ARTS WORLD OF WESTERN SYDNEY, WHERE IT HAS BEEN PRINCIPALLY PRESENTED IN THE REGION’S FLOURISHING ARTS CENTRES.

Hindson directed three festivals 2006-10, the third playing host to the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) World Music Day yielding an enormous program rich in diversity and invention.

In 2010, composer, arts manager, teacher and co-founder and co-director of Chronology Arts (RT97, p40), Andrew Batt-Rawden, was appointed director of the 2012 Aurora Festival. I spoke with him about his program and its evolution, asking how it felt to be an artistic director. “You get an opportunity to release your creative vision into the world, which is a lot of fun,” he declares with a laugh. “It’s very exciting, also very daunting and there’s a lot of work involved.”

As for the creation of the program, a committee was involved. The 27-year old admits “As a first time festival director, I was keen to surround myself with people I like and whose opinions and musical tastes I trust. We all researched projects and put them on the table. Only a couple of times did I think, no, not that event. It was a collaborative effort.”

I asked how conscious Batt-Rawden was in his programming of keeping in step with the diversity of forms of contemporary art music that take it beyond the traditional concert medium. He replies, “The last thing I wanted to do was to create a festival that didn’t reflect the culture of contemporary art music.” Consequently there are events like Super Critical Mass, a performative installation featuring 60 local musicians and an audience on the move; Pocket Gamelan, an opportunity for the public to play mobile phones that have become musical instruments; and AMPED, a performance for and with young people at the arts centre where they hang out on Thursday nights.

george lentz, zane banks

Zane Banks Zane Banks
Of course, there are concerts in Aurora but some of the contents might surprise: “I wanted to have a diverse range of events including some emphasis on electronics and noise,” says Batt-Rawden. He also notes the prominence of the electric guitar in the program was quite unintended. “It was organic. Originally we wanted to get Oren Ambarchi involved.” Then Zane Banks was added to the program, to play the Australian premiere of Sydney composer Georges Lentz’s Ingwe (from Mysterium, part of a large-scale cycle of works, Caeli errant...). Banks, who plays both contemporary classical and avant-garde rock and is the artistic director of Ensemble Ampere (an electric guitar outfit), premiered the 60-minute solo work in Luxembourg in 2007 and then recorded it for the Naxos label. As an admirer of what I’ve heard of Lentz’s Caeli errant... and an aficionado of the diverse capacities of the electric guitar, I’m very much looking forward to Ingwe (May 12, Campbelltown Arts Centre).

It’s fascinating to read on his website how Lentz came to write Ingwe: “One evening at the Royal Hotel, a pub in Brewarrina, northern NSW, a man sat alone tuning his electric guitar for that night’s rock gig. I was working on a piece for solo cello at the time but knew immediately that I should write something for the guitar instead—the loneliness and desolation of the place (and indeed my own loneliness) seemed to be encapsulated in that man’s sound...(www.georgeslentz.com/ingwe.html).

oren ambarchi & merzbow

Oren Ambarchi, Judith Wright Centre, 2010 Oren Ambarchi, Judith Wright Centre, 2010
photo Brian Spencer
Oren Ambarchi’s superb electric guitar skills are widely admired—he has performed with a formidable list of adventurous fellow artists including Fennesz, Otomo Yoshihide, Keiji Haino, John Zorn, Jim O’Rourke, Keith Rowe, Dave Grohl and Phil Niblock. On March 1 this year he premiered John Cage Portrait, a work for electric guitar and orchestra, with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Tectonics Music Festival. For his solo performance on May 8 at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre Ambarchi says he will be playing guitar and “some pretty antiquated effect pedals… it’s usually something quite simple that’s explored over 30-40 minutes—a motif or idea slowly unfolds over time. Hopefully it’s something where both myself and the listener lose ourselves.”

The inclusion of Ambarchi in Aurora is indicative of the increasing overlap between contemporary classical and experimental musics, an inclusiveness in this festival which extends to Tokyo guest, noisician Merzbow (Masami Akita) on his second visit to Australia to present an improvised performance of extreme noise using a combination of laptop and analog equipment at Riverside Theatre, May 11. In a second appearance at Campbelltown Arts Centre on May 13, he’ll duet with Oren Ambarchi for the closing night of the festival. Ambarchi, as part of Sunn 0))), has played with Merzbow previously in Tokyo, an experience he describes as “really special…I’ve always considered Masami’s music to be psychedelic, in the true sense of the word. Psychedelic, in the sense of losing yourself in the sound. I get a feeling of momentum, when his stuff is really working. So I’m hoping the collaboration will go down that road.”

Batt-Rawden feels that “noise is a pretty important part of contemporary music. It’s a good investment to bring Merzbow from Japan.” As well as his prodigious musical output, sound installations and collaborations with Sonic Youth, Mike Patton and others, Merzbow’s work includes musical protests against whaling.

synergy, clocks and clouds

Terumi Narushima, Kraig Grady, Clocks and Clouds Terumi Narushima, Kraig Grady, Clocks and Clouds
On Aurora’s percussion front, at Casula Powerhouse on May 5, Synergy will interpret works by Amanda Cole, Marcus Whale, Alex Pozniak and James Rushford, the outcome of the group’s first Emerging Composer Initiative, a much-needed opportunity for composers to meet the very particular challenges of writing for percussion. Also at Casula Powerhouse on the same night, the performer-composers of Clocks and Clouds, Kraig Grady and Terumi Narushima, will doubtless feature the transcendent sounds of their distinctive, retuned vibraphone and pump organ and other instruments constructed by Grady.

marshall mcguire

Another instrument rarely privileged with solo outings is the harp. Anyone who loves virtuoso Marshall McGuire’s Rough Magic (1999) and The Twentieth Century Harp (2002) CDs—paired as a double CD, charM, by ABC Classics in 2007—will not want to miss his concert of 21st century compositions on May 6 at St Finbar’s in the Blue Mountains, an invaluable and rare opportunity to hear what’s happening with that magical instrument in our own time.

chamber made opera

At the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, May 9-11, Melbourne’s Chamber Made Opera (see p36) will present Minotaur The Island which premiered on Bruny Island in Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival last year. The work is an imagining of the lost 1608 Monteverdi opera L’Arianna: “We see the conception of Pasiphae, King Minos’ mail order bride, who has become obsessed with the bull of heaven. She gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur, part bull, part human. The Minotaur grows and becomes ferocious, needing to devour men for sustenance, and as a consequence is locked away, in a gigantic labyrinth (press release).

chronology arts & dirty feet; daniel blinkhorn

Chronology Arts and Dirty Feet dance company unite to present Vitality, a series designed to bring together composers and choreographers. The first in the series is Quest, in which choreographer Martin del Amo and composer Alex Pozniak “explore a young girl’s ‘blind’ discovery of sound and movement.” It will be presented May 12 at Campbelltown Arts Centre on the same bill as sound artist and composer Daniel Blinkhorn’s performance drawing on his field trip to Antarctica.

greg schiemer

The ever-inventive composer and electronic instrument builder, Greg Schiemer has created Pocket Gamelan for Mobile Phones (Campbelltown Arts Centre, May 13). Batt-Rawden says it was “an opportunity that came up and was not to be missed! [Schiemer] has networked a set of mobiles, programming them with music software and showing non-musicians how to use them—like swinging them around your head! It’s quite spectacular and the implications for using everyday technology instrumentally and collaboratively are amazing. It creates musical ensembles and is available to everyone.” The work, which premiered at London’s Tate Gallery in April 2011 combines electronics and voices, using Schiemer’s Mandala App (see image page 14).

luke jaaniste & julian day

Further audience engagement outside the concert sphere will be found at Blacktown Arts Centre where Luke Jaaniste and Julian Day invite their audience to amble room to room to encounter 60 musicians performing Super Critical Mass for the festival’s opening on May 4. This performative installation should offer a truly distinctive aural and spatial experience—”like wandering through a soundscape,” says Batt-Rawden. “I’m not allowed to tell you the instrumentation because it’s going to be a surprise.”

chronology arts

Chronology Arts has conducted a couple of workshops with “the young people who hang outside the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith on Thursday nights,” says Batt-Rawden, “any number from 50 to 200 playing games, basketball, dancing sporadically in a non-threatening, almost festive atmosphere and very receptive to what will engage them. For AMPED we’ll be there May 10 with interactive electronics, microphones, keyboard, guitars [Zane Banks’ guitar quartet] and a Max/MSP program to create a duet between electronics and human input—and let the kids have a go. Chronology will do a concert and hope to coax some of the kids to perform.”

alicia crossley

Also at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, recorder player Alicia Crossley will be conducting a program aimed to get school children involved in music, a project, says Batt-Rawden, that centre hopes will have a longer life.

open access

I ask Batt-Rawden if it’s important that works like AMPED, Super Critical Mass and Pocket Gamelan provide a very accessible experience of contemporary art music. “Yes, we wanted to break down a number of barriers to contemporary music. Another of these is distance, which is why we’re doing the festival in Western Sydney. Pricing is addressed, including some free performances, like Super Critical Mass. And then there’s understanding, hoping people will be open to something possibly quite alien. You need an open mind to enjoy it—there is no fixed way to experience music. Open yourself to it and you will get something from it.”


Aurora Music Festival, Western Sydney, May 4-13

Industry forum, “Sustainable Music Business Models,” chair John Davis, CEO Australian Music Centre, Campbelltown Arts Centre, May 12 www.aurorafestival.com.au

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 14

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

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