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Auricle + Clocked Out play with possibilities

Alistair Riddell, AUTONOMIC

Alistair Riddell is a composer and technological innovator with a particular interest in idiosyncratic developments in contemporary music.

Few contemporary music concerts today seem distinctly contemporary without reference to technology. Even fewer concerts present both local technological prowess and creativity in such balance with traditional instrumental performance as did AUTONOMIC. In addition to a refined sensibility towards both practices, there was a certain synergy among the works compelling us to believe in the progress of music and the appreciation of those valued attributes of virtuosity and historical knowledge. All of this unfolding in the kitsch industrial space of Melbourne’s Public Office.

AUTONOMIC sat squarely in the arena of a contemporary music presentation. Although the relaxed clubby atmosphere had people enough to populate all the comfy chairs, a larger audience might have raised the dynamic further and with some scheduling adjustments, tightened the overall impact of the music. But Melita White’s program was both subtle and challenging.

Ross Bencina’s Dreamscape Resonances opened the concert with live computer-based sounds diffused through an 8 channel ambisonic surround sound system assisted by sound engineer, Steve Adam. Bencina developed the system on which he both composed and presented his music. Its complexity and sophistication spoke of the creative talent that Melbourne fosters and, perhaps, takes for granted. Each of the 5 works displayed a number of stylistic influences including ambient, electroacoustic and world musics.

Immediately contrasting the electronic and sample base works, Melita White’s hydra threads addressed the instrumental and overtly live nature of music. Five water filled glass jars and a tenor saxophone, played by Keith Thorman Hunter and Tim O’Dwyer respectively, continued the sonic delicacy of the electronic works but added what was to be an increasingly visceral edge. The work, derived from a hymn, unfolded in the chiming jars and the melodic assertiveness of the saxophone.

The one + one—live improvisation again found Keith Thorman Hunter on percussion, but this time paired with Melanie Chillianis on flute, in a virtuoso display of extended flute techniques and a tableaux of percussive manoeuvres. Tentative private explorations gave way to attentive imitation. The resulting improvisation resolved fortuitously on the impromptu sound of a distant train horn.

ChronoDemonicCycling, an improvisation with Newton Armstrong on sensor driven computer synthesis and Tim O’Dwyer on saxophone, immediately cranked the energy level. From the start the sound was intense and unrelenting. O’Dwyer’s extensive repertoire of sax sounds was often indistinguishable from the electronic sounds which were the product of Armstrong’s use of gestural controllers to configure the synthesis engine.

Alexander Waterman’s short and intriguing Grammophonology, based on processed gramophone record samples, set the mood for the final solo work, sige, by Tim O’Dwyer. For bass saxophone and pre-recorded sound, sige was challenging with the O’Dwyer style again unleashed with some restriction of movement imposed by the mounted sax. Nuanced techniques of key sounds and resonant aspirations through the instrument, occasionally lost amid the complex tape sounds, exemplified O’Dwyer’s skill and understanding of the saxophone family.

* * * *

A visually intriguing collection of percussion instruments (that could well have been an installation of late 20th century percussionist tools) was encountered in the Melbourne Museum between the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre and the Kalaya Meeting Place. The wide curved walkway quickly filled with the cognoscenti and the curious, who witnessed a lively and often humorous performance by percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson, as part of an ongoing series of Sunday recitals in the new museum.

Given the number of children in the audience, the opening work for amplified, stroked and massaged balloons spoke directly to the idea of music from simple things. Dear Judy was as much a theatrical performance upon the balloons as when Tomlinson resorted to silent gestures upon her own body. For every child there, the work legitimated the idea of environmental and sonic self-exploration.

Warren Burt’s Beat Generation in the California Coastal Ranges saw Tomlinson shift slightly towards a more sophisticated performance practice. Deceptively simple on the surface, the work’s recorded sine tones and vibraphone sound had, at certain times, an interesting cumulative effect, highlighting the challenging nature of the work. Listening for the interference or beat patterns that emerged between the notes played on the vibraphone and the shifting sine tones was certainly the attraction. This ‘third’ sonic behaviour encouraged attention to the sound and an anticipation of the onset of the beating characteristic.

Bone Alphabet raised the virtuoso level still further by introducing a greater range of instruments and a visually complex performance procedure. Had Brian Ferneyhough’s work been surreptitiously placed at this point? While certainly challenging, its complexity seemed subordinate to the spectacle of the performance. Listeners unfamiliar with Ferneyhough’s repertoire and style could easily absorb the spectacle as another dimension to the possibilities that overflowed from the array of instruments before them.

Finally, Anthony Pateras’ Mutant Theatre was clearly anticipated. Apart from being a ‘First Performance’, the children and many adults seemed eager to witness the outcome of the fall of colourful dominoes that would intermittently trigger mousetraps with balloons attached. As it happened, the fun part was over with a speed and subtlety probably not anticipated but the greater part of the composition held moments, in both the music and instrumentation, of equal fascination. Smashing light bulbs, sprinklings of marbles across instruments, a roaring gong and sounds from toys and cheap electronic instruments created a tour de force which closed the concert to acclaim.


AUTONOMIC, Auricle New Music Ensemble, Public Office, West Melbourne, February 23: Virtuosic Visions, Vanessa Tomlinson, percussion, Clocked Out Productions, Melbourne Museum, March 4

Alistair Riddell is a composer and technological innovator with a particular interest in idiosyncratic developments in contemporary music.

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 40

© Alistair Riddell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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