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bracing new music & a new percussion ensemble

greg hooper: the trilling wire series

Michael Askill, John Addison, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Nozomi Omote, Vanessa Tomlinson Michael Askill, John Addison, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Nozomi Omote, Vanessa Tomlinson
photo Sharka Bosakova

Gabriella Smart solo on piano with bell-like chords transforming into harmonic clumps bashed hard and fast. The piece builds intensity then...Sudden-Dramatic-Stop...and it all goes relaxed, post-coital, in what turns out to be a structural device common across the whole series.

On to the second number, and again with the flat-out hand-destroying smashes on the piano. But there is also cello, sliding around and about in the way some classical Indian singing glides into the pitch from above and below. The balance between the instruments is great, and stays great across all the performances. Another compositional structure emerges—lines and fragments are repeated then shifted up and down in register, emotional tension mapped into gradual pitch increase and decrease—drama from very simple means. Finishes with solo cello playing small variations on a single figure—lovely and subtle.

(Aside: Smart’s hands take some insane punishment in these pieces, or at least it looks like that to me. There is not a lot of literature on problems resulting from the force pianists hit the keys with; most of the medical literature seems to focus on the standard keyboard being too large for the standard hand, said mismatch giving rise to stats like “91% of piano teachers report playing through pain.” For the aspiring guitarist there are no end of ‘signature’ model guitars based around whichever guitar hero one worships or whichever guitar player has similar hand size or tonal preference. For piano this is not quite so simple; although smaller keyboards have recently become available, the Franz Liszt model for a big guy with big hands dominates the showrooms.)

Like many Australians of my age I lived through the James Galway outbreaks of the 1970s and 80s so I approach Kulenty’s Fifth Circle for solo flute with a certain preparatory body armouring. The flute starts deep, works around the theme, explores timbre without getting into obvious extended technique—subtlety much appreciated. A delay unit clicks in—low volume, not too many repeats, clichés avoided. Again with the straight up rhythm and short chromatic runs bracketed with flourishes. Phrases shifting register as a block, two steps forward, one step back, provide momentum as with the previous works.

The final, Sixth Circle, starts with a sharp, long blast from the trumpet against a piano that is all romantic arpeggios. The two instruments blend seamlessly, the sound richer and fuller than one would think from just two instruments. I get the feeling of The Last Post, but from someone who can only use a single note to articulate an heroic struggle. End of Circle series.

Second Concert. Brisbane, later in November. In the cafes, corporate types desperately look for the cream of society only to discover it is themselves. Meanwhile, in the shabby concrete leftover shopfront bit of the Judith Wright Centre, Early Warning System stand amongst a floor of percussion—vibes, chimes, gongs and their familiars. Huge drums carved from the trunks of a single tree. In this small space I’m thinking, why do I always forget protection for my ears, the left one is down a few dB already? (Ends up of no concern.)

Erik Griswold’s “a leaf falls” for cello and percussion begins the night. Lower casing the title fits nicely with Griswold’s music and public persona (strengths as far as I’m concerned). The cello plays a sad figure against folksy ambient percussion—taps and tinkles, gentle plops of rain on metal, the flap of venetians against an open window frame. Different sections develop—fast and low, bouncy and percussive, call and response, sly and sneaky, classic Griswold off-kilter blues. A fabulous rushing, a wind-like buzz, two snares simultaneously pitched at different tensions. Finish with a reprise of the first section, cello still sad but playing much longer phrases, the accompaniment stronger and more involved.

Michael Askill gives an intro lecture to Free Radicals. We are to hear a piece written for a Graeme Murphy dance work using a 345543 (expand and contract) beat structure. It goes like this: section 1, big log drums and awesomeness; section 2, add wood blocks and little drums and shakers and further awesomeness; repeat for further sections increasing awesomeness for each section. Finishes with an extended foray into hard fast up-tempo woot and groove. Great piece and, as is so often the case, the performers are exceptional. Askill calm and senior, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones precise and classical, Mudford completely different and doing a slow whole of body in-the-rhythm thing. But all of them perfect.

“... and bells remembered” supports John Luther Adams’ rep as a ‘landscape composer.’ Slow chords on metallophones have me uneasy at the start, thinking maybe the acoustics of the room will work against a gentle piece. But the layers of vibes, tubular bells and xylophone build beautifully into a rich harmonic texture that somehow acts as an overlay through which one approaches landscape—that of Alaska where Adams lives, but perhaps also of other spaces that draw the mind out and away from the body.

Finally to Tan Dun’s Snow in June, which disappoints. Nice in parts, but it loses momentum and becomes bitsy and chaotic and overwrought with fairly hackneyed emotion. The whole piece is build-ups, a flourish, then drop-offs one after the other.

Gets a little tedious/predictable/undifferentiated. (Unlike, say, Kulenty’s earlier Circle Series.) But I love the way the performers continually catch each other’s eyes to synchronise their performances.

Once again Clocked Out present an interesting program, superbly performed against Brisbane’s relentless normative push.

The Trilling Wire Series: Soundstream Collective (piano Gabriella Smart, cello John Addison, alto flute Kathleen Gallagher, trumpet Martin Phillipson), Nov 3, 2011; Early Warning System (Michael Askill, Vanessa Tomlinson, Cameron Kennedy, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Stephanie Mudford with Nozomi Omote, John Addison), Judith Wright Centre, Nov 23, 2011; presented by Clocked Out & Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane

RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 42

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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