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New sound worlds from combined forces

Lynette Lancini: Topology and Speak Percussion, Common Ground

Brisbane-based Lynette Lancini is a musician and Wholebody Focusing trainer-in-training, whose work appears on Serrated Records and has been broadcast on ABC radio. She was a member of Music for Heart and Mind, a grassroots composers’ collective active in Brisbane during the 1990s.

The three members of Melbourne’s Speak Percussion enter purposefully and seat themselves centre-front stage at a small card table. The table and its immediate surrounds are aquiver with a bowerbird blend of items and the promise of a sonic spectacle about to occur. It’s ex-pat composer Thomas Meadowcroft’s 20-minute work, The Great Knot.

Within minutes I am tied up in the performers’ gestural rendering of each musical detail, aliveness brimming in their assured poise and the playful intelligence of the piece. There’s a lot going on here: a business meeting (formal attire and a musical agenda-setting laptop and soft synth); a High Tea (wine glasses, tea cups and pots, sugar cubes and salt shakers); an experimental primary school music lesson (shakers, one-handed descant and treble recorder playing, ping pong bats and balls); and Saturday night Lotto (marbles rolling in bowls and a plastic CD tower). The spatial sonic symmetry of a card game plays out too (‘I’ll hear your sound and raise you one’). Brilliant.

Rowan Drape’s See, Hearer, Clearer is next, scored for electromagnetic piano and bowed vibes. A high quality AV recording of the electromagnetic piano part, taken from the piece’s Melbourne premiere, is shown on a huge screen. The piece breathes. It functions harmonically and aesthetically as an homage to Morton Feldman.

Final piece before interval is ex-pat composer Matthew Shlomowitz’s Popular Contexts Volume 6. This is the Australian premiere of the 22-minute work, its international premiere having been in Berlin. Leah Scholes on samples is centre stage. Speak Percussion’s Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti on drum kit, stage right. Matthias Schack-Arnott, vibes, stage left.

Each movement (I Saxophone Sequence/ II Bass Lines/ III Air Drums/ IV Chromatic Chords) is constructed of a genre-crossing collection of samples, which are more or less indicated by the movement’s titles (movement 2 can be seen on YouTube). The samples are played live and startlingly thrown one against the other, ingeniously developed and supported, punctuated or framed by kit, vibes and spatial use of the PA system. Postmodernism is provoked out of academia into fully fleshed, mature wit. I love this piece and burst into laughter often.

After interval are two pieces selected from Topology’s Top Up program Composition Call Out to Brisbane high schools. The evocative Call of the Kimberley by Year 12 St Peter’s Lutheran College student Andrew Haselgrove features the composer on piccolo. ASME award-winning Underground Alert is a fast paced electronic dub step by Year 10 Cavendish Road State High School student Anthony Chitez.

Topology composer and double bassist Robert Davidson’s 10-minute Brightest Threads (from Oscar Wilde’s Apologia) ensues. It’s an extremely well crafted and performed quartet for sax and strings (violin, viola, double bass), originally written for sax and delay. I soak in the satisfying rhythmic finesse and textures of a baroque style canon, coupled with Topology’s signature major/minor modal play.

With (the completely ironical working title of) Passacaglia and Fugue for Bassoon and Icecream, violist and composer Bernard Hoey establishes himself as the George Harrison of Topology, bringing mystery and novelty to the group’s capacity. Hoey has woven 51 quotes from 1970s popular music into this piece. Two or three are obvious from my first hearing. Topology musicians of incisive prowess, Christa Powell (violin) and Therese Milanovic (piano) say they are still discovering new ones. It’s the work of a playful and lively orchestral-scaled musical intelligence. Hoey’s Five Minutes from Machine is his other contribution to the night. It’s a roller coaster ride, with choppy, chunky unisons and tutti tremolo crescendos which drop suddenly away to pianissimo strings.

Topology saxophonist and composer John Babbage’s Tourbillon is the first piece scored for both Topology and Speak Percussion. Within its jazz-celtic-minimalist soundworld, Babbage utilises the eight piece lineup well while continuing his fascination with mechanical inventions. A tourbillon is Breuget’s 1795 gyroscopic addition to the mechanics of a watch’s escapement [which controls the movement of a clock wheel. Eds]. Davidson’s Landscape, originally written for guitar and string quartet, is likewise well served by the combined musical forces. It’s a grand structural narrative evidencing Davidson’s mastery of craft and style, and a crowd pleaser.

The finale is Davidson’s Cuban Missile Crisis, originally scored for Topology and Brisbane-based percussion ensemble Isorhythmos. It’s catchy and Latin in feel, the musical material derived from cutting up the ‘secret’ telephone conversation between John F. Kennedy and former President Eisenhower, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. (The conversation was released in 1996; YouTube, JFK secret phone call.) It’s an ironically powerful and celebratory audio-visual masterpiece, deft and incredibly musical, in the lineage of Harry Partch and Steve Reich.

Common Ground is to be broadcast on ABCFM.

Topology with Speak Percussion, Brisbane Powerhouse, 9 Nov

Brisbane-based Lynette Lancini is a musician and Wholebody Focusing trainer-in-training, whose work appears on Serrated Records and has been broadcast on ABC radio. She was a member of Music for Heart and Mind, a grassroots composers’ collective active in Brisbane during the 1990s.

RealTime issue #118 Dec-Jan 2013 pg. 43

© Lynette Lancini; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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