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The future with an ear to the past

Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival

Johannes S Sistermanns, Decibel Installation Johannes S Sistermanns, Decibel Installation
photo Holly Jade
Coinciding with the soft launch of the Western Australian New Music Archive, the 12th Totally Huge New Music Festival unearthed gems from local, national and international musical milieus. Detailed reviews of these works by myself and mentored writers Alex Turley and Laura Halligan can be found on the Features page.

Festival Symposium

Attendees at the festival symposium were treated to accounts of Western Australia’s rich history of contemporary music-making, from the Noize Machin experimental warehouse nights to snapshots of composers, ensembles and the state’s contributions to contemporary percussion. The WANMA soft launch was an opportunity to reflect upon how best to capture the truly momentous amount of musical activity in Western Australia over the years. According to the project’s founder Cat Hope, the archive will eventually act as a curated repository for existing images, videos and information as well as cater for the increasing live performance documentation being produced every day.

The archiving of software involved in live performance was a recurring theme throughout the day, with no easy solution in sight. The ABC’s Stephen Adams remarked that a functional description of what a piece of software does may be more valuable than the original code in the long term. All the more reason to maintain a critical, written record of musical performances such as one finds in, say, RealTime. The day was rounded off with a beautifully sparse performance by Ross Bolleter on one of his famous ruined pianos.


The cellist Friedrich Gauwerky’s Amour-Soundbridge program explored musical ties between Australia and Germany. Gauwerky himself embodies these ties, having lectured in cello, chamber music and New Music at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide, 1989–96. He also performed as principal cellist in the Australian ensemble Elision 1990–97. Gauwerky contrasted music by German luminaries Stockhausen, Henze and Hindemith with stunning works by composers of German origin who have lived and worked in Australia, including Thomas Reiner, Felix Werder and Volker Heyn. The concert showed that the distance between ‘historical’ European culture and contemporary Australian culture is not so great—just one or two generations, a teacher’s legacy, or a couple of boat trips.


Johannes Sistermanns’ installation performance with the Decibel ensemble Space/Pli provided yet another German-Australian connection. In Sistermanns’ installation, hundreds of metres of clingfilm partitioned the PS Art Space in Fremantle, the translucent film forming walls between the building’s pylons. Diagonal strips intersected the walls, striking down from ceiling to floor. Clingfilm has marvellous sonic properties, especially when paired with piezo transducers. The tiny vibrating discs were placed inside the folds of plastic, causing the rippling walls to buzz and shimmer. Decibel performed a graphic score by Sistermanns while spaced around the room. Their view of the score and each other was distorted by the film, introducing unexpected coincidences and affinities in the ensemble.

Club Zho

Tura New Music’s Club Zho program presents new music and sound art in a semi-formal environment, this time invading Jimmy’s Bar in Perth for a concert of escalating volume. Bass clarinettist Lindsay Vickery and percussionist Darren Moore performed as the duo Hedkikr. Despite the name, the duo are these days a picture of refinement and grace, crafting focused sonic duets of extended percussion and clarinet technique. Bassist Cat Hope and Vickery then defied all expectations of a polite classical duo. Performing under the moniker Candied Limbs, their 20-odd minute set was an explosion of irrepressible energy, featuring some truly unearthly screaming. Singapore-based modular synthesis duo Black Zenith (Darren Moore and Brian O’Reilly) conjured a staggering array of sounds and textures from their rats-nests of patch cables for the concert’s finale.

Zubin Kanga

I was fortunate enough to hear Kanga repeat the Dark Twin program at the Art Gallery of Western Australia two weeks after hearing it at the Metropolis New Music Festival in Melbourne. The electronic and live parts of Julian Day’s work Dark Twin were much more distinct under the soaring gallery atrium. Kanga’s interpretation of Hope’s score seemed much more fluid, like a Debussy Prelude flowing across the different registers of the piano. Hope’s EBows and radios also spoke louder than before. I don’t know whether these changes were brought about by Kanga’s gradual refinement of the pieces over time, my second listening or whether the composers altered the works themselves.

The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts hosted two festival highlight concerts. The Breaking Out young composers’ night provided an excellent opportunity for Western Australia’s most promising young composers to test out new ideas. It was encouraging to see the level of mutual support between the young performers and composers as well as hearing the command with which the composers wielded their diverse musical styles. PICA also hosted the Melbourne-based vocal artist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, who led Perth’s own iMprovisation Collective in a performance around PICA’s black box space before performing a solo concert in the venue’s dedicated concert venue.

Time Alone

Beginning shortly after the announcement of George Brandis’ cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts, the festival was peppered with the performers’ impassioned calls to action. The final concert, Time Alone, was no exception, featuring a stirring speech by Claire Edwardes. The concert was an eclectic tour de force for the percussionists Edwardes and Louise Devenish and the clarinettist Ashley Smith. With a well-known work by Ligeti next to works by Australian composers Michael Smetanin and Chris Tonkin, the concert captured the local-yet-international, looking-backwards-looking-forwards feel of the festival.

TURA New Music: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Perth & Fremantle 15-24 May

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 48

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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