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Totally Huge New Music Festival 2013

 Da Contents H2

October 14 2013
New music: celebration & angst
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival overview

August 22 2013
The sound of reading
Matthew Lorenzon: David Toop with Decibel

August 18 2013
A pyrrhic revolt
Matthew Lorenzon: Latitude: Perspectives, WA Symphony Orchestra

Complexity from simple tools
John Barton: ICMC, Percussion and Live Electronics

August 16 2013
Acoustic space: explicit object
Steve Paraskos: di Scipio, Curran

Pianos wired
John Barton: Works for piano and electronics

August 15 2013
Bridges and deviations
Matthew Lorenzon: di Scipio, Curran, Haco, Burt

August 14 2013
Madness, hell and transcendence
John Barton: Michael Kieran Harvey

Programming a grotesque order
Matthew Lorenzon: Michael Kieran Harvey

August 12 2013
A choreography of oscillation
Matthew Lorenzon: Speak Percussion, Robin Fox, Transducer

Explorers of an alien planet
John Barton: Speak Percussion, Robin Fox, Transducer

August 11 2013
Celestial sweet spots
Steve Paraskos, Haco, Ourobonic Plague, Barn Owl

Churches of sound
John Barton, Haco, Ourobonic Plague, Barn Owl

Eclectic ecstasies
Matthew Lorenzon, Haco, Ourobonic Plague, Barn Owl


Programming a grotesque order

Matthew Lorenzon: Michael Kieran Harvey

Michael Kieran Harvey, THNMF2013 Michael Kieran Harvey, THNMF2013
photo Brad Serls
The musical grotesque can sometimes struggle to find an audience. As the success of contemporary music in film has shown, overblown gestures, dissonance, difficult timbres, the very soft and the very loud can find sympathetic ears when presented alongside other arts. Two new works performed by Michael Kieran Harvey at Perth’s Government House Ballroom show the expressive potential of contemporary compositional techniques through programmatic alliance with literature and painting.

In the centre of Harvey’s own Psychosonata is a traditional sonata form with classically ‘pianistic’ lyrical flights and arpeggios representing the orderly, supposedly ‘healthy’ mind. This structure is obscured beneath a texture of fast and dissonant runs; thundering chords and stubborn, persistent lines built out of an obsessively recalculated nine-value series representing the supposedly ‘psychotic’ mind. In composing this musical palimpsest, Harvey drew inspiration from the paintings of Frank Auerbach, where extreme psychological states are represented by complex agglomerations of paint over otherwise traditional portraits. I like to think that Harvey’s resultant musical surface shows thought not so much as order and disorder, but as variations in density. As both Harvey and Elliott Gyger show at the end of their works, a dissonant chord can connote ‘orderliness’ if played slowly and softly across several octaves.

 Michael Kieran Harvey, THNMF2013 Michael Kieran Harvey, THNMF2013
photo Brad Serls
Elliott Gyger’s hour-long INFERNO for solo piano (after Dante) is composed in, as Harvey puts it, an “unfashionably uncompromising” language. While such music can also express positive affects (including the sparse beauty of INFERNO’s final movement “Stars”), Gyger shows how the techniques of Messiaen, Carter, Ligeti, Birtwistle and other post-war avant-garde composers are particularly well suited to depicting the nine circles of hell with their tortured bodies and rivers of water, boiling blood and ice.

In the Prelude, Gyger transcribes the nine lines of the inscription above the gates of hell into dense chords rapidly alternating with rolled clusters. The two gestures also conjure images of the wasps and maggots chasing those who committed neither good nor bad deeds in hell’s “vestibule.”

The river of water crossed by the ferryman Charon is depicted by descending passages in racing, machinic rhythms. Rather than the common ‘water’ effect of undulating, pointillist glistening, the regularity of Gyger’s gestures creates a sound like a pixelated image or a monophonic, 8-bit sound effect from an early-1990s computer game. This effect is punctuated by tones ‘dropped’ into the stream, unleashing a similarly pixelated ‘splash’ of notes.

The lustful, blown about by the winds in hell as they were by their passions in life, are depicted in a flurry of sensual modal devices. Whole-tone harmonies, snatches of pentatonic melodies, open fifths and soft, smoky chords twist around and past each other over the keyboard.

As the wrathful fight each other on the surface and the slothful sulk deep in the river Styx, a languid bass ostinato contrasts with wet, slapping chords.

The river of boiling blood is depicted by the same material as the river of water, but this time furiously frothing and bubbling across the whole range of the piano.

Less iconic scenes—such as the first circle of hell where virtuous non-Christians live in an imperfect heaven—are harder to decipher. The “ten trenches of fraud” is used as an opportunity to reprise material from the rest of the cycle in a series of variations.

All of the punishments in Dante’s Inferno have a poetic justice about them, such as the avaricious or miserly who must duel by pushing enormous weights against each other. As a non-signifying art form, can music express the poetic justice of Dante’s punishments? Perhaps only in the sheer difficulty of playing the piece itself.

Tura Totally Huge New Music Festival, A Celebration of New Australian Piano Music, Michael Kieran Harvey, Government House Ballroom, 11 Sept

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

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