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Totally Huge New Music Festival 2015

 Da Contents H2

June 9 2015
Percussive partnerings
Laura Halligan: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Time Alone

Space-making Immersive vocal improvisation
Laura Halligan: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Alice Hui-Sheng Chang

Totally Huge’s percussive climax
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Time Alone

May 27 2015
Adventures in timbre and texture
Alex Turley: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Time Alone

Piano adventures
Laura Halligan: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Zubin Kanga, Dark Twin

The piano and its others
Alex Turley: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Zubin Kanga, Dark Twin

May 26 2015
A fine plenitude
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Breaking Out

Motion in stillness
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Alice Hui-Sheng Chang

Young composers let loose
Alex Turley: Totally Huge New Music Festival, Breaking Out

May 22 2015
The many-voiced cello of an Australo-German repertoire
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Friedrich Gauwerky

The sound shapers
Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Club Zho

May 19 2015
Folds: loose, taut & generative
Matthew Lorenzon: Johannes Sistermanns: installation, Space/Pli

The epic resonances of diffusion
Matthew Lorenzon: Steve Paraskos, Akousmatikoi


The percussionists Louise Devenish and Claire Edwardes teamed up with clarinetist Ashley Smith to close the Totally Huge New Music Festival with a virtuosic and powerful program.

Chris Tonkin’s IN for solo percussion and electronics was first performed in 2005 at Ircam and develops one of the most original sonic palettes in the percussion-and-electronics repertoire. Edwardes spends a fair bit of time rubbing a plastic scrubbing brush in her hands, producing a high buzzing and squeaking sound that can only be described as “puckered.” If that does not put your teeth on edge, then Edwardes’ scraping of a superball down the surface of a bass drum will. The sound is almost exactly like nails on a blackboard. Such close, dry sounds are juxtaposed with more resonant ones, like a bass drum pitch-shifted down into a thunderous, ground-shaking tone. In a show of compositional finesse, the electronic part is independent throughout, less reacting to the instrumental part than accompanying it.

Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf is a limit-example of power and volume on the clarinet. Piercing shrieks and manic, fortissimo noodling are all part and parcel of contemporary clarinet music. But Ablauf is so violent that one wonders why, after it was composed in 1983, anyone ever bothered writing a clarinet line above mezzo-piano again. Smith dug his feet into the ground at one end of the line of seven music stands. Taking a deep breath, he launched into the piece’s lung-bursting screeches and squawks. The barrage is athletic and relentless. I don’t know how anyone could keep up such ear-piercing volume for so long (there were many fingers in ears around the auditorium). About two-thirds of the way through the piece, the clarinetist actually starts screaming. At first Smith erupted into short vocal explosions among passages of virtuosic fingering, but soon the clarinet was taken out of the equation entirely. Smith effectively stands there and screams like a beast. A soothing bass clarinet movement follows.

Nico Muhly’s It Goes Without Saying does just what the title says. It’s a nice but completely unremarkable solo clarinet piece accompanied by several more pre-recorded clarinets, a harmonium, and some percussion. Smith ‘placed’ each phrase of the clarinet line just so, bringing out its delicate simplicity. Why do I mention the piece at all? Because, as Damien Ricketson’s Time Alone showed, nice needn’t mean boring.

In Time Alone, a solo percussionist explores a motif on a vibraphone with one hand. In the intimate Callaway Auditorium, Edwardes was able to begin very quietly, carefully manipulating the motor with her other hand to bring out beating tones and expressive swells. The simplicity of the opening arpeggios is entirely necessary to reveal the wonder of their harmonic expansion about a third of the way through the piece. As the piece progresses, an electronic part enters with layered, distant-sounding morse code signals. The percussionist also begins humming along to the vibraphone line. So engrossing are Ricketson’s sotto voce harmonic convolutions that I wonder whether it needed to rise to a dynamic climax at all.

Edwardes did very well saying the title of Michael Smetanin’s Finger Funk correctly every time. Two percussionists play the entire piece with their fingers on a marimba. I imagined that striking out note after note with one’s fingertips would be a painful enough prospect, but each note is in fact played as a tremolo with the index fingers of both hands. The piece is interesting choreographically as well as musically, as the two players have to manage their space on the instrument as they execute rapid, raking glissandi with their fingernails and dramatic strikes with their thumbs (protected by erasers strapped on with rubber bands). While the physical discomfort of playing the marimba with one’s fingers understandably limits the repertoire written for this technique, Smetanin shows that there are a broad range of timbral and dynamic possibilities available.

The concert featured an impromptu protest against George Brandis’ redistribution of funding from the Australia Council: Edwardes listed the many Australia Council-funded organisations and projects that have helped her access ever-expanding audiences, including the New Music Network, Tura New Music and Ensemble Offspring, as well as commissioning programs and music venues. This protest was followed by rapturous applause.

Edwardes and Devenish closed the program with a performance of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Continuum. Instead of performing the work on solo harpsichord, the duo distributed the score’s two staves between marimba and vibraphone. On keyboard percussion, Continuum’s wall of shimmering, dissonant sound becomes a transparent interplay of closely interlocking parts. The composition becomes almost three-dimensional in the way that one pattern changes against another, like a cube turning and revealing a new side as the old stays in view. It was a particularly satisfying sort of minimalism: Like Steve Reich with an extended harmonic palette.

Time Alone is packed with distinctive and striking works that display the extreme virtuosity of Edwardes, Devenish, and Smith. It was a bold and celebratory end to a thrilling festival.

Time Alone, Claire Edwardes, Louise Devenish, Ashley Smith, Totally Huge New Music Festival, Callaway Auditorium, University of Western Australia. Perth, 24 May

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

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