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Reviews/Music

Pleasing minimalism

23 June 2018

Review: Intercurrent, “Sensory Horizons”, programmed by Tura New Music ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 19 June ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

Intercurrent is an exciting new music ensemble based in Perth. The initiative came from some of the best local conservatory-trained musicians: composer Lachlan Skipworth, percussionist Louise Devenish, pianist Emily Green-Armytage and clarinettist Ashley Smith. They’re supported by Tura New Music – a small but distinguished organisation that emerged, thirty years ago, from the somewhat shrouded world of contemporary-classical and experimental art music. As with any other niche, there is a small community of diehard followers who will attend anything – rain, hail or shine. In my days as an eager composition student, I probably would have considered myself among the enlightened few. But in recent years I stopped going to these sorts of concerts. I stopped connecting with what I was hearing; I couldn’t tell if I actually enjoyed myself – was I just pretending? I became disheartened by the small, selective audiences. And becoming a composer seemed to me a hopeless, pointless, spurious endeavour. That is to say, I came to “Sensory Horizons” with my own baggage.

The evening began with a casual pre-concert talk on stage, facilitated by musicologist Sarah Collins. She spoke with Smith and Devenish about the origins and intentions of Intercurrent. The two musicians admitted, with a slight hint of sheepishness, that they were all “closet minimalists” – that they admired composers such as Philip Glass, whose distinctive style (emerging from New York in the latter part of the twentieth century) continues to influence today’s film composers, electronic music producers, math rock bands and a whole host of artists across various disciplines. Minimalism (in music) is something most people have heard without having heard of. It’s characterised by simple motifs, repetition, layering, and a harmonic clarity that makes it far more accessible than other forms of art music. Both the listener and the performer become acutely aware of the medium of music itself: time.

Intercurrent decided to name this particular concert “Sensory Horizons” because the pieces they programmed showcased the horizontal aspect of music more than the traditional vertical aspect. This kind of music comes to life like a Bob Ross painting, where plain backgrounds – flat, meaningless, washes of colour – transform into majestic landscapes with each stroke. Figures within the composition are always suggestive and never imposing. Such is the exquisitely paced multi-media work by John Supko, This Window Makes Me Feel (2005). The piece begins with a tape recording of incomprehensible whispers and shuffling. Above the stage, there’s a video projection: we seem to be looking through the eyes of somebody walking through Manhattan. Their gaze darts around and their perspective is always obscured – by rain drops, by diffused glass – so that nothing is seen clearly. On top of the whispering, which sounds like the internal monologue of an anxious introvert (takes one to know one), we hear stirrings of piano, vibraphone, muffled bell chimes and bass clarinet. The sounds build and fade over a length of time that at first feels tiresome, then revelatory. The juxtaposition between the emotionally unsettling audio-visual elements and the calmly persistent instrumental lines was profound.

It was a treat to see the core members of Intercurrent joined by some special musical guests: violinist Akiko Miyazawa, cellist Jon Tooby and Michael Howell on flute. They featured on the last three pieces of the program: Subito, an energetic violin piece by Witold Lutosławski; and two exciting pieces by Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth, The Crossing II and The Crossing I. It’s not often you get to see classically-trained musicians performing works with which they have such a strong personal connection. Skipworth conducted his own pieces with precision and intense, brow-furrowing concentration – most likely to navigate the frequent and hectic changes in time signature. His works feature waves of restless arpeggios – oscillating, weaving, reversing, blurring the boundary between acoustic and electronic sound. As my partner put it, Skipworth’s pieces sound “like Jaga Jazzist but more refined”. It’s a good example of the kind of music that gets labelled these days as “Classical-Crossover” – it’ll impress your arty friends; it won’t alienate your normie friends.

As for my own baggage, I left “Sensory Horizons” with unexpected feelings of optimism and self- acceptance. I realised there was no shame in admitting that, for several years, the programming of new music in Perth just didn’t strike a chord with me. I felt great respect for Intercurrent – not just for being exceptionally talented musicians, but for initiating this passion project of theirs, for seeing a gap and filling it. And I’m grateful that they inadvertently validated my own musical tastes; I have always been a (not-so-closeted) minimalist myself.

For more information about Intercurrent head to www.facebook.com/intercurrent

For more information about Tura New Music head to www.tura.com.au 

Top: Intercurrent performing “Sensory Horizons”.

 

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Author —
Tiffany Ha

Tiffany Ha is a pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocalist with a soft spot for anything a cappella. She has degrees in Music (Composition) and Arts (English) from UWA and works as a freelance musician. Her favourite playground equipment is anything that involves climbing and balance: monkey bars, rope towers, trees, human pyramids!

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