A study in deep listening

29 August 2019

Review: Decibel ensemble, ‘Partition Concrète: The Music of Lionel Marchetti’ ⋅
The Sewing Room, 26 August ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Lionel Marchetti is a French composer of music concrète, a type of electronic composition that draws on sounds from the natural world as well as computer generated sounds. In recent years he has collaborated with Decibel, an Australian ensemble who explore the intersection of electronic and acoustic instruments. Their work together is being featured in a national tour which commenced in Perth this week.

Marchetti’s work with Decibel heralds his first venture into performing with acoustic instruments. In order to seamlessly integrate the electronic and acoustic parts he has developed the concept of a ‘partition concrète’. The part, as explained in the program notes, functions as an ‘alter ego with whom it is possible to engage in an intimate dialogue – a support or an ally into which musicians can lean’.

On Monday night this electronic part was played through speakers carefully spatialised (in some instances facing the backstage walls) so that it was impossible to distinguish the instruments from the electronics. The Decibel instrumentalists (wind, strings and percussion) interacted with the partition concrète to create what, at times, felt like deeply thoughtful musical poetry.

In The Last Days of Reality, written in collaboration with Decibel’s director Cat Hope, the sounds of the tam tam (Louise Devenish) and bass flute (Hope) interwove with Marchetti’s partition concrète in a wash of eerie, low tones. The Earth Defeats Me had a similar slow-breathed expansiveness. Long bass clarinet tones emanated from the speakers and Lindsey Vickery playing live bass clarinet. Cello (Tristan Parr), viola (Aaron Wyatt) and flute joined in the responses, creating an ebb and flow that had the pulseless constancy of the sea. There was even what sounded like echoes of mournful gulls and distant fog horns in the percussion and electronics parts.

The ensemble presented the world premiere of Le Cerveau, a work which invited a musical response to pitches generated in the electronic part. Marchetti joined the Decibel members on clarinet for a study in deep listening as they mirrored the slow, warm sounds emanating from the speakers.

By the time we reached the final work on the program, the premiere of Inland Lake, the performers had established an atmosphere of quietude and aural acuity. With deeper listening the delicacy and beauty of Marchetti’s slowly evolving electronics became more apparent, as did the sensitivity and control demonstrated by the performers as they blended almost imperceptibly with the partition concrete. The whine of wind blurred into a more percussive bubbling, layered micro-glitches and fast pulses swirled. The focus moved to pitches slowly bending and building in intensity then evaporating, leaving behind an aching absence. By the end of the 30 minute work Marchetti had shaped our listening: sounds were emancipated from their source and the music became simply and purely sound, or the absence of sound.

The Lionel Marchetti national tour continues to Melbourne and Sydney.

Pictured top L-R: Aaron Wyatt, Cat Hope, Stuart James, Lionel Marchetti, Louise Devenish, Lindsay Vickery, Tristan Parr. Photo by Rachael Barrett.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

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