New sounds emerge from shared music making

18 October 2021

Take a glimpse at the next generation of Western Australian composers with a concert Eduardo Cossio says demonstrated a spirit of collaboration.

“Rothko Chapel”, WA Academy of Performing Arts ·
Richard Gill Auditorium, October 14 2021 ·

The primal moods present in Mark Rothko’s paintings inspired composer Morton Feldman to write music that treats sound and time as plastic materials. Rothko Chapel, Feldman’s homage to his dear friend was published fifty years ago. The iconic work provided the print for new works by WAAPA composition and music technology students, showcased in a concert on the weekend.

Described as a workshop experience for everyone involved, the student instrumentalists and Eneksis Vocal Ensemble were supported by staff members Stewart Smith on keyboards, Genevieve Wilkins on percussion, Lindsay Vickery on reeds and conductor Michaél McCarthy.

Fajr by Remal Felistini blended field recordings with the ensemble to evoke stirring images of the Israeli-Palestinian war. The sounds of machinery and jet planes coming out of the speakers added a heightened element to his keening vocals. The work offered listeners a raw account of Remal’s experience as a Palestinian refugee. Similarly, Red Forecast by Arrielle Savory, placed audiences right inside a world of sound. The sparse orchestration highlighted timbre in sensual yet unadorned ways. In it, a series of atonal figures intersected and overlayed with each other as if they were part of a mobile sculpture.

In Wild Flowers by Sophia Hansen-Knarhoi lyrical melodies were interlaced against a droning backdrop. The piece called for subtle interplay in the ensemble with a few soloistic passages given to Julia Wallace on flugelhorn and Anneke van der Laan on cello. Another lyrical work, Sir Degaré by David Whyatt was a Renaissance-inspired song for two voices and harp telling the story of an orphaned man in search of his parents. With its regular phrasing and harkening to older styles, this number was attractive, but felt like an outlier in the program.

Experimental procedures in abc by Izzy French saw the choir engage in game-like instructions to sing either drones or textural vocalizations. Members of the ensemble relied on quirky hand signals to communicate their parts, sitting down on the floor or standing up according to the cues. Odanrot Neris by Ethan Bellhouse was a nod to Brian Eno’s ambient work from the seventies. The piece brought an electronic sensibility into the acoustic realm with its use of looped material and melodic variations over sustained tones.

In Raphael Luxton’s changed unchanged, blocks of sound were arranged to stand in tension with each other. The monolithic pace and guarded atmosphere of the piece pointed towards the work of European modernists like György Kurtág. Another rigorous work, Hypothermia by Keaton van der Linden, was a showpiece for Lindsay Vickery, Stewart Smith, and Genevieve Wilkins who performed with improvisational flair. Sunlight Steeping by Luca Muco featured impressionistic harmonies and seemed to evoke Rothko’s use of colour and form for emotional effect. These three works were also notable for engaging the choir in substantial ways.

Given the influence of the visual arts on Feldman’s music, it was surprising none of the pieces paid much attention to presentation. Lighting and stage layout could have been used in more sympathetic ways, especially in the enveloping works of Felistini, Savory, and French. Despite the constraints of theme and instrumentation, the program offered valuable insights into the diverse voices within the composition program. The spirit of collaboration among WAAPA staff and students was clearly communicated to the audience. In a culture where the composer is celebrated as an individualist or a maverick, this concert provided an alternative narrative; one of meaningful collaboration and shared responsibility in music-making.

Pictured top: Michaél McCarthy directs WAAPA staff and students in “Rothko Chapel”. Photo: Anton Maz

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Author —
Eduardo Cossio

Eduardo Cossio is a musician active in the Perth experimental music scene. He is a presenter on Difficult Listening (RTRFM), his music reviews appear on Realtime Arts and Cool Perth Nights and he runs Outcome Unknown, a concert series of exploratory music. At the playground he would try and get some percussive sounds happening.

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