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Q&A/What to SEE

What to SEE: Decibel ensemble at Revelation Film Festival

30 June 2022

New music ensemble Decibel are about to bring their unique approach to sound and collaboration to Revelation Perth International Film Festival with the live performance of a series of audiovisual miniatures.

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It has been three years since Decibel ensemble has performed in Perth. The COVID pandemic disrupted their performance schedule but group members responded in innovative ways. Ensemble musical director Cat Hope tells Rosalind Appleby about working remotely and in miniature.

Rosalind Appleby: Welcome back to Perth! It’s been three years since Decibel have performed in WA. How does it feel to be returning to the birthplace of an ensemble which has become something of an Australian music institution?

Decibel musical director Cat Hope. Photo: Megan Burslem

Cat Hope: Thank you, it is wonderful to be back! We never imagined that when half the ensemble members settled in Melbourne in 2019, it would be so difficult to play together. I look forward to reconnecting with our audiences here in Perth, which remains the place we have undertaken the most concerts and commissions since we started here in 2009.

RA: For those who might not be aware of Decibel ensemble, can you tell us the vision behind what you do, and who is involved?

CH: Decibel are a “new music” ensemble that focus on the integration of acoustic and electronic instruments in chamber music performance. While rooted in western art music tradition, Decibel aim to remove stylistic boundaries in commissioning and performance approaches, and we have made the commissioning of Australian composers a priority. Since our foundation, we have become world-leading interpreters of graphic notations, and have pioneered digital score formats for composition and performance. This includes the ongoing development of  the Decibel ScorePlayer App for iPad, enabling coordinated performance of graphic notations. This is downloadable from the Apple App store, and is used by composers and ensembles worldwide.

Founding members of the ensemble are myself, Lindsay Vickery (reeds), Stuart James (piano/ sound design) and Tristen Parr (cello) and more recent members are Aaron Wyatt (viola/iOS programming) and Louise Devenish (percussion). I believe we are a unique mix of performers, composers, computer programmers, sound artists and curators, and we work very collaboratively across music and research projects.

READ MORE about the 2022 Revelation Film Festival

RA: The series of pieces you are performing, “2 Minutes from Home Live”, are part of a project commissioned during lockdown. How did these works come about?

CH: When the lockdowns began in 2020, we were determined to continue making music, and so began a project of commissioning works from composers we had worked with in the past, including all members of the ensemble. These are two-minute “miniatures” that were made for the Decibel ScorePlayer, and we filmed ourselves recording our parts in our homes. These were then assembled into short films by videographer Karl Ockelford, who designed unique layouts for each one, where the score and performers were visible with the music. We made a podcast series to provide more background for each of the pieces, too. We distributed 21 of these over social media and our website, and the full collection has been showed in film festivals in the US, Europe and Canada. The show at Revelation Film Festival is the first time Decibel will be performing live with the film.

RA: Revelation Film Festival celebrates the work of boundary pushing storytellers – can you explain how film projections are a key part of the performance?

CH: The films will be adapted for the live performance, but the magical aspect of this project is really the scores, and the way they have been integrated into a film. They are so varied in their design and approach – and since the Decibel ScorePlayer puts them in motion, you can follow them along with the music during the live performance. To get the idea, you can see all the two-minute videos, and the related podcasts at our website here: https://decibelnewmusic.com/2-minutes-from-home/. There are excerpts from the podcast series featured between the works, too. The scores each live in a unique layout specific to that work – making this project completely grounded in the filmic presentation.

RA: Thankfully we are now moving on from a locked-down lifestyle. What can we still take from “2 Minutes from Home Live”? How do you hope audiences will engage with the performance?

CH: I think this project lives beyond the circumstances of its creation – while it does tell a story of the last six months of 2020 from the perspectives of composers all over the world, there was no theme for the composers to follow. Some composers chose to focus on broad pandemic-related concepts (Griswold and Rose focused on stats and data), some more personal responses to or experiences of lockdowns (Flynn, Sodell and Parr), some using text (Stewart, Hirayama, Vickery and Rosenfeld), others playing with the colour and design potential of graphic scores (Milliken, Thirlwell, Wyatt, Devenish and Snæbjörnsdóttir), or video (Hope and Ockelford). Others created works that draw from other influences and ideas pertinent to them at that time. Priest examines the concept of grain, Alvarez looks to the political, and Marchetti to the poetic.

RA: I understand Decibel has international travel plans later this year – can you spill the beans?

CH: Decibel are touring the UK as part of the UK|Australia season, a cultural exchange program celebrating the diverse and innovative artist communities and cultural sectors of each nation. This includes an appearance at the prestigious Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, a premiere of a new work of mine with Perth expat conductor Kelly Lovelady’s Ruthless Jabiru orchestra, and a variety of concerts, workshops and research presentations across the UK over the last two weeks of November. And in the spirit of ‘”you heard it here first”, we will have our CD of our “After Julia” works out on Tall Poppies, and a new album of collaborations with Lionel Marchetti on Room 40 by then, too!

Decibel appear in a special performance on 11 July 2022 as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Pictured top: Decibel new music ensemble are back in Perth for their first local performance in three years. Photo supplied

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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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