six instrumentalists stand on the stage of an empty auditorium
Features, Music, News, Performing arts

A concrete collaboration

A performance by Decibel ensemble is a visceral sensory experience, particularly when performing music by French composer Lionel Marchetti.  Their musical collaborations – spanning eight years – are being celebrated in a national tour, part of a series of concerts recognising Decibel’s ten year anniversary. Seesaw magazine chatted to Decibel’s artistic director Cat Hope about the magic that happens when acoustic and electronic sounds overlap.

Rosalind Appleby: Firstly congratulations on Decibel’s 10 year anniversary as a band! It’s great the party is continuing all year with this series of 10 at 10 concerts. And I’m pleased WA (as the original home of Decibel) is hosting the launch of this tour with Lionel Marchetti. What are your highlights from the past 10 years?

Cat Hope: The highlight is really how we have evolved and consolidated as both a musical project but also a group of people playing music together. But specific highlights would have to include the tour of Europe in 2012, where we worked with German Radio producers and tonmeisters: it really validated us and our approach, and made me realise that there is a place for our music outside the ‘experimental music ghetto’ that I sometimes feel we are relegated to in Perth.

Our performance at the International TENOR conference earlier this year was also great, because it became clear there that we are held in very high esteem by our international colleagues.

RA: Lionel Marchetti has been working in the French genre of musique concrète since the 80’s, utilising recorded sounds (instruments, voice, electronics etc) as raw material in his digital compositions. How did you first come across his works?

CH: We met Lionel when Decibel shared a bill with him during a performance at Liquid Architecture in Sydney in 2011. I was so impressed with his live performance, and this idea that music concrete could be a performative genre, that I asked him to write a piece for Decibel. The result was a beautiful work that we premiered the following year at the WA State Museum, Premierè étude (le ombres). Later I found out that he was in Australia back then to be on the bill with Eliane Radigue, as he is a preferred diffusor of her electronic works. She was unable to travel that time, but we went on to work with her later, so that’s a nice link. Since then we have worked with Lionel on around seven works, in different ways: they are all on our Room 40 CD release, The Last Days of Reality released at the end of last year.

Portrait of French composer Lionel Marchetti, also the cover art of the Decibel/Marchetti album The Last Days of Reality. Photo Bruno Roche.

RA: Decibel’s 2012 commission from Marchetti was the first time he had done anything for a combination of electronic and acoustic instruments. Can you explain the process of how you came upon the idea of a ‘partition concrete’, a concept which inspired the title for this concert?

CH: Premierè étude (le ombres) is a text score, and comes with what Marchetti calls a ‘Partition concrete’ (concrete part). Referencing his music concrete practice, the partition concrete is a fixed audio ‘part’, like any part in an ensemble. The partition concrete is reproduced through carefully calibrated and situated speakers onstage, and sometimes alongside,  the live performers. The performers are instructed to interact with these sounds in specific ways. The result is truly wonderful: delicate but at times surprising, a real examination of the nature of sound and performance. You can also listen to these partition concrete alone: they are all on his Bandcamp site.

RA: What has Marchetti’s music brought to Decibel Ensemble’s ongoing explorations into the integration of electronic and acoustic instruments?

CH: This is a great question: one thing that became clear to us a few years into our existence was how important scores were going to be as part of our commitment to the integration of electronic and acoustic instruments. So we found innovate ways to read and create scores for electronics within the ensemble. Marchetti’s music took us in a different direction again, as it relies much less on notation. The detailed instructions are within the sound, but structured through the text score. It draws on the intuitive musicianship we share as creators of electronic or acoustic music, and relies on excellent ensemble skills to come together. I really believe in this common musicianship concept – musicianship as something that all experienced musicians hold, irrespective of process, genre or style. When you truly explore that notion, the results can be pretty special.

RA: In this concert the loudspeaker is not simply a system of amplification or even an instrument in itself – Marchetti is trying to render the speaker invisible. Can you explain how he manages to make the sounds from the speaker invisible?

CH: When the acoustic instruments are work working within and around the sounds from the speakers, you really can’t tell which is which sound is coming from the instrument or speaker, and that’s kind of magical.

RA: The program includes two works Marchetti wrote for bass flute (you) and a work for Decibel ensemble. There is also a new collaborative work that will be performed on the night – can you give us some clues what we can expect from this?

CH: Two of the works are collaborative pieces between myself and Lionel: The Last Days of Reality (2018)  for bass flute, tam tam and partition concrete, and The Earth Defeats Me (2014) for bass flute, bass clarinet and partition concrete. These were made differently from the others in that I first created a graphic score in the Decibel ScorePlayer as I usually do, performed and recorded it, sent to Lionel who would then use it to create the partition concrete in some way. That partition concrete is then built into the score, so whenever we play it, from the score, that part is included. I love the way these turned out.

There are two other existing works for the ensemble (and Lionel will play a clarinet in one of them!), but also an extended new work by Lionel, Inland, which we will be developing in the residency before the concert.

RA:  How should we be listening to it?

Darren Jorgensen called this music the ‘new classicism’ in his Realtime Review of a concert we did featuring Marchetti’s music in 2016, and I think it’s a good term. There is an unexpected and strange kind of formality to this music, a new and different type of formality that I am still attempting to describe. The music is experienced as a sensory experience because it requires a kind of virtuosic listening – the sound is rich and multilayered, coming from places you don’t expect, instruments creating sounds that seem to defy their construction or intention, as well as the use of unusual instruments at times. The closer music moves toward the real centre of sound, the more visceral it becomes.

“Partition Concrète” is at the Sewing Room on August 26 and continues to Melbourne and Sydney.

Read Seesaw’s review of “Partition Concrète”.

Please follow and like us:
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Trio play out of their skins

Review: University of Western Australia & Tura New Music, Armadillo ·
University of Western Australia, 16 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

A percussion trio led by American Robyn Schulkowsky has performed one of the concerts of the year as part of the international Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference at the University of West Australia.

The Australian premiere of Schulkowsky’s 30-year-old work Armadillo is the first of three evening performances over the four-day conference  this week, in addition to a wide range of academic discussions about historic female artists, contemporary queer music, and feminist sound art.

Two more concerts round out the conference performance program at the the UWA Conservatorium of Music, presented by UWA and Tura New Music. Decibel new music ensemble, led by Cat Hope, offers a survey of compositions by contemporary Australian female composers as part of its 10th anniversary (Decibel 10 at 10) on July 18. Queensland percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson closes the conference with a performance in the UWA Tropical Garden on July 19.

Schulkowsky is a veteran of the US and German experimental scene, having worked with Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, and many others, principally in the role of performer/interpreter. In devising Armadillo, she was inspired partly by Mayan calendrical cycles and numerological groupings.

As performed by Schulkowsky with Tomlinson and UWA head of percussion Louise Devenish, Armadillo is a mercurial, endlessly surprising work. Small, semi-detached rhythmical items rest within other inconsistent, larger groupings, which intermittently break out, or cause the piece to morph in time signature and/or sonic texture.

Although peppered with extended, cumulative agitations of the cymbals and tam-tam (or gong), it is first and foremost a piece for drums. It is amazing the amount of sonic variation that Schulkowsky, especially, coaxes from these instruments as the piece develops in time.

There is a brief passage of Brazilian batucada-style drumming, with sharply-attacked bongos leading, but this is soon dispersed into a more effervescent set of motifs. Steve Reich’s highly repetitive, minimalist drumming is evoked when the three performers settle into a groove which feels like it could last all night. But on the whole, the shimmering effects and phasing so loved of Reich is absent here.

Armadillo is therefore more properly called a work which at times settles into a minimalistic lockstep, as rhythmic patterns are lovingly repeated. The highly asymmetric time signatures required Schulkowsky in particular to, very comfortably it seemed, pump out one rhythm with her foot on the cymbal hi-hat pedal, and an entirely different one with her sticks in her hands on the toms. This puts Armadillo ultimately within another musical and stylistic space to Reich or Latin percussion, although Schulkowsky is clearly influenced by both.

Another striking element of the performance is the rise and fall of intensity which is modulated through how the drums are approached. Schulkowsky and her collaborators however often combine a strike to the drum with a kind of dampening or pressing effect. When performing as a trilogy, the usual mode is to come together for several minutes, then one performer drops away, the others continue, and then the first returns before another drops out. In this turn taking, volume and textural density rise and fall. One needs a careful ear to attend to the very subtle layering of material.

Schulkowsky definitely loves her instruments. I have never seen a performer with such a deft touch on the skins of the drums. While Tomlinson and Devenish are also superb, Schulkowsky all but strokes her instruments. She bashes, coaxes, rubs, caresses and finger-thunks these items. As she rocks gently back and forth, or looks off in absorption upwards and to one side, we in the audience also move to another place with her; a place of objects, surfaces, drum-skins, and musical sublimity.

This was one of the most extravagantly wonderful and awe-inspiring Perth concerts of the last few years: please bring Schulkowsky back!

The Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference ends on July 19.

Pictured at top: Vanessa Tomlinson, Robyn Schulkowsky and Louise Devenish. Photo by Tristen Parr.

Please follow and like us:
A woman singing against a pink drape.
Features, Music, News, Opinion

Balancing the scale

Did anyone else notice?

Featured among the international artists appearing at the Perth Festival were two local composers, and they were both women.

Cat Hope’s searing opera Speechless made a profound impact on audiences at its premiere and scores by Rachael Dease were a large part of the success of the daring dance theatre work Sunset (STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle, with Tura New Music) and the children’s theatre piece A Ghost in My Suitcase (Barking Gecko Theatre).

A female singer on a dark stage
Composer Rachael Dease in “Sunset”. Photo: Anthony Tran.

It went unmentioned – as it should. A woman composer headlining a national festival shouldn’t be exceptional. Yet until very recently it has been. As we celebrate International Women’s Day today it is worth remembering that the playing field has not been even for women in the arts and in many ways they are still playing catch up.

Everything I’ve ever wanted to do would’ve been easier had I
been a boy. But never mind, I never paid much attention to it,
I just marched in and there I was.

These fighting words come from Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990), arguably the most famous female composer in her lifetime and one of the first Australian women to march into the male-dominated world of composition.

Back then the costs were high: Glanville-Hicks’ colleague Margaret Sutherland was married to a psychiatrist who thought a woman wanting to compose music was a sign of mental illness, while many women had to lie about their gender to be published. Positions on the boards and in the institutions were held by men, who also received the majority of the commissions. In spite of this Sutherland almost single-handedly pioneered modernism in Australian music and in 1938 Glanville-Hicks was the first person to represent Australia at the International Society of Contemporary Music.

Australian women have made a significant contribution to Australian music history, a subject I researched and celebrated in my book Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers (Fremantle Press 2012). As I pieced together the missing jigsaw pieces of our music history it became startlingly clear that our women composers have substantially shaped our history, often punching above their male contemporaries and often against great odds.

Today Dease, Hope and their female colleagues make up around 27 percent of Australian composers, sound artists and improvising performers. Sadly our concert programs (in any musical genre) don’t reflect anywhere near this statistic. Musicologist Sally Macarthur noted in 2013 that only 11 percent of the works in Australian new art music concerts advertised online featured works by women. And you can scour the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s 2019 program without finding any female composers represented.

Album cover for Women of NoteFortunately some organisations and individuals are rethinking their approach to inclusive programming and commissioning. ABC Classic has begun to intentionally program more music by women on its airwaves and, as part of International Women’s Day, has scheduled four days of music entirely by women. The station has also released an album titled Women of Note which celebrates 100 years of music by Australian women. This contribution towards a more balanced canon of music is a crucial part of rewriting history and normalising gender diversity for future generations.

The album includes music by Sutherland, Glanville-Hicks and other trailblazing works including Miriam Hyde’s first Piano Concerto, premiered in 1934 by the composer with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, plus Dulcie Holland’s highly regarded Piano Trio, a work that was unperformed for nearly fifty years before it was unearthed and premiered at the Adelaide Composing Women Festival in 1991.

The album also pays tribute to living composers such as Anne Boyd whose As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (1975) was an early precursor of minimalism. Elena Kats-Chernin, arguably Australia’s most popular and best known composer, is represented with her famous Russian Rag while Yuin woman Brenda Gifford brings insights from her Indigenous culture to the Western classical tradition. And composers such as Sally Whitwell, Maria Grenfell, Kate Moore, Nicole Murphy and Olivia Bettina Davies represent the myriad ways in which classical music is developing in the 21st century.

Which brings us back to Cat Hope and Rachael Dease and their fresh, absolutely unique contributions to the Perth Festival. I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed. I hope curators, directors and commissioners noticed. I hope commentators, creators and the audience noticed. And I hope future generations of gender diverse composers noticed.

– Rosalind Appleby

To celebrate International Women’s Day Seesaw has copies of ABC Classic’s album Women of Note and Appleby’s book Women of Note; the rise of Australian women composers to give away. To enter, email hello@seesawmag.com.au with “Women of note comp” in the subject heading. Competition closes 5pm, March 11.

Pictured top: Soloist Karina Utomo in Cat Hope’s “Speechless”. Photo: Rachael Barrett.

Please follow and like us:
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Some things leave you speechless

Perth Festival review: Cat Hope, Speechless ⋅
Sunset Heritage Precinct, February 28 ⋅
Review by Laura Biemmi ⋅

So often, words fail us. The tragedies of our time can leave us stricken, without words, struggling to comprehend the state-sanctioned monstrosities before us. Australian society has a lot to answer for, points out Cat Hope in the program notes for her new opera, Speechless. She highlights the Australian government’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, its lack of respect for our Indigenous communities, and its inability to recognise the plight of women in Australia, lamenting that ‘these are groups who, as a result of being spoken for by others, are left without a voice.’

Hope’s response to these crises that plague our nation was to create an opera which received its premiere at the Perth Festival this week.

Visually, Speechless was inescapably captivating. The audience were placed in curved rows around the oval performance space, giving the uncomfortable impression of spectatorship, as if watching a football game. Thick strips of fabric dangling from the ceiling, reminiscent of bar-graphs detailing horrific statistics, were pulled down and tightly wrapped around the principal performers, the set itself becoming an oppressive actor on stage. Matthew Adey’s lighting design included pole-like lights suspended from the ceiling to just above the floor, acting as both structural guideposts for the actions of the performers and as physical accompaniments to the Australian Bass Orchestra. In one particularly striking display in the third act, the red lights overhead drifted glacially from the back of the space near the orchestra, to the front of the room, menacing in its hue and bathing all in its light.

Four soloists stand on chairs with a group of black clothed chorus members clustered around them
The chorus turn their attention to the wordless singing of the soloistss Photo Frances Anrijich

Stripped of their words, the performers onstage connected with their audience in a more visceral manner. Sage Pbbbt was compelling in her guttural cries and wordless gasps; Karina Utomo’s aria of screams was deeply moving; the percussive vocalisations of Caitlin Cassidy were equally virtuosic and unearthly in their execution, and the mourning that pervaded the beauty of Judith Dodsworth’s voice was only enhanced by the lack of text. Such vocalisations were deeply moving, and were felt on a level I had never experienced before in a concert setting. The choir, made up of members from five separate community choirs, were effective in their role as ‘citizen’s commentary’, drifting through the space and connecting (or not) with the principal performers. However, I felt there was space in the opera for the choir to have a more prominent role as the members of Australian society. Some ‘numbers’ involving the principal performers began to feel familiar towards the end of the work.

Much like the performers onstage, the Australian Bass Orchestra communicated with their listeners in a more bodily fashion. The notes from the bass orchestra–consisting of low winds, brass, strings, electronics and percussion–could be felt reverberating through the feet of the audience, settling uncomfortably in the stomach. However, such a human, bodily effect was juxtaposed harshly with moments of metallic, mechanical rage, particularly in one intense moment scored for ‘rock band’ and strobe lighting. This clash between bodily and mechanical elements served to remind audiences of the inter-relatedness of the two; the horrors of our time might be systemic and seemingly untouchable, but they are essentially man-made.

Aaron Wyatt conducts the Australian Bass Orchestra. Photo Toni Wilkinson

Such bodily reactions to Speechless, are important. Hope drew inspiration for the opera from the 2014 Human Rights Commission Report The Forgotten Children: National Enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. Reports such as these filled with clinical figures of statistics and descriptions of conditions have not been effective at ending our current stance on asylum seekers, nor on any social issue plaguing Australia. Connecting on a level that surpasses pure intellect might be the next best option. Speechless was overwhelming; an experience so forcefully immersive, it was impossible to ignore. And that’s exactly what Australian society needs to experience.

Speechless continues until March 3.

Picture top: Karina Utomo’s aria of screams. Photo Toni Wilkinson

Please follow and like us:
A man and a woman dancing in the bush
Features, News, Performing arts

Home-grown produce

Nina Levy ·

It’s November 1, 2018 and the Perth Concert Hall is packed for Wendy Martin’s final Perth Festival programme launch. Anyone who has paid attention to Martin’s programming over the last four years will know that the Festival’s artistic director is a passionate advocate for contemporary dance. When the banner for STRUT Dance’s Sunset opens her 2019 line-up, however, the ripple of excitement is about more than dance.

It’s a historical moment. A local show is leading the charge.

Martin’s decision to open her final Festival launch with a home-grown show is part of a greater plan to showcase local work in this year’s programme. Alongside a terrific selection of international and interstate works, there are numerous shows and events by local artists and companies that are appearing this year under the newly-created banner, “Made in WA”. That list includes six Festival commissions.

Martin is immensely proud of the 2019 Festival’s local content. “It’s important to have a fantastically curated international programme, but it’s also important that, whichever place you’re in, the artists of that place are seen on the same platform,” she explains.

From the outset Martin’s vision was inextricably linked with WA. “When I [started at Perth Festival, four years ago] I said, ‘There are festivals in cities all over world. The thing that makes a difference is the place in which the festival happens.’ So when I arrived here, I saw myself as a detective, looking for clues and stories and threads to figure out, how I make a festival that really belongs in this place,” she explains.

Martin was immediately struck by what she describes as “the unbelievable list of artists who come from this place, both historically and now“. Her immediate response was to commission “Home” as the opening event of her first Festival, a free, one-night-only celebration of West Australian talent that included the likes of Tim Minchin, the John Butler Trio, Shaun Tan, The Drones, The Triffids and The Waifs.

The much-loved ‘Boorna Waanginy’ will return to Perth Festival in 2019.

The opening event of her second festival, Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, was another home-grown special, and one which returns to this year’s Festival. Bringing together the talents of Noongar elder and director Richard Walley, and designers Zoë Atkinson and Sohan Ariel Hayes, under the direction of Nigel Jamieson, Boorna Waanginy sees one of Perth’s most treasured landmarks, Kings Park, transformed by light and sound.

Thus the seeds for the Made in WA programme were sown… but it was an idea that needed time to germinate. “As a curator, you have to know artists and they have to know you, and there needs to be a certain level of trust to be able to work on projects together,” reflects Martin. “So it’s taken this much time, three years living in Perth, to be able to commission all this new work.”

The Last Great Hunt was one of the local first companies to catch Wendy Martin’s attention. Pictured is a scene from ‘Le Nor’ which will premiere at this year’s Festival.

When it came to choosing which shows to commission under the new Made in WA banner, one company caught Martin’s eye early on. “From the time I began [at Perth Festival] I could not believe that The Last Great Hunt, who had toured the world, had never been in Perth Festival,” she remarks.

Martin wasn’t going to rush into anything though. “I had so many meetings, across the years, with Tim [Watts] from The Last Great Hunt. I kept saying, ‘Come on, give me something, I’d love to have you guys in the Festival…’ and then I saw New Owner [by The Last Great Hunt, commissioned by the Awesome Festival] and I loved it. If I’d have known about that show I would have loved to have had it in Perth Festival… but of course, it’s fantastic that it was in Awesome, which is an amazing Festival.

“[Tim and I] met about three times. He wanted to experiment with form and what I didn’t understand – because at that point I didn’t know him well enough – is that Tim is a wonderful storyteller, but he doesn’t start with the idea, he starts with the form of the production.”

And then The Last Great Hunt pitched the idea for Le Nor, a work that weaves together film and live performance, so that audiences witness both an on-screen story and behind-the-scenes action. “When Tim did his pitch for Le Nor I was almost crying, because I thought it was so magic, such a beautiful idea, funny and poetic,” Martin recalls. “Tim’s work, at its core has big heart … and as a programmer that’s one of the things I care about most.”

Glamorous woman in a black pillbox hat
Natalie Allen in ‘Sunset’, a new work created by WA’s STRUT Dance, in collaboration with UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk. Photo: Simon Pynt.

Another commissioned work that is close to Martin’s heart is STRUT Dance’s Sunset. Created in collaboration with UK choreographer and director Maxine Doyle (associate director and choreographer, Punchdrunk), in association with Tura New Music, Sunset is an immersive dance theatre work that takes audiences on a walking tour of Dalkeith’s Sunset Heritage Precinct. “Sunset is like a dream in terms of my programming aims,” she explains. “It’s a collaboration between a great international artist and local artists, it speaks to the history of this place, it’s a collaboration with more than one [local] artist and company – as well as STRUT and Tura New Music, Rachael Dease is the composer and doing the sound design, and Bruce McKinven is doing the set. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the artists here to work with an absolute game changer. UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk have created whole new form of immersive theatre … to have someone like [Punchdrunk’s associate director and choreographer] Maxine Doyle in our midst, excited by this place… you couldn’t really ask for more.”

No words: Cat Hope’s ‘Speechless’. Pictured are the hands of the four soloists, Tara Tiba, Sage Pbbbt, Judith Dodsworth and Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

WA’s Tura New Music is involved in a second 2019 Festival commission, producing Cat Hope’s new opera, Speechless. In the case of Speechless, a response to the issue of children in detention that combines four soloists, a 30-voice choir, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble, it was the motivation behind the work that appealed to Martin. “I love that Cat is an activist and a great humanitarian,” she reflects. “She was so disturbed by the decisions that the government was making in our name. So she felt the best thing that she could do is make a personal, artistic response. She read the Gillian Triggs report into children in detention and then figured out this beautiful concept which is her graphic score. The music she has written has kind of been written over the photographs and drawings that the children have done. In a way she’s giving these kids a voice by responding so directly to their art work. There are no words because those people have no voice. Cat is a really important Australian artist.”

Man in front of Mill
Lost and Found Artistic Director, Chris van Tuinen, pictured at Jarrahdale Heritage Mill, where ‘Ned Kelly’ will be presented. Photo: Nik Babic.

Like The Last Great Hunt, Lost and Found Opera was on Martin’s radar from early on. Renowned for presenting unusual operas in unexpected but effective spaces, Lost and Found will be presenting its first commissioned opera, Ned Kelly, in a Jarrahdale saw mill. “Lost and Found Opera have been doing super exciting work,” enthuses Martin. “I think they have a brilliant concept and the fact that they now want to create a work from scratch – they have such a track record that you just have to trust that they’ll deliver. They’ve also got a great following… but I think the platform of the Festival will make it more recognisable.”

Three woman. One looks scared, one is ready to fight, one is calm.
A rip-roaring yarn: ‘A Ghost in My Suitcase’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Much-loved local company Barking Gecko Theatre also has an established following but stands to broaden its reach by being commissioned to appear on the Festival programme. In terms of Martin’s aims, it was the cross-cultural nature of the work that caught her eye.  “When Matt Edgerton proposed adapting A Ghost in My Suitcase for the stage I was immediately attracted to the possibilities that Gabrielle Wang’s award winning YA novel offers up,” she remembers. “I was excited that Matt wanted to create the production out of deep cross cultural collaboration. It’s a rip-roaring yarn – a great adventure story of a young girl who goes to China and discovers her grandmother is a ghost hunter. It seemed to have all the right ingredients to be a perfect family show for the festival.”

Climate change is at the centre of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Tao Issaro

Kwongkan is another Festival commission that is a cross-cultural work, and one that has fascinated Martin as she has watched it evolve. A collaboration between WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and India’s Daksha Sheth Dance Company, the work brings together Indigenous Australian and Indian performers in a ritual of dance theatre, live music, aerial acrobatics and film. “When the artists pitched the idea to me, they intended to explore the similarities between these two ancient cultures, both of whom dance barefoot, but over the course of three years … the thing that sat at the forefront of their concerns, was climate change,” she explains. “They realised that if we don’t do something now, there will be no trace, not just of ancient cultures, but of anything. So in a funny way, ‘Sand’, which was about touching the earth has now become, ‘Well if we don’t do something, sand is all we’re going to have’. To see the evolution of an idea has been exciting.”

It’s clear that witnessing the germination and blossoming of ideas intrigues and inspires Martin. “As a curator and commissioner of work, that’s the really exhilarating thing,” she remarks, “hearing an idea and being able to play some kind of role in those artists realising their vision by offering the platform of the festival.”

That platform offers greater visibility to the home crowd, but also, potentially, further afield. “I’m hoping that we’ll have international presenters and national presenters coming over to see that work, to consider it for their venues and festivals,” she concludes. “I think that’s a really important role that the Festival can play.

– Nina Levy

Perth Festival opens February 8 and runs until March 3. Head to the Perth Festival website to view the full program, including the six commissioned works from Western Australian artists and companies, and the rest of the Made in WA program.

Pictured top: Ian Wilkes and Isha Sharvani in Tjuntjuntjara, a remote WA Aboriginal community, during the final development of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Mark Howett.

Please follow and like us:
Features, News, Opera, Perth Festival

Composer gives speech for the voiceless

Award-winning composer Cat Hope will give a voice to the silenced when she returns to Perth to present the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address on Thursday. Hope is currently based in Melbourne where she is head of the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University. The visit will be the first of several Hope will make to her hometown in the coming months.

Glanville-Hicks had a stellar international career and the address named in her honour provides a platform to challenge the status quo and raise issues of importance in new music. Hope is a fitting choice for the address with industry experience as a performer, curator, academic and advocate for gender equality.

Speaking on the phone from Melbourne she outlined her plans to use the Glanville-Hicks address to discuss gender inequality in the music industry.

“Some in the industry believe that gender equality is not an issue but there is now evidence to confirm women and non-binary individuals do not experience the same access to opportunities as men working as music creators. I’ll present this data and also suggestions on how we can develop change.”

Composer Cat Hope. Photo supplied

Hope’s advocacy for women and non-binary artists was galvanised by observing the treatment of women in public life.

“Women like Julia Gillard, Gillian Triggs – women just doing their job – were attacked for reasons that had nothing to do with their work. I realised that Australians operate within a systemic hierarchical structure and the arts are included in that, even though we may think we are more collaborative or left-leaning. We need to change the way we think, talk about and commission compositions across the full range of society, from individuals at a ground level to government policies at a federal level.”

In a tangible demonstration of putting change into action, Hope’s address will include the performance of a new work commissioned from artists she would not normally work with. Melbourne metal singer Karina Utomo will perform a composition for voice and electronics created collaboratively by Hope and Polish-Australian composer Dobromila Jaskot.

Utomo will also be starring in Hope’s first opera Speechless, to be premiered in February as part of the Perth Festival. In Speechless Hope’s concern for issues of social justice take on a large scale, as befits a work in the genre of opera which historically often drew on the issues of the time. The score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the 2014 Human Rights Commission report, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

“Speechless is my personal response to Australia’s refugee crisis. When it first happened I was devastated and felt so helpless. I wanted to use music to activate the issue.”

The opera retains the conventional structure of arias, recitative accompanied by orchestra but Hope expands the horizon of opera according to her experimental practice and philosophy of inclusivity.

Utomo will perform alongside experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt, Iranian-born singer Tara Tiba, opera singer Judith Dodsworth and a combined community choir of 30 voices. The opera has no libretto, instead the four soloists and choir will sing wordlessly (think Ennio Morricone mixed with experimental singer Cathy Berberian) in a fitting homage to people whose voices are rendered silent through political means. Instead the narrative will unfold through the music which will be performed by the Australian Bass Orchestra, an ensemble of low pitched instruments such as cellos, double basses, bass guitars, bass winds and brass, bass drums and electronics.

Hope composes her music using graphic notation and the score for Speechless is derived from the format of The Forgotten Children report. The singers and musicians follow specific colours and literally ‘read’ the report, following the up or downward trajectory of graphs, children’s drawings and photos.

The process may be unusual and technical, but Hope says the experience for audiences will be exhilarating.

“People will be challenged but it is ultimately rewarding. We’ve heard a lot of words and seen a lot of images and I think Australians are suffering from compassion fatigue. I hope the opera might give people a different way to grapple with the issue.”

Perth audiences can have a preview of Hope’s compositional style performed by Utomo at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks address on Thursday night. Hope will also be performing with her award-winning ensemble Decibel on Monday night at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Since founding in 2009 the six-piece electro-acoustic ensemble has become something of an Australian institution, renowned for their pioneering work with graphic notation and their commitment to commissioning Australian composers. The Decibel concert explores the vinyl record as a sound source, musical instrument and score.

The Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address is November 29. Decibel’s Revolution concert is December 3. Speechless will run February 26 until March 3.

Picture top: singer Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

 

 

Please follow and like us:
Speechless
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Speechless

26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Sunset Heritage Precinct ·
Presented by Cat Hope & Tura New Music ·

Imagine a world where you have no voice. That is the world for many in contemporary Australia who are silenced legally, politically or culturally.

Speechless – a powerful new opera by award-winning composer Cat Hope – is a personal response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report ‘The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention’. Through a vocal language beyond words, Speechless is a channel for Hope to come to terms with the terrible things she sees perpetrated in her name by those in positions of power.

Speechless features one of Australia’s finest interpreters of contemporary vocal repertoire Judith Dodsworth, lead singer of the Australian heavy metal powerhouse High Tension Karina Utomo, one of Australia’s most distinctive voices in Iranian-born Tara Tiba, West Australian experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt and award-winning visual artist and post-punk drummer Tina Havelock Stevens with a combined community choir of 30 voices, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble.

While following the structure of conventional opera, Speechless’ unique score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the Report and performed using networked iPads. This World Premiere season is designed specifically for the new Sunset Heritage Arts Precinct.

Immerse yourself in a compelling, courageous and visceral sonic world.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission
Produced by Tura New Music

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/speechless

Pictured: Karina Utomom, credit: Paul Tadday

Please follow and like us:
Contemporary music, Music, News, Reviews

Sonic gorgeousness from Devenish and James

Review: Louise Devenish, “music for percussion and electronics” ·
The Sewing Room, 15 May ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

Louise Devenish is a WA based, virtuoso percussionist specialising in New Music — or if you prefer post-Romantic, post-Classical art music. On Tuesday, Perth’s Sewing Room saw the beginning of her national tour to promote the release of her album music for percussion and electronics, comprised of specially commissioned works by various Australian composers.

The recording, and hence the concert, represents the culmination of considerable work and refinement of this repertoire, much of which has been premiered in previous Perth concerts. Here, Devenish performed from memory, without written scores, an impressive feat which provided an unadorned setting for the performer’s very intense focus on her instruments and their nuances. For those in the know, the concert constituted a “greatest hits” of Devenish and of those with whom she has been working.

Not so effective was the use of visual projections from Ross Karre, which might work if the seating was elevated or raked. Instead, these were obscured by the less than ideal seating provided by the groovy but frankly unforgiving and unsympathetic setting of The Sewing Room.

Cat Hope’s “Tone Being”, for example, especially suffered compared to the 2016 performance in the acoustically insulated and focused State Theatre Centre Studio. Devenish attacked the gong with extremely measured and distinctly separated sonic gestures, punctuated by quite long gaps in which we contemplated with her various reverberations, low bass sounds in the speakers, or indeed almost nothing. The Sewing Room does not support this sort of listening well. Nevertheless, Devenish again demonstrated the particularity of her precise and almost (to my mind) thoughtfully neo-classical approach to her instruments. Austere and serious, her gestures were sparse, focused and concentrated.

The concert opened with Andrián Pertout’s “Exposiciones”, which pairs a recording of what sounds like a very old clock with Devenish live on glockenspiel. The clockwork thunks in the recording are irregular, gently building before snapping over. This counterpoints beautifully the scintillating materials provided by Devenish on glockenspiel. Pertout’s program notes make his rhythmic and temporal structure sound devilishly complex, but perhaps because I am a lover of funk, and, as he says, the thunks of the clock serve to mark “the downbeat” as in funk, it actually sounded like a relatively straightforward interdigitating of off-beats and asymmetric accents. In terms of sound quality, if not rhythmic patterning, it felt to me like a hyper-complexified version of Aphex Twin’s “Nannou” or perhaps even “On”.

Kate Moore’s “Coral Speak” is one of a suite she has written about the Great Barrier Reef. Chris Watson’s extraordinary and masterful field recordings have shown us that despite the apparently quiescent appearance of coral, it actually makes quite an active sequence of “snaps, crackles and pops”. Moore uses what sounds like processed chimes as the backing for her work, and while the electronics gradually morph into a pleasant enough background field, I cannot say I felt there was much connection between this inexactly moving around set of glassy/rocky sounds, versus the attractively measured rising and falling doubled strikes of the vibraphone. The best solution was to ignore these frankly annoying electronic elements altogether and focus on the live sound in the space.

Louise-Devenish-at-The-Sewing-Room-photos-by-Rachael-Barrett
The five movements of Stuart James’s work offered a diverse and meditative selection. Photo: Rachael Barrett.

The stand-out work in the concert was, therefore, Stuart James’s masterful work for electronics and “deconstructed gamelan” — that is to say gamelan gongs taken out of their frame and arranged in a non-sequential order. From small gestures using the upturned gongs as resonant bowls, to more layered, interactive sections where an irregular pulse and unresolved harmonics come into play, the five movements of the piece offered a diverse and meditative selection which also, at times, had urgency and power. Unexpectedly “small” or timbrally thin and high-pitched sections build and then evaporate in the face of sharp stick cracks, whilst a slightly watery and recognisably electronic or electroacoustic backing moves around within the performance space behind Devenish like a series of crunchy, mercury waterfalls. There is a lot to attend to here, both in terms of temporal accents and the relationship of sound textures.

James’s program notes offer an almost spiritualist interpretation of the piece, stating that, “The essence of sound is the breath, the compression and rarefaction of kinetic energy passing through the air.” I am not altogether convinced such concepts are clearly communicated by the music, or even that they could be. Nevertheless the piece has a rich, sonic gorgeousness, warmth and mystery which insists on dense contemplation. This might well be James’s first masterwork, beautifully brought into being by WA’s leading percussionist, Devenish.

Louise Devenish’s “music for percussion and electronics” is touring to Adelaide (20 May),Brisbane (22 May and Melbourne (24 May).

Pictured top: Louise Devenish at The Sewing Room. Photo: Rachael Barrett.

Please follow and like us: