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Review: Zubin Kanga ‘Piano Ex Machina’ ⋅
State Theatre Centre, April 24 ⋅
Review by Eduardo Cossio ⋅

Many contemporary composers have sought to create works that are not just for the ‘ears’ but ones that also incorporate visuals, new technologies and invite audiences to interact with or influence the performances. London-based pianist Zubin Kanga was in Perth last Wednesday to present Piano Ex Machina, his third instalment in a series of concerts exploring mass media and new musical interfaces. Presented by Tura New Music at the State Theatre Centre, the recital featured new Australian works as well as a piece by the German composer Alexander Schubert.

WIKI-PIANO.NET is part of Schubert’s Community Pieces, a series of works whose content can be edited by online users. The piece recreates the disparate world of cyberculture by having a website as its score. Kanga becomes a conduit for a series of disjointed actions, visuals and musical fragments where the strands of a Beethoven piano sonata co-exist with Tom and Jerry videos. Kanga’s delivery is deadpan as he follows the absurd instructions on the webpage, like hitting his forehead with the palm of his hand and then facing the audience to apologize repeatedly. The eccentric stunts are interspersed with musical material that ranges from atonal classical music to commercial pop. The performer’s body and the situation are in the foreground and Kanga is convincing at harnessing the energy and irreverence of the work.

A focus on physicality and the absurd is also present in Jon Rose’s Ballast, an updated version of his work with motion-sensor technology in the eighties and nineties. It starts with Kanga playing several runs at fast speed. The mechanical-like patterns are reminiscent of Conlon Nancarrow’s works for player piano and its digital counterpart in the nineties, Black MIDI. Along with the dense, dissonant playing, Kanga triggers electronic samples by waving a motion-sensor ring in his right hand. The performance builds into to a frenzy before Kanga starts pacing around the piano flailing his arms like a man possessed. Ballast is all that you would expect from a Jon Rose composition; it is virtuosic, in your face, and full of wacky antics.

More use of sampling comes in Tristan Coelho’s Rhythm City, which sees the performer manipulating everyday sounds and video-clips with a MIDI controller. Kanga makes the videos stutter and glitch, looping them forwards and backwards. The piece is a feature for his virtuoso keyboard technique; he pummels the piano during the jazz-inflected passages and regains his composure in the minimalist figures. Despite an effective synchronization of the visual and piano parts, I found the electronic samples became overly familiar after a while.

Kate Neal’s A Novel Piano features an animated film by Sal Cooper along with theatrical props on stage and an acting role for Zubin Kanga. The work is adapted from the hour-long music-theatre piece, While We Sleep. The video presents whimsical sequences of books morphing into a piano and onstage Kanga breaks the third wall by leafing through paperbacks and drinking from a mug. Apart from the brief theatrical section at the beginning, A Novel Piano functions more as a soundtrack to the animated film. Visuals, theatre and sound are an ongoing concern in Neal’s work; however, they do not seem fully integrated in this standalone work.

A real sense of exploration with the sonic material is present in Zubin Kanga’s Transformations, which in contrast to the more art music oriented pieces in the program, delves into electronic dance music with a decidedly experimental bent. Low clusters of sound are contrasted with arpeggiated patterns on a synthesiser, and the stark mood pervading the work makes it revelatory of Kanga’s musical personality. The exploratory streak continues with Benjamin Carey’s Taking the Auspices, a piece of computer-generated visuals and semi-improvised playing. Carey has devised an artificial intelligence environment where the performer is in interaction with computer algorithms that listen to and respond to the performance. The interactions yield sympathetic results and push Kanga into an abstract musical language. On a screen, fractal-like visuals follow the ebb and flow of the performance. Taking the Auspices is a work combining complex programming technology with a warm and sensitive realization.

Closing the concert is Transplant the Movie 2! by Adam De La Cour, a short film that parodies eighties action films and video games. Despite the crude visuals (think Adult Swim and Troma Entertainment) the feature has a strong narrative line, including a memorable AMEB spoof featuring the Australian composer Neil Luck.

As entertaining as these works are, Piano Ex Machina relies a bit too much on irony and pastiche. In my opinion, the most affecting moments in the concert come during the works of Zubin Kanga and Benjamin Carey, for these engage with the audio-visual medium in more exploratory, inquisitive ways.

Picture top: Zubin Kanga at the intersection of technology and piano. Photo Raphael Neal.

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Children, News

Kids Autumn Gig Guide

As we approach the school holidays the arts scene is cranking up for kids.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra is offering two movie screenings with live soundtrack: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire on March 29/30 and The Little Mermaid on April 26/27. Did you know it has been 30 years since Disney released The Little Mermaid? Dust off the costumes and get ready to sing along to Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning score!

WA has two youth orchestras and both offer hands-on concerts tailored for children. On April 6/7 the WA Youth Orchestra invites children aged 2–8 to experience live music in an up-close and personal setting. At Babies Proms concerts children learn about the instruments, are invited to conduct the orchestra and can join the musicians on stage. Also popular with kids and the carers, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra’s similar Jazz for Juniors series on April 16-17 includes a have-a-go session at the end of the show.

Underwater image of diver and sea creature
Puppets tell the story in Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s Blueback.

During the school holidays (April 13-27) Spare Parts Puppet Theatre will reprise an adaption of Tim Winton’s Blueback. The moving story captures the mystery of the sea and the majesty of an old fish called Blueback. The audience follows Abel’s journey from inquisitive boy to a man prepared to stand up for what he loves and believes in.

Youth Week WA also coincides with the school holidays and Propel Youth is celebrating with their annual KickstART Festival from April 13-20. On offer are 40 free events and workshops celebrating the positive contributions young people make to our community. Craft, songwriting, collage, puppetry and a huge variety of classes are on offer for youth aged 12-26.

There are some great holiday courses available for children. Fremantle Arts Centre offers two and three-hour classes including sessions on how to make your own piggy bank, t-shirt, cuddly toy, or explorations into photography, pottery and animation. Barking Gecko‘s drama classes on April 16-18 look great, with a fairy tale theme and classes catering for ages 5-7  and 8-12.

The State Theatre is hosting two shows touring nationally with CDP Theatre Producers: Room on the Broom, based on Julia Donaldson’s much loved classic (April 23-28) and Billionaire Boy based on David Williams hilarious children’s book (April 24-27). CDP Theatre are the team behind The Gruffulo’s Child and The 13-, 26-, 52- and 78-Storey Treehouses and are pretty reliable for a great live show.

Finally, on May 18 one of my favourite music educators Paul Rissmann returns to WASO for another EChO concert. Backed by an 11-piece orchestra Rissmann will explore the gorgeous children’s books The Giddy Goat and The Lion Who Loved in his gently invitational and entertaining style.

Dive into the arts with your family and enjoy the magic that is autumn in Perth!

Pictured top: children get hands on at Jazz for Juniors.

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Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Wheels on fire

Fringe World review: Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life on Wheels ·
Midar Room, State Theatre Centre, February 1 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Tim Ferguson. Not that he’d want us to. It’s also impossible not to forgive him for feeling sorry for himself. And we do.

Ferguson, of course, was the tall (unlike Paul McDermott) non-conversationalist (unlike Richard Fidler) Doug Anthony All Star whose career – or at least that part of it – was cut short by multiple sclerosis.

Now wheelchair-bound, crippled in one arm, hard of hearing, dim of sight, foggy of memory and nappied of plumbing, he’s a walking, well, a wheeling, testament to the sheer horribleness of a disease that basically lurks in the brain looking for things to attack.

Ferguson is, of course, something of an attack dog himself, and there’s some delight in watching his assault on convention – and unconvention – through the video clips from the All Stars and shows like Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush that liberally sprinkle the show.

His description of Nine network emperor Kerry Packer smothering him in a bear hug and telling him how everyone loves him (that’s how the very rich sack you, says Ferguson) was comedy gold; there was nothing funny, though, in a clip showing him interminably and painfully walking to the door with the aid of a rollator to let his helper in.

There were also some revealing anecdotes, in particular the story of his father, Tony, a celebrated war correspondent, who ventured in to Cambodia during the Vietnam War to interview journalist and accused traitor Wilfred Burchett; Ferguson Snr sent his tapes back to the ABC which, under political pressure, burned them. Don’t think ABC-bashing is a recent innovation!

Ferguson, as he tells us, has forged a new career as a motivational speaker and trainer, and he speaks with some pride about his success.

I admire his courage; I also admire his chutzpah.

I suspect he needs lots of both.

Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life on Wheels is on at the State Theatre Centre until February 3.

Pictured top: Tim Ferguson pulling out all stops.

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MoveMe Festival
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, September 18

Dance: MoveMe Festival 2018

11 – 22 September @ State Theatre Centre and Surrounds ·
Presented by Ausdance WA ·

MoveMe Festival 2018 will make a huge splash across the State Theatre Centre of WA and nearby between 11 and 22 September, showcasing new contemporary dance work from the state’s leading independent choreographers, dancers and more. MoveMe Festival 2018 offers dance that is everything from captivating and thoughtful to unashamedly hilarious and exhilarating.

You are invited to take full advantage of new and innovative contemporary dance through MoveMe Festival 2018. We’ve created MoveThree, a 10% discount offer when you purchase tickets to three festival shows – Co3 Australia’s WA Dance Makers Project, Kynan Hughes’ Love/Less with STRUT Dance’s NEXT, and The Farm’s Cockfight.

Take advantage of discount offers to other festival programs, Dust on the Shortbread and WAB’s Dracula.

SeeMe is a program of free events across the festival including site-specific works and showings of Sunset (STRUT Dance) and Amity (Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates).

Anything is Valid Dance Theatre
Secret location at a suburban house in North Perth
6:30 p.m. 11 – 15 & 18 – 22 September
Tickets $30 – 35*

Co3 Australia
Studio Underground
7:30 p.m. 12 – 15 September
12:00 p.m. 14 September
5:00 p.m. 16 September
Tickets $35*

New trio by Kynan Hughes
Studio Underground
6:00 p.m. 19 – 22 September
Tickets $30 – $35*

Presented with Love/Less at Studio Underground

The Farm
Heath Ledger Theatre
8:00 p.m. 19 – 22 September
Tickets $35*

More info

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