A performance by Decibel ensembleis 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 ofmusique 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.
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 Reviewof 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.
13 August @ The Sewing Room ·
Presented by Tura New Music ·
Tura’s monthly night of new sounds at The Sewing Room.
This Month Featuring:
Hi. Ok, Sorry.
Movement: Jacinta Larcombe / Olivia Hendry / Lilly King / Umairah Murtaza.
Tura presents an evening of evolving club beats, off-kilter house, and elusive positions in a conversation between improvised movement and experimental electronic music. This club-night-gone-weird features live sets from local electronic musicians paired with live improvised dance from movement artists. Sounds from Lana Rothnie, Ben Aguero and Hi. Ok, Sorry. Shapes from Olivia Hendry, Lilly King, Jacinta Larcombe and Umairah Murtaza. Multivalent voicings drift up from the basement; motions becoming below; sounds and shapes in odd conversation.
4-6 July @ Various Venues around King Street ·
Presented by WAYJO ·
WAYJO’s King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival returns to the city this July.
Boasting 55 shows and more than 200 performers, the festival showcases WA’s top emerging and established jazz musicians. City venues include His Majesty’s Theatre, The Sewing Room, the InterContinental Perth City Centre Hotel, Cheeky Sparrow and Prince Lane. Performances start at 5.30pm, 6pm, 7pm, 7.30pm, 8.30pm and 9pm. Tickets from $15 each from www.ptt.wa.gov.au
For West Australian jazz musician Kate Pass, music is a means of transcending cultural and geographical boundaries, a passport to other places and a way of communicating across language barriers. As leader and composer of Kate Pass Kohesia Ensemble, she brings together her passion for Persian music and jazz, and the group’s 2019 Fringe World show, Kohesia Presents: A Night of Persian Jazz, promises to transport audiences to another place. Seesaw chatted to Pass to find out more.
Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be a musician? Kate Pass: I always enjoyed music as a child, and was encouraged from a young age to be creative and play. I remember going to concerts, being in awe of musicians performing on stage and thinking to myself, “I’d love to do that!” After playing trombone for a few years in high school, I picked up a double bass and within a few weeks of learning, I decided that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
S: Tell us about your training… KP: I was lucky to be part of a newly-introduced instrumental music program at Newman College, where I had some great music teachers. After school I went to WAAPA and studied for a Bachelor of Music (Jazz). A lot of my learning was done on the job though, from playing a wide variety of gigs with a broad range of musicians. There’s always more to learn, and much can be gleaned from working with, and watching, other musicians.
S: Describe your artistic practice… KP: I’m a double bass player – usually this means I’m a side-person, but I also lead my own band (Kohesia Ensemble). I compose the music myself for Kohesia, inspired by my love of Persian music and jazz. As well as performing live, I spend a lot of time playing music on my own, or jamming with friends, as well as composing and trying to come up with new ideas.
S: What do you love most about what you do? KP: Every day is different! It’s also really special to work with so many talented musicians, and connect with them both musically and personally over a long period of time. I also love the way music transcends cultural boundaries – you can go anywhere in the world, and even if you don’t speak the same language, if you both play music, you can communicate and understand a lot about each other through music.
S: Career highlight so far? KP: Through being a musician, I have had some amazing opportunities to travel. Some highlights would be playing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Persian singer Tara Tiba, and also at my favourite world music festival, WOMADelaide, with the same band. Recording my debut album “Kohesia” was also a really special experience!
S: Funniest career moment so far? KP: Being on a 10-day cruise and getting so seasick I could only get out of bed to perform – and had a very green tinge on stage! I never missed a performance though!
S: Tell us about Kohesia Presents: A Night of Persian Jazz… KP: “Kohesia Presents: A Night of Persian Jazz” will take audiences on a journey, exploring the sounds of Persian modes and instruments with jazz. It features my original music, which enables a musical conversation between the unique voices of amazing musicians within the ensemble. Unusual time structures, microtonal melodies and soaring solo sections will transport audiences to another place.
S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe? KP: I’m fortunate to be involved in several other Fringe Shows, so I’m really looking forward to performing with Adam Hall and the Cuban Young Guns, and Perth Cabaret Collective. I’m also excited to see some circus and cabaret acts that I wouldn’t usually get to see throughout the year. More than anything I’m looking forward to the great vibe that Perth has during Fringe World.
S: What is your favourite part of the playground? KP: Monkey bars
30 Jan & 10 Feb @ The Sewing Room ·
Presented by Kate Pass ·
Kate Pass Kohesia Ensemble are excited to be playing at Fringe World Festival 2019.
Journey with Kohesia Ensemble and experience the evocative sounds of Persian music played in a unique jazz style. Led by double bassist Kate Pass, the Kohesia Ensemble serves as a platform for Kate’s original compositions, which are influenced by her passion for both jazz and Persian music.
Kohesia Ensemble explores unusual time structures and microtonal melodies for a captivating listening experience. Since being nominated for a Music Award for their 2017 Fringe World show, Kohesia Ensemble are excited to be back presenting a night of original music that will transport you to another place.
Review: Tura New Music presents Robin Fox & Akioka ·
The Sewing Room, Perth, 2 October ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·
Tura New Music’s most recent gig was an evening of live processed electronic music from Perth local Akioka (aka Tess Jane Darcey) and Melbourne stalwart Robin Fox.
Akioka’s set opened with looped Mongolian-style vocals (a nasal, ringing tone) which were soon layered with the singer’s very convincing impersonation of larks and magpies. This was coupled with ethereal human calls, not altogether unlike those of Kate Bush. Akioka gradually altered this material into a more abstract set of tightly looped, droning material, in the vein of Pauline Oliveros. From here Akioka’s focus became increasingly structural and rhythmic, with slow pulses turning into rapid beats.
This transition out of something akin to electroacoustic composition or sound-art and into something closer to rather noisily idiosyncratic IDM (so-called “Intelligent Dance Music”) was well handled — although the regular short drop-outs in the music and the slightly uneven beat-matching meant that each musical repetition had to re-establish the attention of the listener. The acoustic distinctiveness of Akioka’s at times rather odd acoustic combinations, however, came to feel slightly uneven to my ear. The inclusion of poorly synthesised high-hat clashes, for example, seemed inconsistent with the rest of the sonic palette. Personally, if I am going to listen to techno or IDM, I want my beats more banging than this. Such questions of personal taste aside though, it was a very engaging set. Darcey currently performs in quite a number of genres and guises, and one suspects that her sound is continuing to evolve. I look forward to future output.
If avant-garde techno proved just slightly out of reach for Akioka, this fusion of stylistic approaches across a diverse set was well and truly nailed by electronica veteran Robin Fox. It was unfortunate Perth was not treated to one of Fox’s totally overwhelming sound-and-laser shows (see http://robinfox.com.au/projects/laser/). He did, however, perform live using a laptop connected into a custom built modular array of hand-patched processors — in other words a messy box full of wires connecting different circuit pathways!
Befitting such an old skool way of arranging electronics, the set opened with a deep, resonating bed of 1960s sounding synthesiser drone — the sort of thing the BBC radiophonic laboratory used to produce for films like The Quatermass Experiment. Beneath a massive organ chord whistled higher pitches, echoing around within small spaces dotted across this larger field, before the higher pitched material gradually rose in frequency and bled outwards. An increasingly rapid switch-like tick came to the fore and Fox rounded off this section by using a modified mouse controller to perform a rapidly changing, squelchy, hiccupping and ticking solo. Sounds slid about, briefly coming to rest, before being split and multiplied. Although distinctly electronic, it had something of a glottal, vocal quality, and recalled quite closely Fox’s contribution to Coagulate (2003) — though here, perhaps, produced with a slightly less bludgeon-style approach!
Fox briefly exited this mode by offering a stripped back, deep pulse, working the bass amplifiers even more than previously. This was followed by airy, tearing sounds wafting and slapping about in the background. But then these beds of sound broke up, and we were back into crinkly, scratched exclamations — at least some of which seemed to be processed percussion sounds. This dropping back into a more open acoustic space which is then punctuated by smaller, discrete elements is something of a classic structural shift in Fox’s oeuvre, and here, as elsewhere it offered a surprisingly meditative plateaux within what was otherwise an often very intense set.
It did not take long, however, for this to coalesce again into an almost vocal sounding, Dionysian din underscored by massive bass thuds. At this point the set effectively became a live techno concert. The intense multi-harmonic density of Fox’s palette may be somewhat distant from rather lighter sounds employed by Juan Atkins and Derrick May, but it was not altogether inconsistent with some of Model 500’s harder material. Certainly, Fox’s version of techno feels a bit more punk or Cabaret-Voltaire-esque than that of most of its founders. In addition to this, the spiralling secondary beats and sound effects add something of an acid or trance feel. Indeed, I was rather disappointed there was not a dance floor in the venue, because Fox’s thundering banger of a set here deserved a physical response. Personally I was thrown back to days when live techno performers successfully competed with skilled disk-spinners and I was listening to the likes of Voiteck in Melbourne.
Fox soon morphed the beat into a pulsating, thuddering wall of noise underwritten by drum-machines, which eventually wiped everything else out of the mix. The set therefore ended on a gigantic, all engulfing tumult of rips and noise, leaving the audience dazed and washed up on shores unknown. It was a masterful set and a great example of just what years of experience in the electronica scene can produce. Let us all hope Fox might be able to add lasers to his next Perth visit!
Pictured top: Robin Fox, photographed by Tristan Parr.
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.
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.
15 May @ The Sewing Room ·
Presented by Tura New Music ·
The delicate and the powerful collide when percussion meets electronics in an immersive collection of solo works performed by Louise Devenish.
The sparkling sound world of glockenspiel and vibraphone and the deep resonance of gongs are extended by electronic processing, samples and sub woofers in a collection of works by Andrián Pertout, Stuart James, Cat Hope and Kate Moore. This collection of sparkling and resonant Australian works for metallic percussion is complemented by interactive visual projection mapping on the instruments by New York based artist Ross Karre.
Louise Devenish’s ‘music for percussion and electronics’ national tour is presented by Tura New Music as part of the Tura National Program.
Immersed in research on postmodern and philosophical anthropology Harada’s glitch is generated by using extreme techniques to disassemble and reconstruct all envelopes of existing sound. Working closely with experimental video artist Shohei Sasagawa, Harada has built a body of work that has been presented at experimental art festivals around the world.
The sound of the “Data Complex Communication” includes error programs that lose several bytes of data, this makes glitch as errors between analog and digital. This glitch is not a type of noise but overtones of organic sound space.