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.
26 August @ The Sewing Room, Wolf Lane, Perth ·
Presented by TURA New Music ·
French Musique Concrète artist Lionel Marchetti returns to Australia for a series of concerts and residences. Lionel will work with composition students WAAPA in a week long composition residency before working with long time collaborators Decibel New Music Ensemble. Decibel and Lionel will present a series of concerts together, the first being at the Sewing Room on Monday the 26th August. Entitled Partition Concrète, this will be an atmospheric concert of delicate but at times surprising sounds.
The recent release of a recording of these works, on Brisbane Label Room 40, was named ‘a masterpeice’ in Italian music magazine ToneShift, and was listed on Nicola Orlandino’s “Best Artworks of 2018” list.
The Sewing Room is at 317 Murray Street (Basement) Wolf Lane, Perth WA 6000
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 percussionLouise 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!
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.
At Seesaw we enjoy publishing a range of voices. In this feature WA Academy of Performing Arts student Mae Anthony offers her insights as a Gen Z and a pianist in an interview with experimental pianist Zubin Kanga.
Have you ever wanted to control what a performer does on stage? International experimental pianist Zubin Kanga is taking the idea of improvising on a theme to a whole new level, inviting audiences to hack his piano recital by uploading ideas to a website. The piece is called WIKI-PIANO.NET and will be performed as part of his recital at Subiaco Arts Centre, the penultimate leg of his national tour.
PIANO EX MACHINA is the third in a series of unique programs (DARK TWIN (2015) and CYBORG PIANIST (2017)) containing pieces that merge elements of theatre, cinema, gaming, internet culture, and advanced technology. Nearly all of these pieces have risen from discussions and collaborations between the Australian/UK pianist and artists from around the world, resulting in funny, ironic and entertaining incarnations that offer insights into everyday life.
WIKI-PIANO.NET by German composer Alexander Schubert is arguably the most exciting piece on the programme in the way that it attempts to provoke a genuine human engagement between performer and audience members. Its praxis is the embodiment of the kind of work that Kanga is pioneering through performance: the interaction between art, specifically the piano, and technology.
Hacking the music
Over the phone Kanga described the process Schubert used to create WIKI-PIANO.NET.
“It is like a Wikipedia page that anyone in the public can go visit. The website is comprised of texts, sounds and audio, videos and images that are embedded by the public into the page, and that serves as the notation for the score. It is a piece that is always changing and dependent on the content that is posted.”
The multimedia content is shown to the audience and then the performer must act out, and respond to, what is being shown.
“It is always quite funny to perform because it’s got memes and things that people have done on the internet and can provoke me to react in surprising ways,” Kanga remarked, “There have been instances where I had to yell out lines from that really bad movie The Room or sing along to a pop song. A few weeks ago there was something in there about Will Smith in blue paint in that Aladdin trailer looking really ridiculous.”
Growing up in Sydney, Kanga pursued studies not just in music but also in philosophy and computer science. His music studies from this well-rounded education included the opportunities to explore musical projects with a vast amount of freedom. From as young as 22 he worked with Damien Ricketson and Ensemble Offspring. This opened up possibilities for him to work with experienced senior musicians in other projects.
Collaboration is key
Kanga says that building these relationships between himself as the performer and the composer is so essential to the outcome. One of his significant collaborators is Sydney saxophonist Ben Carey who will be performing in PIANO EX MACHINA. Carey’s piece taking the auspices is inspired by the flocking of starlings and uses artificial intelligence and 3D scans of objects to merge audio and visual elements live on stage. Carey is a technologist but also a saxophone player which gives him insight into Kanga’s performance practice.
“Carey knows how to read my body language and respond in a very organic way, which I think is really important to the sound of the piece,” says Kanga. “Often when you’re working with all this technology there’s so much risk in terms of what could go wrong so it’s essential to have someone you trust.”
The program contains four other Australian works including a piece by monumental Australian composer and improviser Jon Rose, titled Ballast, a work comprising a whirlwind of sound using a 3D hand sensor. The use of new technologies in piano performance is where Kanga feels most at home, and it is also the essence of his research as a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Royal Holloway, University of London.
“Working as a soloist with new technologies has become the big focus in my work. It’s what I love doing and the kind of work I like commissioning.”
Continuing the theme of new technologies, A Novel Instrument by Australian composer Kate Neal, in collaboration with stop-motion animator Sal Cooper, explores the kinship between cars and pianos. One movement from this large music-theatre work will be premiered in PIANO EX MACHINA. It combines music, images, film, electronics, and piano to create a mixture of musical counterpoint, visuals and movement.
Tristan Coelho’s work Rhythm City amalgamates looped urban film scenes with music. These visuals can be manipulated by the pianist using a midi keyboard and then is responded to at the piano.
The union of video and piano can also be seen in Adam de la Cour’s Transplant the Movie 2!, a piece that presents as a short film and is a comical take on low-fi action and spy movies from the 1980’s. This piece is the sequel to Transplant the Movie! by the same composer based on early 20th century horror movies.
Kanga resides in London for part of the year where he is able to immerse himself in the vibrant contemporary music culture in the U.K. He works closely with a number of British composers including de la Cour. Kanga says collaborative relationships of this kind create a space where he can merge other styles and interests, such as film, theatre, comedy, and movement on stage with music and work at the piano in particular.
“Hopefully a few of these pieces will be quite funny, as well, rather than being just intense and serious which I think a lot of contemporary music can be,” Kanga said.
Kanga has also contributed a composition to the program, a piece titled Transformations that manipulates sounds from the inside of a piano with those of an analogue synthesiser. It draws inspiration from the lives of his friends, family and colleagues who are experiencing changes to their internal, and in some cases external, bodies. It’s another aspect to Kanga’s adoptive process where his creative outcomes are grown from the seeds of input from others.
His unique methodology enables Kanga’s performances to both provoke and amuse audiences and PIANO EX-MACHINA promises to continue that proud tradition.
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.
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.
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.
Fringe World review: PICA with Tura and Speak Percussion, Polar Force⋅
PICA, January 21⋅
Review by Jonathan W Marshall⋅
Both Australia and New Zealand have been offering fellowships for artists to travel to Antarctica since the 1980s. Results have ranged from the pedestrian (DJ Spooky’s 2008 version of Sinfonia Antarctica) to the more bracingly exciting and complex (Phil Dadson’s 2005 Polar Projects). Polar Force is the latest such work from Melbourne’s Speak Percussion (Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott) in collaboration with sound artist Philip Samartzis and RMIT instrument builders Nick Roux and Malte Wagenfield.
The sonic palette developed here is designed to evoke the striking sound of Antarctic winds, rain, storms, flying particulate matter, watery ice and the astonishingly varied and intense vibrations and clatters which these forces produce within the rattling metal sheets, tubes and strung wires of human Antarctic structures. Samartzis has produced some tremendous, all-engulfing field recordings which are played back at three main points within Polar Force, and these are the strongest moments.
The majority of the concert however is not directly derived from these sources, but is rather designed to evoke isolated elements or motifs from these recordings through the use of a novel instrument. The custom built device mounted on a series of elegant glass and metal tables running between two banks of seating is essentially an aerophone, a pump-operated device fitted with valves and apertures through which windy exhalations may be manipulated. The sound is then picked up and transformed by specially fitted microphones. Consequently while some sounds are airy and clattering, others are more audibly electronic, recalling Theremins. Other amplified materials include the rich, harsh cracking of ice as it melts in water, and the sound of balls fed up air tubes and onto a hard surface, like banging doors or particularly hard icy storms.
The attention of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott to this quasi-scientific looking, snaking tubular installation is unfussy but intense. The playing is gestural, yet physically restrained. Adding to this visual aesthetic is the glowing venue itself. The audience is seated in an incandescently white, inflatable, circular-arched quonset hut, metal versions of which abound at Antarctic stations.
Musically, the performance is broken into four main movements separated by three periods in which Samartzis’ recordings are played back. Ughetti and Shack-Arnott tend to focus on particular capabilities of the instrument, and hence on particular elements from the recordings which they can evoke, picking out tones or elements and then gently playing with them (here windiness; then metallic and electronic like; and so on). As a musical composition which evolves over time, I did find the work rather static. Each movement is fairly consistent, and musical or sonic motifs do not seem to develop or shift significantly in focus. Rather there is a tendency towards the initial isolation and reduction of sounds which gradually leads to a crescendo—the most commonplace model in noise art.
Given that the live performance deliberately invites comparison to the recordings, I found it hard not to conclude that “Nature” here is a superior musical author to the humans. Antarctic conditions have crafted indeterminate mixtures and layers of sonic amalgamations which quite literally blow everything else away. The production therefore has something of a pathos-filled quality to it, dramatising the melancholy failure of humans trying to reproduce sounds found in the environment whose full richness eludes them. The natural musical sublime wins.
This is not necessarily a bad thing since the production overall features both types of material—totalising field recordings and more subtle live emulations—while the performances of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott masterfully prepare the audience to listen closely to Samartzis’ overwhelming recordings, as well as raising provocative conceptual conundrums such as where does nature end and the human begin. Field recordings are, after all, themselves a product of enormously complex technology. Overall then, this is a tremendous and thought provoking listening experience.
Review: Fishwick & Hughes, ‘In SITU’, presented in association with STRUT Dance, Tura New Music and Artrage ·
Girls School Creative Precinct, East Perth, 29 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
It’s just after 7.15pm as we enter the corridors of the old Girls School in East Perth and the fading light that filters in through art-deco gridded windows lends an eeriness to proceedings. This is “In SITU”, Perth’s annual season of site-specific works from local independent choreographers and composers.
In keeping with former incarnations of this program, producers Emma Fishwick and Kynan Hughes present 2018’s “In SITU” promenade style, but this time it feels particularly adventurous. While the 1930s Girls School building is currently in use as a cultural space, it has an air of abandonment that creates a sense that we are on an expedition into the unknown.
Framing the program is Serena Chalker’s evocative installation, in-passing. As we travel from one performance space to another, we pass fragments of memory, moments of homage to the building’s former uses, first as a school and then as a police station. Text books are wedged in the wooden locker, a school uniform hangs in an alcove, incident reports cover a desk, a light-bulb hangs from gallows.
The first stop on the walking tour is a small office-carpeted room for Apply Within, choreographed and performed with punch and zest by Sarah Chaffey, Mitchell Aldridge and Melissa Tan. With its clever use of projection to imply a second performance space, Apply Within is a witty exploration of the interview process. Clad office attire teamed with boxer shorts and socks, the three dancers reveal what lies beneath their game faces. They’re accompanied by Ryan Burge’s score, that ranges from discomforting white noise to dance-style electronica. Now they move together; perched on three chairs they twitch and soften in synchrony. Now they’re solo; Aldridge pouring across the tiny space, Tan climbing the windows, crabwise, Chaffey shimmying through a presentation.
Stop two takes us into a large room lined with wooden shelving, on which sit rows of apples; their fresh scent lightly perfuming the air. This is May Greenberg’s How to Digest an Apple, a duet performed with grace and energy by Greenberg with Mitchell Harvey. Their movement is sometimes robotic, as apples are sorted; sometimes weighted, as though the apples are heavy in their hands; sometimes wild, causing an apple cascade. In Dane Yates’s electronic score we can hear vocals; repetitive, distorted.
Our third stop, in the building’s basement, is also scented; sweet and cloying. In There’s a redness in the west, blood on the moon, fire in the sky and it’s coming this way, dancers Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Tahlia Russell lead us through a series of rooms and soundscapes (by Steve Paraskos), the echoes of which create ghostly underlayers. Whether performing in the gaping space of an underground bar, a discomfortingly cramped cellar-like space or a room flooded with dead leaves, the dancers negotiate one another with a wariness that seems to battle with a desire for closeness. While this work isn’t as succinct in its motivation as the first two, both concept and performance are dramatic and engaging.
Finally we move outside, looking towards a flight of steps that leads to the building’s main entrance. At the top of the steps, two dancers hang, their torsos obscured by crimson skirts, only two hanks of hair visible to give a sense of their identity. This is Sisters Vice, created by Natalie Allen in collaboration with endearing performers Ella Watson-Heath and Sarah Sim. The two young women ricochet between adulthood and childhood, chasing one another with screeches of delight one minute, seductively sliding down the bannisters the next. Rebecca Riggs-Bennett’s score also straddles the divide; playground giggling contrasts wordless vocals.
And so, the end. As we leave the precinct, we glimpse a figure in school uniform (Serena Chalker) drifting ghost-like down the corridor. It’s time to return to the present.
Whether your interest is in dance, music, architecture, or simply a desire to lose yourself in another world, “In SITU” is an intriguing and appealing walk into the unknown. Highly recommended.
29 Nov – 1 Dec @ Girls School Creative Precinct ·
Presented by Tura New Music & Strut Dance ·
In SITU – A Dance Platform is an annual season of original site-specific works from WA independent dance artists. This year, In SITU is staged in the hidden corners of the Girls School Creative Precinct. A blend of sound, dance & architecture, come along on a journey of discovery in this historic site. This is an intimate and roaming show, with only 30 audience members at a time.
Curated and presented by Emma Fishwick and Kynan Hughes in association with Strut Dance, Tura New Music & Artrage, In SITU is part of an ongoing commitment to nurture the development of local artists.