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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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Features, Music, News, Performing arts

Hacking the piano

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.

Zubin Kanga is at the intersection of technology and piano. Photo Raphael Neal.

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.”

Australian Works

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.

International networks

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.

Zubin Kanga performs PIANO EX MACHINA at Subiaco Arts Centre on April 24. Be sure to visit http://wiki-piano.net leading up to the performance to add your own unique voice to the show.

Pictured top: Zubin Kanga. Photo by Raphael Neal.

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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

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Two men in black shirts tap on pipes with small hammers
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The pathos of the natural sublime

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.

Polar Force continues until February 24th.

Pictured top: Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott performing on the custom built instrument.  Photo by Christophe Canato.

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A girl walking down a corridor
Dance, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A girls school adventure

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.

A girl upside down in a window frame.
Melissa Tan, climbing the windows. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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.

Two people dancing in a room of apples
Grace and energy: May Greenberg and Mitchell Harvey. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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.

“In SITU” plays until December 1.

Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Calendar, Dance, December 18, November 18, Performing arts

Dance: In SITU

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.

More info
W:  www.tura.com.au/tura-program/in-situ/
E:   admin@tura.com.au

 

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Decibel Revolution
Calendar, December 18, Performing arts

Music: Decibel Revolution

3 December @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Tura New Music ·

Revolution is dedicated to the vinyl record – as a sound source,
musical instrument and score. The program features three new world
premieres by Annika Moses (Difficult Commission), Lindsay Vickery
and Ryan Ross Smith, and existing works by Milan Knížák, Chris De Groot,
Cat Hope and The Velvet Underground.

This concert explores the turntable in music across a range of
approaches, from the deliberate use of breakage, the integration
of purpose cut and prepared records, to the integration of the
skilled turntable performer. This will be one of the first
concerts featuring turntable and vinyl record in every work
of an entire program, providing a detailed overview of the
possibilities for records and record players in new music.

More info
W: www.tura.com.au/tura-program/revolution-by-decibel/
E:  admin@tura.com.au

 

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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

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Sunset
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Dance: Sunset

7 – 17 February @ Sunset Heritage Precinct ·
Presented by STRUT Dance  ·

Leave your comfort zone and enter a mysterious world where you wander with the spirits of Perth’s colourful past. Discover forgotten secrets in the dusty shadows of one of our city’s most intriguing and significant heritage sites – Sunset down by the iconic Swan River.

From the renowned UK director-choreographer Maxine Doyle(co-director of  Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, Sleep No More) comes a visceral dance-theatre performance that is epic in reach but intimate in experience. Inspired by the riverside precinct’s rich and unique history and the bushland that surrounds it, a stunning cast of Australian performers transforms the former Sunset Old Men’s Home into a waiting room between worlds, where classical myth collides with West Australian stories and local heroes can waltz with gods.

A Perth Festival Co-commission

Presented in association with Tura New Music

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/sunset

Pictured: Sunset, credit: Simon Pynt

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Contemporary music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Robin Fox gets banging

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.

Woman singing into a microphone, lit in blue
Ethereal calls: Akioka. Photo: Tristan Parr

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, Robin Fox’s set opened with a deep, resonating bed of 1960s sounding synthesiser drone. Photo: Tristan Parr.

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.

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