15 April 2009
Ba Da Boom Percussion with Richard Haynes
Brisbane // QLD // 01.04.09
© Justin Nicholas
Richard Haynes’s performing visits to his hometown of Brisbane are rare but always exciting. For this concert, he teamed up with Clocked Out percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson and ten of her students to perform a series of contemporary Australian and international works.
This is real show, but devoid of fuss. Without introduction, the performers emerge, bow, and take their places. And as they sound the first notes, it becomes apparent that this is a performance to be experienced not only with the eyes and ears, but with one's whole being.
Haynes and Tomlinson sit facing each other with percussion student Shane McPherson standing over them to facilitate page turns. Surrounded by an obstacle course of percussion instruments, they launch into Reeling (1983) by the English composer Christopher Fox. The multiple layers of meaning implied by the title are intended – like a reel of tape the music goes around and around, the themes spin, then chop and change like an Irish traditional reel. Meticulously notated rhythmic patterns sit somewhere between jazz and folk music, and the flighty, erratic melody (infused with the flavours of quartertone tuning) dips and trembles through the very high range of the clarinet. This curious combination of upper-register clarinet and high hat pierces your ears and rings around your head – leaving you reeling.
The two performers have their own distinct approaches to the music. Haynes's engaged professionalism – despite his playing as lightly and easily as if he were improvising – is slightly at odds with Tomlinson’s evident childlike joy as she uses her whole body to feel every rhythm.
Liza Lim’s Spirit weapons (1999-2000), the second work on the program, is a darker, more expansive piece of music. It was inspired by the unearthing of an enormous, four-chamber tomb in China, filled with the remains of an ancient ruler, his entourage, a great many musical instruments – and weapons. The use of the contrabass clarinet (Haynes plays on the more flexible metal instrument) certainly conjures up the eerie sounds of a deep and long-buried past. Like creatures from some lost or alien world he grunts, purrs, whines, stutters, tinkles and howls. Lim’s pitch bending techniques, in the percussion as well as in the clarinet, create the warped fluidity so associated with the idea of dead awakening, becoming active and alive. Rather than shrieking through the passages of your head as the Fox did, the sounds in Lim’s work make your very bones vibrate, such that you are aware of experiencing your own personal earthquake.
The next work on the program, Zorna (1974) by Tim Souster (another Englishman), is a column of heat through your core and a sweet yet pungent taste in your mouth. It features Turkish folk music, roughly transcribed from a recording of a traditional instrument, the zurna. Playing now on soprano saxophone, Haynes proves that he is far from being stuck to the clarinet – his sax sound is rich, liquid, and deeply satisfying. Semi-meditative, cyclic melodies feed through his instrument and linger in electronic echoes. The percussion, when it happens, sounds vaguely independent, but gradually adds to the building tension and drama.
This work is strongly addictive – the listener quickly develops a taste for it and wants for it all the more, and stronger, like some kind of mouth-watering Middle Eastern dessert or exotic drug. The music obliges, and gradually you begin to feel that the instrument is taking over the instrumentalist as the melody climbs ever higher, only just testing out each new level before recklessly throwing itself into it. The thumping, irregular heartbeats of percussion become unison – half bewitched dance, half bloodthirsty war cry. The saxophone screams one last terrifying, thrilling, euphoric, apocalyptic note before, finally, it expires. And the applause, which seems so strictly intent on dragging you back to the planet earth, sounds so quiet and inadequate after that intensity of sound.
Perhaps to give Haynes a break or the audience a chance to catch their breath, the next work features only student percussionists. Six, as with many of John Cage’s works, feels as though you have stumbled in upon some random room of sound and are stunned by musicality of such proceedings. The ever-effective surrounding of the audience with musicians is put to use, attracting the occasional turned head. At moments this collective sounds like a children’s science experiment, at others it is the insect noises and rustling leaves of some outdoor scene, and only a few seconds later it is clearly industrial. Haynes standing in the centre, instrument in hand, creates a great expectation – but he doesn’t play until the next piece, which continues directly.
As Tomlinson and Haynes begin Given What We Gather Takes Place (2003-2004) by the New Zealand-based James Gardner, situated now on the far left of the stage, the hint of a gap between their performance techniques becomes more apparent – though they are ever more enjoyable to watch for their individual styles. A smile plays around Tomlinson’s lips, occasionally her foot kicks up from the rocking motion of her body. Haynes is more serious – his sound seems to be coming from the spinal cord in his neck. Gardner’s interesting use of tongueslaps is interspersed with haunting, folk-inspired tunes. The work ends with a beginning – a minor-arpeggio and augmentation, which sounds so full of promise that it is with some trepidation that hands are raised. Vanessa Tomlinson laughs, Haynes remains ever composed.
For the final work, Nigel Westlake’s Malachite Glass, a percussion instrument enters the clarinettist’s hands: a cowbell. The purely rhythmic introduction, heavy and growing (in Haynes’s note he eloquently describes it as 'an approaching storm'), gives way to a racy repetitive music – a precipitation of sound. Sounds filter into each other, gathering brilliance and life as they travel. It’s a kinetic piece, best felt through the hands, and as you sit there you feel your fingers begin to twitch. This is the kind of work that one can never fail to enjoy – and it is a little hard to avoid the judgement of it providing a safe ending to an adventurous concert.
This music needs to be experienced live. It gets inside your body – the body of the audience – and resonates there. The visual element, too, is powerful: there is something very beautiful about a woodwind player surrounded by flailing sticks.
The Queensland Conservatorium’s percussion students perform with enthusiasm and professionalism, deeply inspired by Richard Haynes’s approach to making music. In this concert, they proved highly capable of some difficult music, and conveyed the shapes and subtleties of each score. Together Tomlinson and Haynes made an impressive musical team, and in doing so successfully introduced a profusion of new sounds to an open audience.
AMC Calendar (www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/calendar)
© Australian Music Centre (2009) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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Hannah Reardon-Smith is a flautist, radio announcer, writer, singer, teacher, arts administrator and vegetarian. After graduating from her BMus at the Qld Con in 2008, she's keeping herself busy by saying yes to everything - completing a mentorshop through Youth Arts Queensland under Janet McKay, getting an ensemble by the name of Musicians Against Complacency off the ground, singing with The Australian Voices, freelancing as a soloist, announcing on 4MBS Classic FM, administrating for Southern Cross Soloists and Clocked Out and giving a music class at the Mater Hospital Special School. Hannah was the AYO Music Presentation Fellow in 2008.
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