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23 November 2009

Black drapes, white shoes, pink ink blots - WAAPA Music Technology Graduates

Perth // WA // 02.11.2009

Kynan Tan Image: Kynan Tan  

As the first crop of graduates from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts' new Music Technology course, the presenting artists were under quite a spotlight at their combined graduation recital, and they shone. The result of a year's hard work and research culminated in a multi-sensorial treat for audience members. Spanning a wide range of prerecorded, improvised and acoustic combinations, many pieces also contained visual elements. Each with their own unique style and approach, Cherie Lebrasse, Kynan Tan and Ben Hamblin demonstrated their skills in composition, performance and technical wizardry, as they presented an evening of original and stimulating new works.

The event was held at Spectrum Project Space, an off-campus venue, run by Edith Cowan University's School of Communications and Contemporary Arts. The artists used the space, consisting of three, adjoining rooms, cleverly and effectively. Upon entering the first room, eyes were led to a large sofa, draped in black cloth, a stark contrast to the whitewashed brick walls. Four separate sets of headphones, on hooks beside the sofa, invited guests to sit and listen. Enter Cherie Lebrasse and her listening lounge. Via a looped CD of thirty minutes' duration, Lebrasse presented listeners with Reflections, a work in three movements, comprised of electronically manipulated, prepared piano. Inspired by recent workshops with Anthony Pateras, the artist began by preparing a piano, improvising, and recording. This source material was then edited and processed, within a rhythm sequencer patch, also created by Lebrasse, using leading sampling software, MaxMSP. On a low pedestal, beside the sofa, lay open a 'toolbox', containing items used to prepare the piano, including cuphooks, erasers, rubber bands, paper, screws and bolts. This added an extra visual and tactile dimension to the experience. A second pedestal offered us Lebrasse's CD cover, including informative liner notes. Another interesting visual component was the program notes, which were hanging on the wall, mounted and framed, with accompanying close-up photographic images of the prepared piano strings.

As an exploration of studio composition, Lebrasse divided her work into contrasting sections - 'Reflections', 'Fuzzy Brain' and 'Splitting Hair'. Whilst improvising in the studio using MaxMSP, she gradually developed the form and colour of the work, which she then recorded, mixed and mastered. 'Reflections' begins with a detuned ostinato over a groaning background atmosphere. A chime-like sonority emerges, conjuring up images of church bells. 'Fuzzy Brain' contains much shorter and sharper attacks, with samples, including voice, played in reverse, creating a glitchy effect. The final section, 'Splitting Hair', returns to a more ambient feel, with sustain and delay featuring prominently. Whilst each section succeeded independently, they were more meaningful as a whole, and while the recordings can be enjoyed any time in one's own lounge room, a large factor in the success of this work this evening was the presentation format. One of the advantages of an event such as this is the presence of the composers - Cherie Lebrasse was approachable, friendly and more than willing to answer any questions about her sound installation, which also ran through the interval and at the end of the concert.

While interacting with Lebrasse's listening lounge, a low-pitched hum could be heard emanating from a performance space beyond. In this main room, visitors were greeted by chairs facing outwards from the centre in rings. Like Lebrasse's work, Kynan Tan's Threads was composed and prerecorded, but in this instance was also spatialised across an eight-speaker array, encouraging listeners to move about the space. Interesting harmonies and rhythms emerged through the peaks and troughs of the standing waves, with audience background chatter adding a further dimension to the sonic experience. Positioning myself in different sectors of the space, I enjoyed closing my eyes and becoming completely absorbed.

Each of Tan's five works this evening were composed to capitalise on his eight-speaker array, and to enable audience members to immerse themselves in the sonic space. The composer also sought to fuse together live electronic music and sound art installation, using acoustic and electronic input. His second work, Stretched Limb From Light, was the first to use an acoustic source. Third composer, Ben Hamblin, doubled as clarinet player in this piece, as he performed a series of scored sections, accompanied by live laptop manipulation by Tan, who was positioned in the centre of the outwardly-facing rings of chairs. From a mezzanine platform, a few steps above the audience, Hamblin performed a series of techniques, alternating between long, sustained notes, jumpy, faster passages, and key-clicking. At times, these were heard unaccompanied, whilst mostly the clarinet was processed using Max MSP, creating effects such as whispers, harmonies and delay. There was a clear structure to this work, which was scored according to approximate time durations, and requiring cues between the performers. The piece felt very organic, and created a dark, thoughtful atmosphere.

Steps of Steps was purely electronic, with Tan recording and playing back sounds generated by the mixer. This piece was improvised, using a MaxMSP patch created by the composer, containing effects that included granular synthesis, ring modulation and pitch shift, as well as a variety of filters. This process resulted in a very entertaining and fast-moving piece, with resulting sounds varying between bubbly, underwater muffles, high drones, 1960s sci-fi and revving motorbikes. The spatialisation of sound was clearly evident in this piece. A similar style of electronic improvisation was used in Paths Cross in Draped Veins, except here Tan used found sounds as a source for manipulation. Prerecorded material included the ocean, bells, a rainstorm, birds, a teacup and spoon, and a running tap. After an intense, multilayered opening, the prerecorded sounds became more distinguishable and sparse, weaving in and out of each other, between the eight speakers. After a gradual increase in volume, the natural rhythms of the source sounds seemed to converge to create new, unnatural rhythms, before a stroll back to the ocean, fading to silence. I found these two pieces to be quite fun and light-hearted, despite the intense concentration of the white-shoed performer.

Kynan Tan's final work, Hypnogenia, was an audiovisual installation, where guests were again encouraged to move about the space to create their own unique experience of the work. This was a looped and spatialised version of a piece that Tan performed in September at the WA Museum, as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival, to much acclaim. The composer firstly developed an electronically-produced video, which he then programmed to operate as the score for the audio component, using MaxMSP and Jitter. Shapes, colour, movement and position entirely determined the sound and the speaker allocation, forming an inseparable and obvious link between the audio and the visual. The colourful and constantly evolving patterns underwent both sudden and gradual changes over a black background. Converging red lines, pink and purple inkblots and fuzzy distorted particles were all clearly reflected in the accompanying soundtrack, which demonstrated Tan's dedication, determination and skill in bringing this concept to its successful fruition.

During the interval, chairs were rearranged into a more traditional row formation for Ben Hamblin's presentation tone.body.chamber.space. Each word in the title represents each of the four sections in this work, taking their names from four different acoustic properties/aspects of the clarinet. In each section, Hamblin simultaneously plays and electronically manipulates the clarinet, using a variety of techniques and MaxMSP patches. After introducing himself and the work, the composer/performer moved into the third room and closed himself off from the audience with a hanging, black drape - a separation that was partly due to potential feedback issues. In this space, surrounded by four, spaced microphones, he played a series of sustained, vibrato tones on the clarinet. This first section, 'space', was an exercise in microphone interaction and natural harmonics that resulted, with the processed sound being heard in the main room through stereo speakers. The acoustically produced sound remained dominant, and the overall effect was calming, pure and contemplative.

After Hamblin's re-emergence through the curtain, and a brief pause to move equipment, 'body' began. My personal favourite of the four, this section focussed on the myriad sounds possible using the body of the clarinet, without actually blowing into it. Percussive effects, such as key clicking, were featured, as well as striking and scraping the microphone with the metal mouthpiece cover and the reed. Rapidly alternating between producing acoustic sound and manipulating it electronically, Hamblin treated the audience to fuzzy bubbles, babbling brooks, singing fish, muffled birds, crickets, sunrays, rustling reeds and an overall happy commotion, before a calm conclusion. This section was visually and aurally interesting and exciting and definitely stirred one's imagination.

'Chamber' revolved around processing sounds recorded from inside the chamber of the clarinet. Beginning with performing a low trill, Hamblin morphed this sound into chattering bats. High, sustained notes and a low, haunting, three-note phrase were the sources for mechanical and metallic effects, as well as what reminded me of a buzzing fly at a closed window. To conclude the recital, 'tone' demonstrated to the audience how a clarinet sounds with attack and decay completely removed. Perfect harmonies were created electronically, over a clear, but unnatural, melodic tone. Like the first, this final section was quite calm and ambient, but with more stacking up and overlaying of effects, and without the natural acoustic properties experienced earlier. An unexpected, cute blip signalled the end of this insightful and extraordinary journey.

This recital was made richer by its diversity. For each of tonight's composers to emerge from their Bachelor course with such strong, individual voices is a credit to the talent, skill and hard work of the students, as well as to the guidance and inspiration of course controller, Cat Hope. All three musicians presented works which were mentally, aurally and visually stimulating, without being too pretentious or alienating, and I look forward to following their future projects and developments as emerging artists.

Performance details

Immersive Particles - Bachelor of Music: Music Technology Graduation Recital
Cherie Lebrasse, Kynan Tan and Ben Hamblin
Spectrum Project Space, Northbridge, WA
2 November 2009

For a free download of a selection of works from this performance, please follow this link.

Further links

Kynan Tan (www.kynantan.com)
Ben Hamblin (www.benhamblin.com)
Spectrum Project Space (www.scca.ecu.edu.au/projects/spectrum)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Kelly Curran is currently an Honours student in the Bachelor of Music course at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, majoring in composition. Several of her chamber works have been performed around Perth, and she has also composed for dance and film. She was recently nominated for a West Australian Screen Award for best score for the short film Silent Beauty. She is currently researching postmodern approaches to chamber music, and is interested in bridging the gap between popular and art music cultures.


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