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20 March 2009

chronology arts - electric id

Sydney // NSW // 12.03.2009

chronology arts - electric id

Chronology arts organisation is rapidly gaining a reputation in Sydney's new music scene for attracting sizeable audiences to hear music by relatively young composers. The season's first concert at Sydney Conservatorium's Music Workshop had the theme 'electric id - chamber music electrified'. Most works were composed especially for the occasion, and included electronics, together with an instrumental ensemble of flutes (Jane Duncan), clarinet/bass clarinet (Toby Armstrong), saxophone (Andrew Smith), viola (Luke Spicer) and cello (Eleanor Betts). Sometimes the ensemble performed as a whole, conducted by Morgan Merrell, sometimes in various combinations. Some works in the program involved live electronics and interactivity, in other pieces the electronic part took a more rigid, pre-composed form.

Tristan Cuelho adopted the latter approach in his work Subito Piano. The raw material for the electronic part consisted of recorded and sampled piano harmonics. These building blocks were evident in the writing for the ensemble as well, much of the written score seeming to echo what was heard on the 'tape'. The results were sometimes interesting, at other times I was left with a feeling that the combination of the ensemble and the electronic part might have had the potential for greater exploration.

Mark Oliviero's Cyan Echo I for solo cello and live electronics took, by definition, a less rigid form. The acoustic qualities of the cello have been an area of interest for many modernists fascinated by timbre. Oliviero's piece, however, drew inspiration from and played with the kinds of gestures, even clich├ęs, familiar from the romantic cello literature. This lament for solo cello was enhanced by the glitter and glimmer of the instrument's own echo, becoming more and more dramatic as it went along. The unravelling of the material towards the conclusion was perhaps less convincing.

The electronic part in Nicole Murphy's north was relatively static in nature and did not seem to play a particularly significant role in the whole. The centerpiece of the work was a long, meditative section in which an endlessly repeating theme was passed around the ensemble, with short solo passages adding variety to the gently breathing texture. This is a tricky sort of work to pull off, and needs the right combination of simplicity and slight variation to lull the audience into a sense of timelessness. There is not much middle ground - either the listener is completely taken by the experience or else ends up alienated (think of Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood). In this case, there was just enough interest in the melodic material to sustain the treatment, even if the whole perhaps didn't end up much bigger than the sum of its parts, and Murphy must be congratulated on her ambition. (The composer's program note revealed, perhaps surprisingly, that the piece was a critique of globalisation.)

Alex Pozniak's Spiral Assemblage (another one with a slightly confusing program note) for flutes, saxophone and clarinet/bass clarinet, was from a different world altogether: a dynamic chamber work with a tight, three-fold structure. The chosen instruments worked particularly well with the pre-composed electronic part - a soundscape that started off highly-charged and fast (somewhere between birdsong and a computer game) and ended up as a slow, low rumble. The first part of the work consisted of repetitive, fast-moving, downwards scales, with some especially nice counterpoint between the electronics and the flute. The overall trajectory of the work proceeded in a controlled manner from the initial, fast-moving texture towards the slow-motion ending.

The success of the chronology arts organisation can be gauged not only by the size of the often young audiences, but also by the interest shown towards the events by more established names. A concrete sign of this was the inclusion in the program of a work by the composer/sound artist/programmer Jon Drummond. His interactive composition Pattern Recognition - and I'd better not pretend I fully understood his brief explanation of the workings of his laptop and other equipment - was akin to following a magician's performance. Starting innocently with high-pitched bell sounds, Drummond went on to work his small and mysteriously glowing cubes, conjuring an increasingly dense and somber sound world that filled the Music Workshop concert space, enveloping the audience with nightmarish sonorities. The sound projection was stunning, and there was also something amusing about the way the unleashed sonic genie was finally lured back into its bottle - all that was left were the bell sounds and the shyly smiling magician with his now entirely harmless-looking pieces of equipment.

The evening concluded with Elias Constantopedos's work Movements for audience and performers. This was a piece with a humorous intent and a strong conceptual element that had to do with the audience's reactions - a kind of social commentary on the workings of a conventional concert event. The visuals - video footage of the audience with mildly disrespectful scribbles added on the run by the composer - were less successful than the aural element. The music itself, a piece of crisp-sounding, modernist chamber music, was intentionally obscured by prerecorded 'audience' noises: coughing, snoring, mobile ring tones, commentary on the quality of music and the audience's imaginary boredom. The electronic part might have been more effective, had it been just a touch more subtle. In any case it did overshadow the live performance side of the work, which, for all the real audience knew, was quite interesting and not boring at all. It is difficult to say more about the music because of the level of distraction caused by the visuals and the recorded voices.

The composers, most of them born in the 1980s, were fortunate in having their works performed by a group of excellent, young performers, who demonstrated their affinity with a wide range of styles, making the most of pieces that were in some cases still works-in-progress. The rawness of some of the music, and the presence of unpolished details, is certainly part of the charm of an event such as this. It is most likely also the best way of finding out about the wildly different directions being taken by the younger generations of Australian composers.

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Anni Heino is a Finnish-born journalist and musicologist, and the editor of resonate magazine.


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Impressive Evening

Chronology Arts is a very impressive opportunity for the public to experience talented composers and performers. On the night I was very impressed with the playing of Jane Duncan,Andrew Smith and Eleanor Betts. I thought Mark Oliviero has a future in composing soundtracks for movies. Cyan Echo 1 was just the type of mood music you can hear in the background of a quality film.

These outstanding performers and composers need to be given a greater chance to promote their ability and quality to a wider audience. Thank you to the Sydney Conservatorium and the sponsors for the opportunity to listen to such a quality program.


Did anyone else just hear the live broadcast on ABC FM of the THE PASTICHE ACCORDING TO ST RICHARD?