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29 September 2008

Clocked Out Duo: Dedications

Brisbane // QLD // 05.09.2008

Clocked Out Duo Image: Clocked Out Duo  
© Sharka Bosakova

In this final concert of their inaugural Brisbane season, musical adventurers Clocked Out returned to their roots. In their incarnation as Clocked Out Duo, Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion) and Erik Griswold (prepared piano, misc. instruments) weave a refined fabric of sound that can be, at any moment, delicate, energetic, playful, or sensitive. Dedications featured original works, created by Tomlinson and Griswold, that paid homage to two of their musical heroes: Morton Feldman and Terry Riley. Being a very visually aware ensemble, they also managed to sneak in a musical reference to Jackson Pollock in their work Blue Poles.

The evening was a kaleidoscopic exploration of timbre, texture and rhythmic interplay. Even Griswold’s choice of shirt – whether intentional or not – was a subtle and somewhat cheeky extension of the theme of patterns on which the program was based. Three sets of musical miniatures – Foreign Objects, Water Feature and Toy Feldman – became the musical threads through which the two stand-alone pieces (Rainbows in the Dark, Blue Poles) were woven. An assortment of toy instruments, various items of crockery, tiles, bowls and one seemingly stray plastic bag were strewn across the stage area – typically mundane objects which sprang to life and were transformed into intricate musical twinklings throughout the night.

Griswold’s prepared piano featured in the Foreign Objects sets, alongside Tomlinson’s array of conventional and unconventional percussion. The rhythmic interplay was tightly wound but remained organic throughout. I enjoyed the prepared piano in this context in particular, as it blended so beautifully with the percussion. Griswold explored the instrument fully, from single key strikes to complex combinations. Several times his hands would literally massage the keyboard up and down, creating an almost hypnotic swirling effect.

Toy Feldman brought the two performers to the front of the stage amongst toy pianos, music boxes and melodicas. I was struck by the unpretentiousness of these works – by using instruments that aren’t usually considered ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ the duo proved that beautiful music is something that is created internally, and the medium through which it’s brought to life can be of little importance. Of particular beauty was the use of several music boxes – though they had been ‘prepared’, as well, by removing pins. A few musicians, sitting around me in the audience, were frantically trying to figure out what the original tunes would have been, while I was happy to let them be simply ‘almost-familiar’.

Blue Poles was the most visually striking work of the evening. Using a pair of ropes tied around the front leg of the piano, Tomlinson literally whipped her way across, between and through five trajectories of objects (ceramic, metallic, china, wooden and plastic), with Griswold responding on prepared piano. From relaxed flops to highly charged frenzies, the ropes tickled and tested the objects, sometimes in combination, at other times in isolation. The plastic bag entered and exited the ropes, tangling and untangling itself with the resulting gusts of air, and Tomlinson deftly retrieved it from seemingly impossible locations (at one point I thought it was lost forever under the piano stool). Because of the strong visual element, I did find myself shutting my eyes occasionally to take in the purely musical aspects, and was equally impressed and delighted at the smatterings of sound I received as a result.

In Water Feature, Tomlinson explored the possibilities of musical interactions with water. In a water-filled clear plastic box, several floating china bowls were nudged in to life, creating a delicate symphony of wobbles and waves. Part 2 of the work involved two cowbells that were struck and then partially submerged to different degrees. This gave an unexpectedly eerie result as the resonating bell tones were bent and dampened by the water.

The final part of the set saw Tomlinson with a small hand-held gong, again using various levels of submersion to affect the sound. Visually this movement was fascinating, as the sound waves were clearly seen in the water through the clear plastic container. More intense moments were enhanced by splashes and sprays of water out of the top of the box, adding flair to the ending of such a fragile set of works.

Clocked Out Duo continue to explore and embrace the boundaries of musical performance in a light-hearted and down-to-earth way. Their eclectic programming is always sure to bring smiles of joy and gasps of amazement in equal measure, and this evening was no exception. Congratulations on a fantastic 2008 season!

Janet McKay is a prize-winning flautist (James Carson Prize – Qld 1993; Albert Cooper Prize – UK 1996) who has held executive positions in the Qld and NSW Flute Societies, and was Assistant Artistic Director of the 10th Australian Flute Convention. Having recently completed a Master of Music (Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium, Janet is a freelance performer and teacher specialising in contemporary flute music.


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