30 January 2009
Golden Fur New Music Project
Melbourne // VIC // 21.12.2008
This debut concert of the new Melbourne-based group Golden Fur was the first in a series that will continue through 2009. It presented five rarely performed contemporary works by Helmut Lachenmann, Morton Feldman, Jaap Blonk and Australians Robert Rooney and Marco Fusinato.
Billed as a concert that would 're-imagine chamber music in the realms of experimental music and the avant-garde', the group’s ambitious program had a special focus on different approaches to notation and interpretation. The chosen works swung from the formalism of strictly scored music to improvised musical responses to visual art. Augmenting this approach was a healthy dose of theatricality, prepared instruments, amplification, computers and a number of special guests.
Formed in 2007, Golden Fur is a trio comprised of composer James Rushford (piano, viola), Judith Hamann (cello, voice, harp) and Sam Dunscombe (clarinets, laptop). These young musicians have inhabited the worlds of chamber music and the local indie/experimental scene in Melbourne for some time now – each building a solid audience following, based on their uncompromising musical explorations and superb musicianship. These qualities were on display tonight, and the debut concert was well attended by a diverse and expectant audience.
Opening the concert was German composer Helmut Lachenmann’s Allegro Sostenuto (1988), for piano, cello and clarinet. A difficult and at times intense work, the trio brought a strongly focussed energy and detailed understanding to Lachenmann’s demanding musical language.
In Allegro Sostenuto, Lachenmann’s sound world is one of sonic rubble, noise, layered attacks and decays explored through unconventional approaches to acoustic instrumental techniques. A detailed array of toneless clarinet whispers and shrieks, cello body percussion and playing inside the piano were executed with conviction and a precision of timbral balance and rhythmic control. The trio rightly interpreted Lachenmann’s work as being about the sonic transference of colour, resonance and decay between the instruments, and they were able to navigate the complexities of the notation to reveal a structural sense overall. This level of controlled intensity was maintained for the work's half-hour duration and the result was a stunning opening performance.
Interval followed the Lachenmann, and if the trio needed a short break after the consuming Allegro Sostenuto, so did the audience! The second half of the concert commenced with the premiere of Parallel Collisions (2008) by Melbourne-based multidisciplinary artist Marco Fusinato. The work conjured explosions of sound-energy from the trio, driven by a score consisting of a series of artwork images printed on large cards that the musicians responded to. According to the program notes, these images were diverse and ranged from the 'sound pictures' of Greek composer Anestis Logothetis to volcanic eruptions, abstract eyes, imaginary landscapes, political riots, splats, kapows!, atomic explosions, and stills from The Simpsons.
The visual approach of Parallel Collisions allowed the trio to delight in many weird and wonderful instrumental sound responses to Fusinato’s images – showing their creative and improvisatory abilities. Some beautiful textured moments resulted. However, given that the work sought an active synthesis of sound and visual art, it was disappointing that the audience were not actually privy to the artwork as the trio played through them. Experiencing the same visual context as the trio would have helped provide greater cohesion and shape to the performance.
Morton Feldman’s 3 Clarinets, Cello and Piano (1973) provided a change in mood and approach to the previous works. Joining the trio were the additional clarinets of Aviva Endean and Brigid Burke. Woven together through repeated patterns, Feldman’s tapestry of colour and texture provided a necessary aural resting point in the concert program. The performance was again assured, but lighting could have been better used to support the spirit of the work and enhance the change in atmosphere.
Robert Rooney’s Duos 1.2.3 (1965) for any wind, string and percussion instrument followed next in the program. Rooney is an Australian visual artist and was one of the first Australians to be identified with the pop art movement. Although perhaps best known as a painter, he has worked in many mediums, including sound.
In Duos 1.2.3, Rooney’s graphic score becomes a way to investigate aleatory, or 'chance' procedures, as well as providing a general launching point for improvisation. In each of the Duos movements, two performers interpret the graphic score while another improvises. In performance, the trio appeared to relish the structured improvisation opportunities afforded by Rooney’s fluid score and they used their full arsenal of clarinet, cello, harp, piano and laptop in doing so. At times it was difficult to discern the 'lead' improviser from the generally dense textures, yet the overall effect was generally effective with some beautiful moments.
The concluding work in the program was Plopland (2007) by Jaap Blonk. The trio decided to interpret Blonk’s graphic score, written for 'any instrumentation', through the ritual of a 'drinking game'. Another seven to eight guests joined the trio around a large table and out came the liquor and cups. According to the program notes 'two teams compete around a table flipping cups, and selected sounds are electronically processed and responded to in real-time. All performers randomly interact with the visual cues in the score, resulting in cacophony'. Amplified in performance, this 'cacophony' ended up sounding something like a jet engine.
Although Plopland was a fun and conceptually interesting piece, it was a little difficult in the audience to clearly follow what was going on during the performance. More favourable lighting, better positioning within the space, and having an idea of the visual cues affecting the flipping of the cups would have all helped to make this a more audience-inclusive end to the concert. In performance approach, compositional process and sound result, the concert had moved a long way from the earlier prescribed rigours of Lachenmann.
The Golden Fur Trio are to be congratulated for their bold and enthusiastic programming of contemporary compositions. In performance, the trio displayed a versatile intelligence and totally engaging musicality in their approach to the diverse, and at times challenging, sonic terrain. Particularly notable was the outstanding interpretation of Lachenmann’s Allegro Sostenuto. Future concerts in the series will see the performance of newly commissioned works by Australian composers, including Kate Neal, Anthony Pateras, and Alex Garsden, as well as the performance of a few 'modern classics' such as George Crumb’s Black Angels. Stay tuned.
Golden Fur New Music Project
21 December 2008
Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne, VIC
Golden Fur New Music Project (www.myspace.com/goldenfur)
© Australian Music Centre (2009) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Anthony Lyons is a Melbourne-based composer and teacher.
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