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2 June 2010

'Volta Switch'

overcoming the challenges of a conventional concert presentation

Marcus Whale Image: Marcus Whale  

Marcus Whale speaks about the production design of new music group Volta's 4th June show 'Switch'.

Volta began mid-2009 in a Facebook dialogue, no less, between four other composers and performers at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, proposing a concert of new pieces for chamber orchestra. The first Volta concert was the answer to a lack of opportunity to translate the act of composition to performance, a fundamental difficulty in being a student composer.

The second Volta event, and first of two for 2010, 'Volta 1.5: Switch', sees us placing new music in a more performance-conscious framework, with all pieces linked by electronic interludes and developed in chronological sequence. With no breaks for applause, focus isn't broken until the very end of the concert; the building, deconstruction and rebuilding that is necessary in regular concert presentation is consciously avoided.

This approach is in response to some of the issues inherent in the way the first Volta concert was presented. These issues have primarily surrounded a dissatisfaction with conventional concert presentation. Innately built into art music practice is the in-performance focus so crucial to sustaining a clear communicative framework between performers and audience. It's a given that, in this sense, conventional practice will prevail in representing most works in a stand-alone context. However, I've found the concert experience far more fulfilling when its programming extends towards sculpting a larger performative framework to which all works are subservient - in effect, producing a wholly contained performance, rather than a set of musical works fragmented by applause, stage adjustments and speech.

Theatre has an advantage in this case, since works are generally of greater length, forcing the performers and production to manage states and energies which evolve over a longer period of time. This is further embellished by the need to 'suspend the disbelief' of the audience, which locks the audience into an imaginative space, bound to the present moment and the immediate environment. Music programming, particularly with new music's greater flexibility for appropriation into new and evolving performance contexts, could benefit from this approach.

In 2009, I attended The Song Company's Tenebrae III, a production of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo's setting of Easter texts, in the foyer of Sydney's Carriageworks. A collaboration with choreographer Shaun Parker, this was a prime example of a concert where the music consciously served this greater performative framework. The performance set the entire, cavernous space, with several hundred single seats lining the walls. As a result, the singers moved in amongst the dancers, communicating another level of narrative over the course of the full performance. The physical, visual dimension illuminated the interweaved fragments and short pieces, forming a large-scale framework that precisely achieved this 'imaginative space'.

Switch is Volta's attempt at capturing this form of large-scale performative gesture. The intention is to place the music in a context where it is best positioned to capture the audience, without the mammoth task of rebuilding these energies over the course of each piece.

The concert, held in Paddington Uniting Church's stunning Stone Gallery venue, includes works by Joseph Power, Laura Altman, Miles Horler, Lachlan Hughes, Melanie Herbert and Russell Phillips, who have worked collaboratively with the six performers and each other to form the hour-long performance.

Event details

Volta 1.5: Switch
Stone Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, NSW
8pm, 4 June 2010
Full event details in the AMC Calendar

Marcus Whale is a Sydney-based composer and co-director of new music group Volta. He has taken the role of production designer in Volta’s latest program, 'Switch'.


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