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The Sound Collectors

TheSoundCollectors1

PICA

Friday, July 18, 2014

 

Louise Devenish and Leah Scholes want to know what percussion is. Of course, being virtuoso percussionists who have paired up from either side of the country to intensively explore New Music as PICA artists in residence, they have a better idea than most.

Devenish and Scholes’ New Music encompasses the kind of interdisciplinary performance that pushes traditional Western Art performance beyond jazz, the third wave, and ethnographic exploration, smack-bang into gesture, dance, sound in the bloody first place. As The Sound Collectors, they’re on a challenging journey into the Heart of Artness.

Art music obviously takes a lot of self-restraint, which is particularly difficult when music is deliberately thumbing its nose at you. The Sound Collectors negotiate the requirements of playful instrumentation – the three works not commissioned for this performance are all part of a postmodern/avant-garde questioning of Serious Performance™ itself.

Works like Rick Burkhart’s Simulcast (a mad multiphonic spoken-word work, with occasional frog toy castanets and flowerpot tom rolls) are pulled off with Godot aplomb, even when the score demands nightmarish monologues about Christmas and HR training. Leah Scholes performs Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia with rhythmic tightness and enthusiasm – whether soundless arm movements in time with a pre-recorded tape can be read as vocal performance, or percussion, or musical performance at all is up for debate.

For me, it’s the later works of John Cage that really grind my postmodern gears. Yeah, the composer as facilitator of the universe is cool the first time you encounter it, but by 1975’s Child Of Tree, Cage is just messing with you. Child Of Tree resists traditional instrumentation, and, as chance music, any deliberate structure or direction at all. It’s honestly quite painful to wait through shifting grasses (in this graceful PICA set up, a bundle of full-length reeds with down still intact) only to see a very brave Devenish play an amplified cactus with her bare hands. Every spindly click of a bending spike, accompanied by physical motions that looks like a Children Of Poseidon video, can get skincrawlingly uncomfortable. That’s just me getting crotchety, though – Devenish’s interpretation is respectful and flawless.

I’ve heard Pax’s Cygni before, performed for a UWA revue by soloist Thea Rossen on vibraphone with tape. For Confluence, it’s been changed dramatically – he’s made room for a second performer. Devenish reverently rolls, slides and strikes a cymbal against the skin of a bass drum, and once the cymbal’s placed there, it’s remains attached by a kind of performance magnetism. The tape is almost imperceptible, and the piece is subtle and quiet enough to resist any clearly audible to-and-fro between parts – it’s a short and elusive exploration of percussive timbre and texture rather than rhythm.

Composer Elise Reitze and engineering wunderkind Aharon Cunta joined creative forces to produce a work with a beautiful premise – with the aid of electrical gloves, musical gesture reverberates through four strings of LED lights across an entire colour spectrum. Motion(duelight); blends vibraphones, small pitched gongs and kalimbas, and toys with the just-missed-it unisons of Javanese gamelan, curving triads and nursery music. There’s a clear logic in the music, reminiscent of the kind of circuitry behind this set up, and it’s particularly joyful in its several tightly contrapuntal sections.

The title piece is Lachlan Skipworth’s Confluence. Skipworth’s signature style is a kind of neo-gagaku – he’s studied shakuhachi intensively, and even his orchestral music rings with the angular timbres and elegant restraint of Japanese court music. Here, he’s working with prepared vibraphones (“prepared” in front of the audience, with alfoil), and it’s a clearly melodic and reverentially detached music.

Pushing the limits of sound art takes a lot of resolve to witness – for every exhilarating step forward, there’s an equal and opposite exhaustion.

 

ZOE KILBOURN

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