Metropolis New Music Festival: Six Degrees, Garden of Earthly Desire

Garden of Earthly Desire
Six Degrees
Melbourne Recital Centre
Metropolis New Music Festival
9 April, 2014

Three works of immense clarity and character filled the program of Six Degrees—a new ensemble including some of Melbourne’s best-known contemporary musicians—at the Metropolis New Music Festival.  Somei Satoh’s The Heavenly Spheres are Illuminated by Lights began with the almost mystical experience of Justine Anderson’s voice filling the room from everywhere and nowhere. An improvised-sounding piano part plays around Anderson’s phrases, which hang in the air like mist. Peter Neville wrought sustained tones from the percussion battery with superballs, bows and soft mallet tremoli.

Helen Gifford’s Music for the Adonia was an opportunity (after Deborah Kayser’s performance of Iphigenia in Exile in 2010) to revisit the composer’s musical world inspired by ancient Greek mythology. An elemental anakrousis (thankyou Nick Tolhurst for this term) of clanging percussion, grunting cello and erupting winds gave way to a gentler texture of rattling percussion and plucked strings. Anderson’s vocal line is an imagined ancient language. She chants repeated consonants and vowels against the bone-dry ensemble, reimagining the Feast of Adonis celebrated exclusively by women.

I recently spoke with Liza Lim about The Garden of Earthly Desire, her first work for the ELISION Ensemble. Though the piece was originally intended as music for a puppet show by Handspan Theatre, it retains its sense of drama and character without attendant theatrics. Moreso than other complexist works of the eighties, one has the sense of sitting amongst a crowd of detailed characters. There is a sense of discovery in focussing on one instrument of the ensemble at a time. Sections also differentiate themselves with fluttering string textures and keening, seagull-like flocks of winds. Lim’s language of the time—with a preference for declamatory, speech-like instrumental lines—lends a certain rhythmic monotony to the proceedings. The wild energy of the piece was sustained, however, by semi-improvised sections allowing for much slap-bass and bass-slapping by Miranda Hill. Charlotte Jacke’s cello also returned several times in different duo and trio combinations, sporting a truly virtuosic range of colours across the entire pitch range of the instrument.

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