BIFEM: Ensemble Vortex

Ensemble Vortex
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Bendigo Bank Theatre
10:30pm, 5 September

Ensemble Vortex consists of four globetrotting performers united in their desire to play scores before the ink is dry. Meeting in a composition class at the Conservatoire de Genève, the works performed for their first concert at BIFEM share a theatrical if not irreverent aesthetic that hedges its bets with technique and gesture over colour and form. All three of the composers were present at the concert and their explanations of each work (including David Chisholm’s hilarious interview) can be streamed online via ABC Classic FM’s New Music Up Late. The concert opened with Fernando Garnero’s Limae Labor, which features obsessive scratching and scraping of stringed instruments, including the actual scraping of an electric guitar with a scourer. The scratching reflects the obsessive working and reworking of the rhythmic material of the piece.

Benôit Moreau’s Slappy’s Dance is at least nominally about a cartoon puppet that comes to life. The performers’ repetitive tapping and blowing eventually coalesce to, in the composer’s words, “make something happen.” Some interesting effects are produced with the application of a guitar slide to a violin and blasts of static as the piece reaches its siren-like climax.

David Chisholm’s Rung features a set of “bamboo punk” (as Chisholm put it) Indian temple bells played by a solenoid mechanism mounted in a bamboo frame. The bells, constructed by Benjamin Kolaitis, are triggered by the performers through sensitive foot pads. Rung is another of Chisholm’s commemorative pieces, for which the bells have particular relevance. The peal of bells unleashed by the solenoids is quite rapid and deafening, creating a highly-charged atmosphere within which guitarist Mauricio Carrasco played angular incantations. Bass clarinettist Anne Gillot and violinist Rada Hadjikostova-Schleuter provided the occasional chorus-like punctuation. A second episode saw a more peaceful texture with the bass clarinet swapped for the impossibly-mellow contrabass recorder.

If I may pose a distinction between “composerly” and “performerly” music (if only to deny it), the members of Ensemble Vortex brought a wonderfully ludic and immanently-creative atmosphere to the proceedings, reminding the audience of the close relationship between living composers and performers.Partial Durations is a RealTime/Matthew Lorenzon joint project.

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