BIFEM: Vortex Ensemble, Bug

Music Theatre by Arturo Corrales
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
The Capital Theatre
9:00pm, Saturday 6 September

There is a whole musical world between performance art and opera that is rarely explored in Australia. In Europe it is referred to as “music theatre” (where other terms refer to what we call “music theatre” in the Anglosphere). Under their former Creative Director David Young, Chamber Made Opera came closest to developing this genre in Australia, relying as it did on workshop-based development, graphic scores and improvisation. While Chamber Made Opera spotted a niche in Australia, they also left open their post as a company dedicated to contemporary opera in the stricter sense and it will be interesting to see which path the company takes under their current Creative Director, Tim Stitz. BIFEM has gone some way to providing another taste of music theatre by programming three pieces by the Salvadoran composer Arturo Corrales. By turns unsettling, playful and virtuosic (and bearing a striking resemblance to the work of the godfather of music theatre, Georges Aperghis), Corrales brought out the best in the multi-talented Ensemble Vortex. At the Capital Theatre the three pieces were combined into one flowing performance that took place upon a bed of flour spread upon the stage (and scattered out the stage door by the end).

In Bug the solo guitarist is trapped within a circle of music stands, sitting on a pile of very mediocre speakers that distort and project his guitar and voice. In the festival’s colloquium on music and electronics, Corrales explained how he likes the challenge of making something interesting using very lo-fi, simple technology. Indeed, the piece constantly references the repetitive pulsing of a metronome, either imitated in the guitar part or heard as a disembodied voice. The audience, seated in the round, have a 360 degree view of the guitarist, who slowly rotates between the music stands. The guitarist mutters about how words are lost to memory, but actions persist. The guitarist picks out forlorn little gestures, explodes into distorted chords and uses a tuning fork as a slide. Guitarist Mauricio Carrasco is both an excellent musician and an actor. He has a seemingly natural capacity to apply his whole body to a musical problem, and I’m not only referring to Friday’s naked laptop performance. He is just the performer for Bug. Carrasco lends each note a certain pathos, giving meaning to the slightest twang of a guitar string with a well-timed facial expression or movement of the shoulders.

As soon as Bug ends, double bassist Jocelyne Rudasigwa and violinist Rada Hadjikostova-Schleuter spring to life with Corrales’ Music Box. Under a red light, they play a game of “knock, knock, who’s there?” Except nobody is there. “Just a voice?” Rudasigwa asks. There is no response. This eerie scenario is played out several times in between violent string chords.

The third part of the performance, Re, dissolves some of this tension with a hilarious romp about the stage. Ensemble Vortex are joined by Melbourne-based percussionist Kaylie Melville, who rolls unwieldy percussion instruments through the flour. She is chased by other performers and plays her instruments with mallets and balls of scrunched up red cellophane. The piece is not without its sinister undertones. It is as though some horrible fate has finally befallen the neurotic guitarist and the deluded bassist, with cellophane-blood splashing about on the white, flour-strewn floor.

You can stream part of the concert from ABC Classic FM’s New Music up Late.

Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.

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