BIFEM: soundinitiative, Made in France

soundinitiative perform Faction by Raphaël Cendo. Photo by Marty Williams.
soundinitiative perform Faction by Raphaël Cendo. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Angus McPherson

The lurid orange hoses worn around the necks of soundinitiative’s performers in D’Après flamboyantly illustrate Clara Iannotta’s dictum that ‘music should be seen as well as heard.’ The opening is atmospheric, players running their fingers around the lips of wine glasses, the percussionist gripping a bow between his teeth. Pitches warp and contort and sudden flourishes create spikes in the smooth soundscape. The orange pipes produce whistling harmonics and the music evolves, refulgent shimmers giving way to dryer sounds: tapping and short articulate wind entries, and finally, the sounds become gongs and bell-like attacks from the winds. The Italian Iannotta is the only composer on the program who isn’t French, but D’Après was composed in Paris, in keeping with the theme Made in France.

Christophe Bertrand’s Aus sees small cells of music undergo gradual metamorphoses. A heartbeat from the piano builds and mutates, new notes emerging like growths. On first impression the music seems to have echoes of Minimalism, but it is soon clear that the figures never repeat exactly, they roil and spread, shifting like sand. The rolling figures become pointilistic: staccato in the winds and pizzicato in the strings, culminating in a vigorous crescendo of scrubbing harmonics from Julia Robert’s viola.

‘Berceuse’ from Gérard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold) is tranquil and introspective, the instrumentalists providing a lush, undulating accompaniment to Fabienne Séveillac’s flexible mezzo-soprano. In Grisey’s Quatre chants…, this lullaby is the reflective finale following apocalyptic scenes with text taken from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. The composer said of ‘Berceuse’, ‘it is not intended to lull one to sleep; instead it is meant to awaken one to the dying of humanity, finally liberated from its nightmare’. Heard here in isolation, ‘Berceuse’ gives us a sense of peace, but not the catharsis that would have followed the first three of Grisey’s songs.

Grisey died of an aneurysm at 52; Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold was the last piece he completed. Phillipe Leroux’s homage to Grisey Un lieu verdoyant, for mezzo-soprano and soprano saxophone, was written the year after his death. Séveillac and Joshua Hyde shine in this heartfelt performance, their delicate timbres almost indistinguishable as their voices come together and move apart. The balance between singer and saxophone is exquisite, the sighing glissandos and shaking tremolos evoking the grief of the text, which is based on the Book of Lamentations from the Hebrew Scriptures. Hyde turns his back to the audience as Un lieu verdoyant descends into Séveillac’s whispering, ‘mémoire pour Gérard’.

Séveillac is centre-stage again for Gérard Pesson’s setting of poetry by Marie Redonnet Cinq chansons, scored for voice and a quintet of viola, cello, flute, clarinet and piano. Séveillac’s voice entreats over the ambiguous, unstable moods of the accompaniment in ‘La chanteuse des rues’ (The street singer). ‘La stripteaseuse du Mac Doc’ (The stripteaser of Mac Doc) combined upbeat striking of the wood of cello and piano with humorous slides and twists from the winds. The lyrics translate as ‘without a hat/without a coat/without panties’ and so on. ‘La merchande de sable’ (The sand merchant) is a dark miniature, the soft jagged music reflecting the madness of a woman collecting sand and rocks, mistaking them for gold.

Soundinitiative’s finale for Made in France is Raphaël Cendo’s Faction, a wildly joyful piece in the composer’s self-described style of ‘Saturationism’, opening with loud, energetic ‘shredding’ on all three instruments. Faction requires electric guitar, prepared piano, prepared vibraphone (and hopefully prepared vibraphonist, quips Hyde, entertaining the audience during the stage change). Soistier’s preparations seem to involve several kinds of tape stuck to various parts of the instrument. Kobe van Cauwenberghe’s guitar dominates, but vibraphone and Gwenaëlle Rouger’s piano emerge and recede from the almost constant wall of sound.

Cendo’s music is incredibly physical and Soistier embraces this, throwing his body around the percussion section, leaping from the vibraphone to bow a cymbal, and diving over the open piano. He scrapes the piano strings with what appears to be a pink ruler, metallic sweeps mingling with the distortion of the electric guitar.

Consisting entirely of Australian premieres, soundinitiative’s Made in France provided a fascinating taste of contemporary French music by an ensemble thriving on a wide array of sonic worlds and musical styles.

Made in France
Saturday 5 September
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Ulumbarra Theatre
Angus McPherson

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