Rubiks: Things are become new

Competing schedules, fickle venues, and piles of percussion gear: There are myriad difficulties involved in organising a contemporary music concert. It can feel like a puzzle, a riddle, or even a Rubik’s cube. This was the sentiment expressed by flautist Tamara Koehler at the beginning of the first self-organised concert by Rubiks, a group of ANAM graduates who have found time in their busy international careers to come together and perform contemporary repertoire. The organisational effort was well worth it. Six players thrilled the crowd at the Church of All Nations in Carlton—fast becoming the venue of choice for contemporary music in Melbourne—with a polished program of canonic and recent works. The theme of change and transformation underpinned the program and was expertly handled by the ensemble.

Cellist Gemma Tomlinson conjured the movement and colour of butterflies in Kaija Saariaho’s Sept papillons. Saariaho explores every possible butterfly-like gesture on the cello throughout seven miniatures. Fast trills between harmonics shimmer like iridescent wings and Tomlinson’s bow-arm seems to take flight, arcing across the strings in fast arpeggios. There are high, trilling harmonics; low, susurrating tremoli; glittering, rapid alternations between open strings and stopped notes, all in constant motion and gradated change. The performer is called upon to constantly change their bow-tone, moving from heavy, slow, gritty over-bowing to fast, light, floating bows. Tomlinson managed these transitions with astonishing precision and ease.

Samuel Smith’s Things are become new was written for Adelaide’s Soundstream collective and showcases the composer’s sensitivity to the relationship of instrumental tone colour and gesture. A medley of mallets and stick-ends thump and rattle away on the vibraphone, a trio of winds woof and huff, while the strings play swelling messe di voce. The piece is a study in transformation, requiring great commitment to bring out its kaleidoscope of techniques and timbres. Rubiks were more than up to the task, providing a spirited and dynamic rendition of the piece.

Anna Clyne’s Steelworks approaches the theme of transformation programmatically. The piece combines live performance with field recordings and interviews from the Flame Cut Steelworks, the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn. Justin Beere’s pneumatic bursts on the bass clarinet, as well as Kaylie Melville’s kick-drum and the clacking keys of the flute remind us that modern instruments are machines of the industrial revolution. The voices of steel-workers ride on top of this mechanical racket, debating the merits of change. Their voices are slowed and clipped, gestures that are affectingly imitated by the instrumentalists as the entire musical machine winds down.

An explosion of energy (definitely “with panache” as instructed by the composer) concluded the concert in the form of Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Glamour Sleeper II. From the multicoloured butterflies of Saariaho’s Sept papillons to the dark bouquet of Smith’s Things are become new, the concert showcased Rubiks’ searingly-precise ensemble skills and instrumental control. Rubiks are a formidable contribution to Australia’s growing community of contemporary music makers.

Things are become new
Rubik’s Collective
Church of All Nations, Carlton
28 November 2015
Samuel Smith, Things are become new; Anna Clyne, Steelworks; Kaija Saariaho, Sept papillons; Marcus Fjellström, Odboy and Erordog Episodes 2 and 3; Donacha Dennehy, Glamour Sleeper II.

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