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Rubiks Collective: Imaginarium (Marcus Fjellström Portrait Concert)

Photo: Alan Weedon (
Rubiks Collective perform Imaginarium by Marcus Fjellström. Photo by Alan Weedon (

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Swedish composer Marcus Fjellström from his Odboy and Erordog Suite, a darkly humorous new media creation that I have reviewed several times. Anyone with a healthy sense of childhood nostalgia or a pet whimsy for old computer games and antique horror will love this piece, which was performed yet again by Fjellström’s Australian champions, Rubiks Collective, at Melba Hall.

In Rubiks’ Imaginarium portrait concert, a packed auditorium was introduced to three other creepily entertaining works by Fjellström. Each work combined Fjellström’s characteristic animations with live performance in a unique and stimulating way. Klavierbuch #1 for video and keyboard (Jacob Abela) could be the product of a collaboration between the creators of Guitar Hero and the “beautiful” video game Limbo. And why shouldn’t an interactive piano primer be haunting and beautiful? The audience watches a projection of the simple and eerie piano music surrounded by stylised animations. In the first movement flowers slowly turn into spiders as the pianist progresses through the music. In another episode tears fall from a childishly drawn face. I would love to see Fjellström try his hand at a similarly traumatising music education app.

The Alchemist Dances is the closest Fjellström came to a conventional contemporary piece of concert music, though even this virtuosic percussion solo performed by Kaylie Melville included a quirky take on the genre, playing on the similarities between alchemical symbolism and contemporary musical notation. The audience sees the same arcane lines, cones, and dots as the performer, who interprets them as they see fit. It is common for audiences to see a performer’s graphic score, but often they don’t know where the performer “is” on the score, or how they are interpreting it. In this case, a single symbol is shown at a time and the audience has time to predict how it might sound and appreciate Melville’s creative interpretations.

In Imaginarium Fjellström goes straight to the source of his artistic inspiration: the childhood imagination. Fjellström takes drawings from workshops with children and turns them into arresting audiovisual episodes. A series of lines, spirals, and doodlings turn into a bus trundling through a nocturnal city. Lines radiate from the hands of a cosmic conductor perched atop a mountain, the stars exploding into a constellation of faces. Fjellström’s adult work is firmly rooted in a clear recollection of his own macabre childhood imagination (didn’t we all have one?), avoiding the assumption that children’s imaginations must be brimming with garishly-coloured blocks and bubble writing. Though, as the Mulligrubs generation found out, colourful and disturbing are far from mutually exclusive. Rubiks did the rapt audience at the New Music Studio concert a huge service in introducing them to this original musical creator.

Rubiks Collective
Imaginarium (Marcus Fjellström Portrait Concert)
New Music Studio concert series
Melba Hall
10 April 2016

Marcus Fjellström, Klavierbuch #1, Odboy and Erordog Suite, Alchemist Dances, Imaginarium


Review by Liza Lim

Forty people gathered expectantly in a quiet laneway tucked behind Melbourne’s vibrant Lygon Street. Like the stories of Polish writer Bruno Schulz in which reality hides extravagant strangeness, the door of a small terrace house opened into a ‘wunderkammer’, a veritable cabinet of curiosities in which each room contained twilight-zone performances of strange beauty, menacing wonder, as well as exquisite sensuality.

The event was DOMICILE, a programme of performances and installation pieces directed by Aviva Endean and staged with deft and imaginative flair in the house in which she grew up. The audience, provided with a plan of the house, wandered the rooms at will.

Program map courtesy of the artist.

In the lounge room, a silent film, A face like yours (2015), made and performed by Aviva Endean and filmed by Christie Stott, flickered on the television. Earplugs provided allowed one to encounter a subtle internal world of sound as we mimicked the gestures and followed instructions on the screen to tap cheeks, hum, manipulate our lips etc. By way of contrast, in the back shed, one could interact more noisily with Dale Gorfinkel’s Baby Boomer (2015), a Heath Robinson-like contraption of foot pumps and balloons joined with plastic tubing to funnels, a battered tuba and a trombone, with garden irrigation switches allowing one to orchestrate changes to the wheezing combinations of sounds.

DSC04513 bb.JPG
Dale Gorfinkel’s Baby boomer. Photo by Pier Carthew.

Out in the garage, Matthew Horsley could be found performing Vinko Globokar’s classic of body percussion ?Corporel (1984). On a loop during the 75 minutes of the event, this was a feat of concentration and commitment as he repeatedly slapped the different sounding surfaces of his bare chest, face and a satisfyingly resonant head. Another kind of skin percussion could be heard in the back bedroom inhabited by Matthias Schack-Arnott. In Wotjek Blecharz’s Blacksnowfalls (2014), hands and fingernails inscribe calligraphic movements onto a timpani giving rise to susurrations and sliding moans and creating a séance-like mood. A live video feed provided an additional level of visual detail, though for the audience of seven crammed into the room and sandwiched between a bed and mirrored wardrobe, proximity to the performer was intimacy enough.

Intimacy was the watchword for other works – two singers, Jenny Barnes and Niharika Senapati soaked in bubbles in the bathtub upstairs whilst exchanging enigmatic snatches of inhaled and exhaled sounds in Georges Aperghis’ Conversation (2004). In the next bedroom, a ‘grand amour’ was enacted in Endean’s Void (2015):

a pair of lovers approach in slow motion, the microphone held in the mouth of one (Aviva Endean) setting off feedback from the speaker held in the open mouth of the other (Alexander Gellman), reaching an inevitable denouement in a strangled kiss. Another ‘up-close’ experience could be had with Angelo Solari’s Audition (2014), staged as a one-on-one encounter with singer Carolyn Connor, with all the flavour of a Monty Pythonesque interview in a correctional facility. The queue was too long for me to get to it but my 13-year old son had a ball answering questions from the script and engaging in the staring contest. His verdict: ‘cool’.

Jenny Barnes and Niharika Senapati perform Conversation by Georges Aperghis. Photo by Pier Carthew.

Endean’s talents for creating an immersive atmosphere were perhaps most completely showcased in her composition Lehadlik (2015) in which the audience was invited to sit at a formally set dining table. The day’s coincidence with the start of Hanukkah provided an extra level of resonance to the work’s evocation of Jewish ritual: two lit candles were wired with sensors used to trigger recordings of incantations from the Torah, the sonic landscape enriched with Endean’s melismatic clarinet playing. The meditative ritual ended with a snuffing out of the candles through the bell of the instrument.

‘House events’ have long held an important place in experimental practice in music and performance, from concerts in Berlin apartments or New York loft-spaces to, more locally, the work of Aphids in domestic settings in the 90s and Chamber Made’s opera productions commissioned for people’s residences. The use of such spaces to shift the frame on audience interaction is a well played-out ploy, yet, DOMICILE refreshed this format through a finely tuned curatorial sensibility. The choice of repertoire, quality of performances, size and nature of the venue combined to create a very special evening that exuded hospitality and a sense of enchanted time. Adding to the sensory feast, there was even cake to share at the end. Cooked during the evening, it had suffused the house with a lemon-sweet tang that followed us out into the balmy Melbourne night.

Review by Liza Lim

Fleur Ruben’s house in Carlton
Melbourne, 4, 5, 6 December 2015

Directed by Aviva Endean and presented as part of the New Music Network’s emerging artists program with support from Creative Victoria

Performers: Aviva Endean, Matthew Horsley, Carolyn Connors, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Alexander Gellmann, Jenny Barnes, Niharika Senapati

Set design, Romanie Harper
Technical design, James Paul
Artwork, Betty Musgrove

BIFEM: Aviva Endean, Dual Rituals

Aviva Endean performs Dual Rituals. Photo by Alexander Gellmann.
Aviva Endean performs Dual Rituals. Photo by Alexander Gellmann.

Review by Angus McPherson

A screaming clarinet multiphonic, pitches grating against each other, presages thunderous bass drums. The impact from the drums triggers blinking in the audience, bodies recoiling from the onslaught of sound that seems too vast and terrible to be contained in the tightly packed Old Fire Station. Late on Friday night, Aviva Endean opened the proceedings of Dual Rituals with Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf (Expiration). This strident music began a recital that had all the solemnity and pageantry of a spiritual rite. The contrast between piercing howls and whispered prayers made Dual Rituals compelling and deeply unsettling.

Flanked by black-hooded bass drummers Peter Neville and Leah Scholes, Endean’s energy is implacable; she slides around the clarinet with virtuosic zeal and screams at the audience in short, vicious barks. She is just as nimble on bass clarinet as the drums recede to low rumbles. Ablauf fades out, the stage goes dark and Endean appears on video above the stage holding up a sign instructing the audience that they will ‘need earplugs to play’ the next piece.

Endean’s own composition, A Face Like Yours, invites the audience to copy the actions of her filmed self, and we obediently insert earplugs and begin touching and tapping at our faces. Drumming fingertips lightly against the earplugs elicits reverberations inside our heads, and in the otherwise silent audience, we run fingers over our scalps and behind our ears. We slap our cheeks and lips, a soft fleshy patter that rises and falls. When the stage fades once more to black the audience, bereft of its leader, seems unsure whether to break the spell by applauding.

The lights come up on Endean kneeling at the front of the stage, Tibetan sounding bowls in her hands for Pierluigi Billone’s Mani. Gonxha, a hypnotic performance of ceremonial prayer. Endean draws a variety of metallic sounds from the bowls – traditionally used in meditation – as she slides them together, mutes them or loosens her grip allowing them to ring out. It is a long piece to sustain such a narrow range of timbres, but Endean’s focus never slips. Her body is both resonator and dampener, as much a part of the percussion as the bowls, and the dull tapping of one bowl against the knuckles of her hand evokes an air of self-flagellation. This intensifies as she beats one bowl against the other pressed to her abdomen, as if trying to drive it into her belly. There is a sense of intrusion, as if this is a private act we have stumbled upon. Quiet gong-like vocalisations become chanting as Endean finally lifts her eyes to stare into the audience.

Endean sits at a desk, the pieces of a disassembled clarinet arranged before her like a vanitas still life. The premiere of Wojtek Blecharz’s Counter-Earth begins with the amplified sound of the clarinet’s barrel rolling across the wooden desk. Dramatically lit from above, Endean paints sounds with the clarinet’s parts, while cymbals chime from a recording, extending the ceremonial mood of Mani. Gonxha. The clarinet’s middle joints become machines for trapping and releasing breath, and one is played as a side-blown flute, reminiscent of a funerary Shakuhachi. The chiaroscuro lighting distorts Endean’s features as she stretches her eyelids open with her hands and claws at her face. Electronic sounds mingled with those produced by the clarinet, which is gradually assembled.

In the next movement, Endean delivers the text of the Wikipedia entry on the Syrian city of Aleppo in the voice of a friendly tour-guide. Her recitation of the historical value of one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world is rendered heartbreaking by the destruction that has resulted from the Civil War. Endean periodically interrupts her bright delivery with hissing chants from a darker text. ‘A slow death, a slow death, a slow death’ a chilling reminder of the suffering Aleppo has seen. Crouching, Endean reaches into a glowing chest, which illuminates her as she pulls out pieces of rubble and drops them onto the stage.

Bathed in blood red light, Endean plays an Aztec death whistle into a microphone for Counter-Earth’s finale. The rasping of the skull shaped instrument is light at first, but gradually mutates into something like raucous, hysterical laughter.

Aviva Endean drew the audience in with her trance-like intensity. Sustaining the reverent solemnity of a priest or shaman throughout, she made us complicit as witnesses to and participants in her dark rituals.

Dual Rituals
Aviva Endean
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Old Fire Station
4 September 2015
Angus McPherson

BIFEM Music Reviewers’ Workshop participants announced!

We are proud to announce the five successful applicants for the BIFEM Music Reviewers’ Workshop. We are really happy to have received so many applications of such a high quality from around Australia. These five successful applicants will be writing up a storm during the incredible BIFEM festival.

Charles MacInnes


Charles MacInnes is a trombonist, composer, educator and researcher. He has performed with the North German Radio (NDR) Big Band, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Hamburg State Opera, Australian Art Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as working as a studio and theatre musician. He has composed works for Melbourne Chamber Choir, violinist Sarah Curro, pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, Australian Brass Quintet, Syzygy Ensemble, Plexus Ensemble and collaborates with artists as a sound designer. Charles has lectured at the Victorian College of the Arts, Australian National University, The University of Melbourne and specialises in creating music workshops for young people. He is currently undertaking a PhD at Monash University on the role of improvisation in new music.

Delia Bartle

Delia Bartle Bio

Delia Bartle is a Hobart-based musician and writer with a keen interest in new and electronic music. In 2014 she was Dux of Hobart College and recipient of an ADF Long Tan Leadership and Teamwork Award. She attended the 2015 Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Camp under the tutelage of Julian Day and Alastair McKean in the Words About Music program. She was awarded the 2015 AYO Music Presentation Fellowship to work with ABC Radio National, the Australian Music Centre, Limelight Magazine and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She regularly contributes reviews and interviews to Limelight Magazine, Acid Stag, Pilerats and Casual Band Blogger. Her interviewees include Nick Tsiavos, Margaret Leng Tan, Helen Gillet and Natalie Williams.

Simon Eales


Simon is a Melbourne-based writer, poet, and post-graduate student. He has published critical work with Cordite Poetry Review, Rabbit Journal, The Music Magazine, and Don’t Do It Magazine. He recently completed a MA on radical poetics at the University of Melbourne.

Jaslyn Robertson


Jaslyn Robertson is a composer and currently studying a Bachelor of Music – Composition at Monash University. She has composed for international performers including ensemble Vortex from Switzerland. She has studied and written about the implications of improvisation in a new music context, development of form in music of the 20th and 21st centuries, and use of unconventional ‘noise’ in music.

Angus McPherson

Angus McPherson - Hi Res

Angus McPherson is a Sydney-based flutist and writer. His articles have appeared in flute magazines and blogs in Australia and overseas including ClassikON and CutCommon. Angus attended the Australian Youth Orchestra’s Words About Music program in 2015. He is currently writing program notes for the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and working with mentors in the field as winner of the AYO/WSO Fellowship.

Angus is currently completing a PhD in Music at the University of Tasmania. His research focuses on the work of contemporary Hungarian composer Gergely Ittzés. He has performed and taught in Australia, Canada and the UK.

Hold the jokes, you do want to hear nine violas

The ensemble after performing Peter de Jager's Metaphors. Photo by Hank Clifton.
The ensemble after performing Peter de Jager’s Metaphors. Photo by Hank Clifton.

The effervescent violist Xina Hawkins has returned from her stellar international career to present three concerts of music for solo and massed violas at the South Melbourne Town Hall. Peter de Jager, Brett Dean, and Samuel Smith have been engaged to compose for viola ensembles, and if De Jager’s offering is anything to go by, we are in for some valuable new repertoire for an often ignored instrument. But before we heard De Jager’s Metaphors, Hawkins had a few surprises in store.

First up, an imaginative piece for viola and piano by Paul Kerekes. The innocuous-sounding Four Pieces contains four far-from-innocuous movements. The first is inspired by the cartoons of Michael Leunig and features whimsical descending chromatic scales and the sort of minimalist rhythmic pitter-patter associated with innocence and blue skies in film scores. The final cadence leaves us with the pathos that so defines Leunig’s social commentaries. Kerekes gives us more pitter-patter in a movement inspired by hyper-organised supermarkets before moving attacca into “Aviophobia,” a movement depicting the fear of flying. Hawkins dug deep for this one, crafting soaring glissandi over piano tremoli. The final movement is inspired by “Michael Jackson and Ligeti,” a combination that works quite well. Kerekes combines Ligeti’s rolled clusters with syncopated, vamping bass lines. Citing “unfinished business,” Hawkins and Jacob Abela launched into a rendition of “Billie Jean.” The audience clicked out the song’s cross-rhythm and their enjoyment of Hawkins’ performance was evinced by their degree of rhythmic inaccuracy in the chorus.

Hawkins was then joined by double bassist Kinga Janiszewski, percussionist Hamish Upton, and oud player Yuval Ashkar for an extended Taqsim, or improvisation based on Arabic modes. The improvisation included the traditional song “Lamma bada yatathanna,” as well as an original song Marakesh Nights by Ashkar, which were framed by beatific improvisations.


Peter de Jager is the piano virtuoso of his generation. As a composer, too, he exhibits an almost incontinent imagination and creative felicity. I have found that his cellular, fragmented forms do not always amount to more than the sum of their parts. He is a pianist’s composer and the piano part can dominate within his ensemble pieces. The answer, we discovered on Tuesday night, is to take him away from the piano. Metaphors for nine violas presents so many unprecedented textures and effects, as well as familiar sounds presented in a new light. The piece is a beautiful synthesis of inspiration and craft.

The piece’s nine parts may suggest a disjointed series of studies.

Part I:

Part II:
Fugue, Chorale and Toccata

However, De Jager introduces a sense of continuity by increasing the number of violas in each movement from the microtonal solo “Ladder” to the nonet “Fugue, Chorale and Toccata.” Each movement is a work of astonishing refinement and control. “Stars” is a case in point. Reading the generic description “extremely high harmonics as twinkling points of light” I expected the piece to come and go without too much interest, but no. The three violists appear like a constellation on the far side of the stage from the previous duo. Their harmonics are very close and rhythmically overlapping, as though one were listening to distant interstellar patterns of morse code. The richness of the viola’s harmonics give a personal warmth to these starry sentinels and their peculiar harmony.

The following movement, “Planes,” is another aural delight. The viola quartet play loud, diverging glissandi reminiscent of Xenakis’ Metastaseis. These planes are “connected” by solo scalar runs. At first the planes are low and dense, but soon they rise higher in pitch-space. Then there are more simultaneous planes with multiple scalar stairways leading from them. The effect is extremely visual, and it’s a pleasure to follow De Jager’s Monument Valley-esque world of planes and bridges in the mind’s eye.

The final movement of Part I is a solo melody inspired by traditional Arabic music. The melody shows an intense melodic sensitivity on De Jager’s part, but the background texture is just as striking. I am not sure exactly how it is produced, but the six violas produce a rich, whispering, murmuring background that I had never heard before.

Part II features movements with a more diverse use of texture. “Forest” begins with eight violas playing trills with all fingers on open strings while changing their tone by moving their bows between the fingerboard and the bridge. Once again, De Jager takes a conventional enough technique and uses it to produce a sublime, sussurating effect like wind in the trees. After a while “gnarled branches” jut out of the foliage. The effect was all the more surprising after the long period of static rustling.

The final movement was an experiment in nine voices and three traditional textures. The fugual section lost clarity after five or so entries, not so the super-juicy nine-voice chorale of stacked seconds, which the ensemble balanced finely. The final, hocketing toccata was a great example of ensemble dynamics, with the final chord echoing out beautifully into the South Melbourne Town Hall. I can’t wait to hear what violist and composer Brett Dean (recipient of last night’s Art Music Award for orchestral work of the year) and rising star Samuel Smith have in store.

Xina Hawkins
ANAM Fellowship Recital #1
South Melbourne
Town Hall
Tuesday 11 August

Elliott Gyger’s opera Fly Away Peter: An “almost-there” production?

Fly Away Peter, Sydney Chamber Orchestra, Carriageworks, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberley.
Fly Away Peter, Sydney Chamber Orchestra, Carriageworks, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberley.

Keith Gallasch has reviewed Elliott Gyger’s new opera based on David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter for RealTime. Gallasch provides an insightful comparison of the opera with the original novel, arguing that the work deserves to be remounted despite its faults. Let’s hope someone picks it up soon…

Read Alistair Noble’s review for Partial Durations here.

New Music, digital culture, and the big questions: Metropolis roundup

Zubin Kanga plays Transit by Michel van der Aa from his Dark Twin program (actually at the Totally Huge New Music Festival). Photo Holly Schroeder
Zubin Kanga plays Transit by Michel van der Aa from his Dark Twin program (actually at the Totally Huge New Music Festival).
Photo Holly Schroeder

Curious and time-poor souls may be interested in the summary of last month’s Metropolis New Music Festival, which can be found in the latest edition of RealTime Magazine. You can also click through to it right here. The summary builds on the reviews published here by discussing the festival’s varied and fascinating approaches to the theme “Music inspired by the moving image.”

Totally Huge New Music Festival: Young writers let loose

Zubin Kanga performs his Dark Twin programme. One of the more contested concerts of the festival. Photo by Holly Jade.
Zubin Kanga performs his Dark Twin programme. One of the more contested concerts of the festival. Photo by Holly Jade.

Throughout the Totally Huge New Music Festival I had the honor of working with two very talented young writers: Laura Halligan and Alex Turley. They’ve written a range of responses to the festival’s programme, most of which differ greatly from my own. It’s great to have a diversity of voices in contemporary music criticism and I hope to see them writing for RealTime in the future! Check out their work over at RealTime.