Tag Archives: Claude Debussy

Metropolis New Music Festival 2016: Forest Collective, Sensuality in the City

In 2009 the clarinettist Richard Haynes played a piece by Richard Barrett naked but for a feathered head dress, Chris Dench on a surgical table wrapped in glad wrap and wearing a cock ring, David Young while pissing into an amplified 44-gallon drum, and David Lang while climbing a ladder in a hard hat and not much else. The concert, Listen My Secret Fetish, was an Aphids production directed by David Young and Margaret Cameron and it set the bar for explorations of new music and sexuality. Not everyone has to wee into a bucket, but sex and music is a thematic pair with as much room for exploration as, well, sex and music.

Forest Collective’s Sensuality in the City program at the Metropolis New Music Festival began promisingly. The audience was met at the door by a cardboard torso complete with a glory hole for happy-snaps (nobody took full advantage of this). Once in the salon, the audience sat through a tense minute of droning cello and gently pulsating piano clusters while the marvelously hairy bass-baritone Christian Gillett glowered darkly above us. After a while he stated emphatically “I wanna fuck Chris Hemsworth.” The original version of F**k forever by Philip Venables gives George Miles as the object of affection, but I think we can allow this local variation in contemporary performance practice.

From this point on artistic director Evan Lawson conducted a historical survey of urban sexuality divided into brackets addressing desire, sex, and conflict. The “desire” bracket included three sumptuous arrangements of pieces by Robert Schumann, Claude Debussy, and Franz Schubert. Soprano Rosemary Ball brought out the budding desire in “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,” at least so far as singing about birds allows. The ensemble crowded around Rebecca Scully’s double bass, voyeuristically illuminating her visceral performance of Syrinx with torches.

The “sex” bracket approached sex most obliquely indeed. George Aperghis’ Recitation No. 9 received an unprecedentedly powerful performance by Ball. The soprano recites the sentence “Parfois je résiste à mon envie parfois je lui cède pourquoi donc ce désir,” which might be translated as something like “Sometimes I resist my inclination sometimes I give in to it why then this desire?” The phrase is revealed word by word from the end to the beginning, taking on different meanings with each iteration. In terms of suggestion—and Ball’s rendition was wonderfully suggestive—this piece is clearly still in the realm of desire. So too is Lawson’s Himeros, a piece dedicated to the pain in desire. Contorted Wagnerian strings send heart-strings thrumming before a sparse and delicate middle section lulls the audience to sleep. The audience is painfully awoken with a bang from the percussion as the brass begin to cry. If the association of Himeros with sex is obscure, then Marc Yeats’ Lines and Distances is absolutely cryptic. The measured, pointillist tapestry unfolds before the listener like a medieval love story, with clarinettist Vilan Mai carefully managing each turn of the tale. But once again we are in a world of courtship and managed proximities.

For the third bracket dedicated to “confusion, conflict and confusion” the audience heard a truly heartbreaking rendition of Schubert’s “Gefrorne Tränen” performed by Gillett, then music from an opera by Venables where members of a family and their maid “beat a mysterious bandaged figure lurking in the corner while discussing what they’ll eat for dinner.” The program felt like a film that cuts straight from a prolonged scene of flirtatious winking to a scene of domestic violence, skipping over physical sensuality entirely. The program’s lacklustre programming was not aided by some very unsexy intonation. Now I don’t know how you’d actually go about making a good “sexy program.” It seems a bit like someone asking you to “be funny,” you can’t just do it on the spot. I struggle to be half-way presentable most days. But someone out there has got to be able to get this right.

Sensuality in the City
Forest Collective
Metropolis New Music Festival
Melbourne Recital Centre
18 May 2016

Philip Venables, F**k Forever; Robert Schumann, Im wunderschönen Monat Mai; Claude Debussy (arr. Rebecca Scully), Syrinx; Franz Schubert (arr. Alexander Morris), Ganymede; Georges Aperghis, Recitation No. 9; Evan Lawson, Himeros; Marc Yeats, Lines and Distances; Franz Schubert (arr. Evan Lawson), Gefrorne Tränen; Philip Venables, Fight Music.

The Safest Ever Show About the World’s Most Dangerous Topic: The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s “The Crowd”

The Crowd
ACO, ANAM and The Consort of Melbourne
Concept by Richard Tognetti
Cinematography by Jon Frank
Directed by Matthew Lutton

In 1960 Elias Canetti published Crowds and Power, a taxonomy of the crowd drawing on anthropology, sociology, philosophy and psychology couched in a stream of lucid, aphoristic prose. Writing in the wake of the Third Reich, Canetti considered the relationship of the spontaneous crowd to the demonic-charismatic leader. He explored, in an unprecedented way, the survivor whose hidden satisfaction provides a new germ of despotic power.

Waving the book around in interviews, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Richard Tognetti and the cinematographer Jon Frank promised a fusion of video and music that would address “the gamut of the crowd experience from alienation to the reinforcement of humanity” (to quote the programme). You can imagine my excitement. Finally, Australia’s premier chamber music ensemble would develop a multimedia programme around some historically significant and eminently relevant intellectual grist.

The ACO, students from ANAM and The Consort of Melbourne proved themselves versatile interpreters of the exciting and diverse programme. In perhaps the most interesting exploration of crowd dynamics (because the exploration is immanent to the compositions and the musicians on stage), the orchestra in Ives, Tognetti, Sibelius, Crumb, Schubert, Dean and Shostakovich is whittled down to the intimate quartets, trios and solos of Debussy, Feldman, Leifs and Chopin.

The music aside, the concert was deeply disappointing and even troubling, given the status and resources of the ACO and the Melbourne Festival. Ives’ The Unanswered Question opens beneath Frank’s beautiful, slow-motion footage of street scenes in New York. Faces and gestures emerge from the crowd in high definition and high frame rate detail. The mise-en-scène situates the fundamental antimony of the crowd as that between the unindividuated mass and the feeling individual. The gently emerging voices of Ives’ piece suits the images, but the cinematic gesture is a cliché, giving the impression one is watching Koyaanisqatsi with better music.

Tognetti’s suite (which sounds like something between the Carmina Burana and the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings) breaks in with thumping timpani beneath a quote from Nietzsche: “In individuals madness is the exception, in groups it is the rule.” Cue footage of Nazi rallies and bodies in concentration camps. The message is clear: Crowds are dangerous. There is nothing in the concert to suggest otherwise, no emancipatory crowd to contrast with the despotic ruler or contemporary political example to put the message into context.

The film then vacillates between interminable footage of football matches, street scenes and images of water, providing a pessimistic and narrow vision of the crowd today. After the tokenistic reference to the political crowd, the real axis of The Crowd is football and nature.

But between the show’s creation in 2010 and reworking in 2013, two important crowd-related events have taken place: The Arab Spring in all its complexity and the increased media hysteria around asylum seekers in all its banal horror. It says something about Australia, about our wilful ignorance of the rest of the world and fear of the crowd that the closest one gets to a spontaneous crowd is a football match or a mosh pit.

We like to talk about crises. Here’s one: The ethico-aesthetic crisis of Australian art music. It is revolting to trot out footage from Nazi Germany and the holocaust in the first five minutes of a concert to demonstrate the violence of the crowd upon the individual—and the charismatic leader upon crowds—and then leave the issue aside for an hour of comic relief. You can’t drop half an H-bomb. The use of images from the Third Reich also suggests that violence is only something that happened overseas and a long time ago. Today it is impossible not to know, despite the current government blackout on the issue, that thousands of people escaping their own crowd-related conflicts are held in woefully inadequate conditions in detention centres in and around Australia. If anything, this issue resonates with Canetti’s ideas about our fear of being touched, the distances we create around ourselves, “invisible crowds” and the self-aggrandising effects of “survival” psychology. Even if it appears impossible to film within these detention centres, surely a clever cinematographer would find ways of referencing the demonisation of this crowd by a few politicians and the media for their own ends.

But wouldn’t that be risky? Wouldn’t that be what crowds are all about?


Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.