Tag Archives: Luke Paulding

BIFEM: Phoebe Green, Iti Ke Mi

Phoebe Green. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Phoebe Green. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Review by Matthew Lorenzon

The intimate solo recitals at the Old Fire Station have become a BIFEM tradition. The prestigious afternoon and late-night slots are a recognition of a performer’s unique contribution to new music in Australia. Violist Phoebe Green has been commissioning new work from some of the most distinctive voices in Australian music since 2005. She marked a decade of commitment to new music with a dynamic program of new works and modern masterpieces for her instrument.

Violists also have a way of adding an extra dimension to their performances, whether it’s Alexina Hawkins performing an arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in her recent ANAM recital or, in this case, performing one of Iannis Xenakis’s athletic works while eight-and-a-half months pregnant. The extra dimension in question here has heard every moment of Green’s concert preparation, from the whispering bows of Luke Paulding’s Repose and Vertigo in Diluvial Light to the metallic churning of Pierluigi Billone’s Iti Ke Mi. Green is definitely the queen of multitasking.

The Melbourne-based composer Luke Paulding is known for his complexly sensuous palette. It was therefore surprising to hear the stripped-back second outing of his viola work Repose and Vertigo in Diluvial Light. The work’s electronic part has been removed, leaving only the viola’s breath-like muted bowing and vertiginous harmonics. Variations of bow pressure save the piece from being entirely schematic. The performer must still lean in to certain delicious tones, like a distant memory of human feeling after the flood. The piece is a hushed song at the end of the world, a faulty remembrance of things past.

Standing imperious, proud, and definitely pregnant, Green launched into the muscular double-stops of Xenakis’ Embellie. Embellie is a unique work within Xenakis’ output, being his only solo viola work and his last solo piece. Embellie also exhibits the folksong-like quality of parts of his later works. Green brought out the lyricism of Xenakis’ bespoke microtonal mode, a difficult feat given the work’s proliferation of double-stops and leaps.

Dialling Xenakis’ elemental energy down a notch, Green was joined on stage by percussionist Leah Scholes for the première of Juliana Hodkinson’s touching and humorous Harriet’s Song. The piece seems to be a musico-theatrical meditation on familial relationships. Scholes and Green play ethereal, almost inaudible tones on vibraphone and viola. Then suddenly, Scholes darts out a pair of scissors at one of the many objects dangling by fishing wire from a microphone stand. A bell clashes to the ground, or a feather lightly floats away. At one point Scholes sharpens a knife and cuts three objects off at once. One’s eye lingers expectantly on the small glass hanging precariously from the fishing wire. The process could continue until all of the objects have shattered on the ground, but Green saves us from this antagonistic fate. Green detaches a music box from the stand and starts humming along to its tune. The piece concludes with Scholes gently accompanying the lullaby on the vibraphone and the rest of the hanging objects.

Green swapped violas for Pierluigi Billone’s Iti Ke Mi. Played with sweeping circular bows that pass from the fingerboard, past the bridge, and onto the tailpiece, the piece therefore requires a tailpiece without fine tuners. Green conjured incredible, shifting tones out of the viola. The wood of the bow on the fingerboard sounds metallic, while the tailpiece emits a deep groan. These sounds are not clearly delineated, but swept up in a whirling timbral vortex. Making broad circles with her arm across the whole instrument and sliding her left hand up and down the fingerboard, the piece begins completely fluidly. There are no static pitches or timbres, only movement. As the piece progresses, the performer’s movements slowly become tighter. Very slowly. The piece is extremely long and I fail to see the waypoints that justify it being so. Eventually the sounds occasionally stop “in the throat” of the instrument and about ten minutes later the piece ends with a whimper.

I am a viola convert. With its larger dimensions and deeper range, the viola is an ideal instrument for extended techniques. Creaks, scratches, and harmonics resonate that little bit longer and are that little bit richer than the violin. After Green’s recital I questioned why anyone would ever again write an extended-techniques work for the violin.

Phoebe Green
Iti Ke Mi
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
The Old Fire Station
6 September 2015
Matthew Lorenzon

Cathexis: Attacca

Cathexis, photo by Asher Floyd
Cathexis, photo by Asher Floyd

Northchote Town Hall
26 February, 2014

“Attacca” will be familiar to musicians as the performance marking to move on to the next movement without pause. Melbourne’s newest contemporary music ensemble Cathexis took the direction as inspiration for an immersive performance experience combining music, lighting, sound design and stagecraft.

Entering the Northcote Town Hall’s West Wing performance space, the audience is surrounded by  red light and swirling, pealing tones. Joe Talia’s sound design and Bronnwyn Pringle’s lighting provided continuity between the repertoire.

Joe Talia’s four-channel atmosphere reached a climax and abruptly cut out, at which point Peter de Jager launched into Michael Hersch’s Vanishing Pavilions #34. Thundering chords and descending runs alternated with serene counterpoint and a glistening, high melody.

While Hersch’s work rumbled away at one end of the room, the rest of the ensemble crept into a corner and prepared a swift volta into a bar of Valentin Silvestrov’s Trio for flute, celesta and trumpet. No sooner had they stopped than Matthias Schack-Arnott was starkly lit sitting on a balloon.

So began the most anticipated piece of the evening, Luke Paulding’s breath transmuted into words transmuted into breath, a piece based on sounds lifted from gay pornography. Schack-Arnott squeaked and popped balloons to the gentle moaning of an accompanying tape track. He then rubbed, shook and pummeled his array of unconventional percussion instruments as things heated up. The tape track was no match for the colour of the percussion setup, however, and interesting contrasts or correspondences failed to emerge. Considering that they can accompany some of the most sublime moments of our lives, it is remarkable how limited and monotonous the sounds of sex can be. It was perhaps for this reason that the most effective moments were those where the percussionist focused on one, repetitive sound, such as the opening solo or the squelching of a couple of plastic pigs in water at the end.

Cat Hope’s Black Disciples takes the symbol of the Chicago street gang Black Disciples, “III”, and turns it on its side to represent a polyphony of three voices. The work is haunting, with three low voices droning into microphones, their sometimes-distorting, saturated tones melding with the static of radios. Cloaked in hoodies and huddled in the dark, the work raises the issue of cultural appropriation that has recently re-risen (indeed it never went away) in the contemporary art world with an address by TextaQueen at Gertrude Contemporary Art Space. Further urgency is given to this topic by the fact that people in Australia will soon have the perfect right to appropriate whatever they want to whatever offensive ends they wish. The use of “primitivist,” African-American and orientalist musical tropes by white, western composers is as common and uninterrogated today as it was at the dawn of the twentieth century.

However, having cried “appropriation” at every opportunity ever since I learned the word, I now try to distinguish between engagement and appropriation. Learning is a process full of gauche mistakes and I would hate to see someone’s attempts to understand another culture stifled because of their unknowing misuse of that culture’s symbols. Musicians adopting another culture’s symbols need to make a few things clear: What do they think they are appropriating and how and why are they altering it? How do they think members of the appropriated culture would respond to the work? Hope’s borrowings are in fact minimal and, while offering her an inspiration, do not necessarily add to the audience’s enjoyment of the work. It seems to me that Hope adopts only the symbol “III”  from the Black Disciples. The close-held microphones are taken from hip-hop culture more generally, though they produced a distinct musical effect, and the costuming and manner of presentation was probably an addition by Cathexis. Hope then transforms these appropriations through her own noise art aesthetic into a sort of metal/fantasy Gregorian chant, the effect of which is transfixing, whether one knows about the Black Disciples or not. As to the community’s response and the musician’s eventual edification, this would requires a dialogue that members of the appropriated cultures may prefer not to engage in. As TextaQueen points out, people of colour shouldn’t have to dish out this education for free.

Beat Furrer’s Presto for flute was a tour de force for Lina Andonovska, who stalked the score like a lioness. The mosaic patterns between the piano and flute, where the flute “filled in” the piano’s rests, were coordinated to produce a single, carefully-honed, variegated surface. The voices found their independence joyful abandon and Andonovska seemed to relish the opportunity to blast out a series of impossibly loud, long notes.

Cathexis contribute to a tendency in contemporary music for ensembles to adorn their performances with production values that create a sense of continuity and spectacle. While this is often welcome, I am not sure that a seamless performance is always a better one. Nor do the gravitas sound and lighting provide the desired continuity. This is ultimately a job for the concert’s curator in finding convincing links and contrasts between works, an excellent example of which was the unity in variety of the Elision Ensemble’s recent concert at Melba Hall.