Tag Archives: Marc Yeats

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.

Metropolis: Syzygy Ensemble, Undine the Spirit of Water

Grace Lowry in Agatha Yim’s film Undine: The Spirit of Water.

Feminine water-spirits may be found in diverse mythologies, from Ancient Greek Sirens to the Slavic Rusalka and the Thai Phi Phraya. The “Undine” appears relatively recently,  in the writings of the renaissance Swiss-German alchemist Paracelsus. Paracelsus classes the Undine as a water elemental alongside the airy “Sylph,” the earthy “Pygmy” and the fiery “Salamander.” The Undine is remarkable for being a much more benign creature than its predecessors, the unfortunately-stereotyped women seducing and drowning sailors. Paracelsus was, after all,  a man of science. Syzygy Ensemble’s programme for the Metropolis New Music Festival asked the question “What is the spirit of water in music?” Four composers provided four different answers to this question, interspersed with beautiful and humorous videography by Agatha Yim.

In Yim’s short film, a charming Undine (Grace Lowry) prances about a Victorian rainforest encountering members of the ensemble. Cellist Blair Harris ineffectually chops wood in his concert blacks, flautist Laila Engle wrestles the Undine for a light bulb, and was that a fleeting shot of pianist Leigh Harrold I saw floating in the water? A narrative emerges throughout the concert, with a young man falling in love with the Undine before becoming married to another woman, without ever forgetting the Spirit of Water.

Helena Tulve’s Streams 2 is an experiment in musical current. A current has not only force, but depth. In Stream 2, a single instrument always holds the work together with a smooth, legato line. Tulve favoured the dark tone of the clarinet in evoking the viscous flow of water. The rest of the ensemble resembled flotsam or the play of light on the water’s surface with ricochet bowing, whispering flautando flurries and rubbed woodblocks. Tulve’s streams are not splashing torrents. Instead, we hear the steady stream from within, like the submerged Undine at the end of Yim’s first video.

Syzygy Ensemble rehearse Undine: The Spirit of Water at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Syzygy Ensemble rehearse Undine: The Spirit of Water at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tom Henry’s Time is Another River provides a much more thematic depiction of a watercourse. The work for violin, cello and piano features beautiful counterpoint with long melodic lines that rise, float and fall.

Marc Yeats’ The Half-Life of Facts provides a jarring and welcome contrast to Henry’s mellifluous river. Yeats’ piece is an absolutely unrelenting ten minutes or so of fragmented extended techniques including Bartok pizzicati, string glissandi and bass clarinet grunts. The lights changed from red to yellow and back to red again half-way through the piece, as if to highlight the monotony of the barrage of sound.

After Yeats’ complete fracturing of contour, the audience mustn’t have minded retreating into Niels Rønsholdt’s reassuring use of repetition and rhythmic motifs. Instead of water, Rønsholdt’s Burning is accompanied by a projection of a match catching alight in the dark, albeit reduced to a shadowy black and white image with the tones inverted. The piece features a rhythmic cross-rhythm that is tapped out quietly on the backs of instruments like a post-rock mantra before being howled out in desperate waves (along with some desperate teenage poetry) by the whole ensemble. During these climaxes, the piano part grows from glissandi across the keyboard to vigorous assaults with the palms.

Undine: The Spirit of Water is a magnificent response to the festival’s theme: “Music inspired by the moving image.” As the composers featured in the programme have shown, water and movement go hand in hand.

Syzygy Ensemble
Undine: The Spirit of Water
Metropolis New Music Festival
Melbourne Recital Centre
8 May 2015

Helena Tulve, Streams 2; Tom Henry, Time is Another River; Marc Yeats,  The half-life of facts; Niels Rønsholdt, Burning.