Tag Archives: Matthias Schack-Arnott

DOMICILE: Alone Together

Review by Charles MacInnes

I set off to Carlton for the first performance of DOMICILE last Friday night, and even though I knew quite a few people amongst the group gathered outside, we remained mostly silent during the event. As we visited the different areas of the house there was a quick whisper on the stairs, a smile from across the room or a small nod of encouragement before something new began.

Straight through the downstairs section of the house, I landed in blacksnowfalls (2014 by Wotjek Blecharz) where Matthias Schack-Arnott had lithely joined himself to a single, slightly battered timpani. Like a teenager on the train I stared at the window and watched the sounds go by. The skin became taut and some sequences of letters formed, along with rhythms of copper under a body that moved and stretched to dampen the sounds.

Matthias Schack-Arnott performs blacksnowfalls by Wotjek Blecharz. Photo by Pier Carthew.

Next door were the honks and squeezes of Dale Gorfinkel’s installation Baby boomer. You pedalled while holding on to an old Zimmer frame and the balloons and hoses and brass relics came to life. The apparatus seemed to have assembled itself from the junk in the shed and it kept going even after we stopped pumping air through. My brass player self began to realise how accidental a lot of life’s noise is. Sound and its complex waves and vibrations already exist, and we players perhaps take a little too much credit for its creation, and are correspondingly also deflated when it from time to time falters.

Vanessa Tomlinson plays on Baby boomer by Dale Gorfinkel. Photo by Pier Carthew.

Ascending the stairs, I overhear the Conversation (2004 by Georges Aperghis) between two women (Jenny Barnes and Niharika Senapati) in the bath. The bubbles obscure their bodies and the voices are a mixture of inwards exhalations and assenting disagreement. When I hear people arguing, I can quickly tell that most of the time they don’t know what they are arguing about. They become so used to their practised roles that a quip or jibe represents years of misunderstanding. The underlying root of the problem is long since forgotten—we’ve lost the ability to analyse—instead acting out our expected frustrations on whoever’s at hand.

Downstairs again, I sat in the chair waiting to be next in a one-to-one Audition (2014 by Angelo Solari) with Carolyn Connors. We were seated opposite each other and the script/score was open. She: Hello


I (reading): hello.

We bounced back and forth following the lines, mimicking each other in normal voices. Often asked to overlap the dialogue, it got a little faster before a Martin was mentioned a few times. She sprung from her chair and left, returning with the electric kettle now full of water. While waiting for it to boil we had to stare at one another. I was strategically pessimistic about my efforts at doing well, but kept my gaze fixed. Blinked a few times. Much later in the garden after the whole performance was finished, she said I was one of the most natural ones because I didn’t try to act.

Now heading to the front room, I copied Aviva Endean’s filmed actions in A face like yours (2015) on the TV screen. This was a warping of space and time perspective because I had done this once already at this year’s Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. This time I was alone as I put the squishy coloured earplugs in. My fingers, as I copied the screen, started drumming on cheek bones, moving to ears, neck, face, nose, forehead then squeezes and pullings at the the lips and teeth. The sound is magnified and distorted as it comes in through the strange connections of bones, tendons and nerves like a web of old water pipes in an apartment building. We arrived at the Adam’s Apple with a high pitched humming before ending with hands covering nose and mouth.

Tiny wisps of air made it through the clarinet in Lehadlik, also performed and written by Aviva Endean (2015) in the open dining room at the heart of the house. Two candles flickered from the clarinet’s presence and a crackly recording of an old man’s torah incantation came from under a chair by the hearth. The tones were long and suspended but low in the air. My mind wandered out into the garden and I looked again at the window I’d been staring at from inside by the timpani with the live projected image of him still playing. The pieces in the house were repeating over and over as the audience shifted and changed and I think they’re doing it again now as I write.

Aviva Endean performs Lehadlik. Photo by Pier Carthew.

To get to the garage you had to pass through three or four bedsheets hung from the gables. Matthew Horsley was shaved bald and had on a pair of flimsy white cotton pants. ?Corporel (1984 by Vinko Globokar) was disembodied as if from another time and dimension, perhaps some edited-out character of Brecht’s insisting that we feel and understand the false glamour and artificiality of entertainment today? His chest and face and scalp become chafed red from the harsh contact of his hands, and it finished with a dramatic exit through the automatic roller door that would’ve done Bertolt proud. The last piece I heard was a couple (Aviva Endean and Alexander Gellman) in the upstairs bedroom performing Void. Walking slowly toward each other in a routine they’ve enacted many times before, the microphones in their mouths caused a screech and wail of feedback. Was it getting stronger as they neared or changing frequency? Or were our poor ears just getting used to the piercing, painful sound? When they kissed it stopped. But they walked out again to quickly reassume positions for another round.

Aviva Endean and Alexander Gellman perform Void. Photo by Pier Carthew.

As the audience, we narrowed down the distance between each of us as we moved through the different floors and rooms of the house. As I glanced into the makeshift mirror of glass over a black and white photo on the landing, I was reminded just a little more of who I am. Music does this beautifully; we are connected but each engrossed in our own calm thoughts. In DOMICILE we circumnavigated sound and it came together under one roof with the utmost magic and beauty.

A house in Carlton
4/5/6 December 2015
Directed by Aviva Endean
Presented as part of the New Music Network’s emerging artists program

Review by Charles MacInnes
Melbourne-based composer and trombonist Charles MacInnes is currently undertaking a PhD on the role of improvisation in new music. http://www.charlesmacinnes.com

Supersense: Diplopia

Matthias Schack-Arnott's performance of Diplopia captured by a GoPro. Courtesy of the artist.
Matthias Schack-Arnott’s performance of Diplopia captured by a GoPro. Courtesy of the artist.

The Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic hits all the right notes. Intelligent and accessible, the festival takes its place among a growing number of superbly curated and executed contemporary music festivals in Australia. The audience crowds down a stairway into the bowels of the Arts Centre. Coloured lights and ambient sound design herald their entrance into a netherworld of heightened experience. Once inside, the audience has free run of three or so simultaneous acts curated by Sophia Brous and drawn from the world over. The acts are durational, sincere, cross-cultural, and avant-garde, but peppered with high-profile acts presenting more conventional fare. The audiences crowding into the performances on Friday night prove once again that, if presented in an open and enticing light, audiences absolutely love contemporary music. Friday night’s program was underpinned by a three-hour performance of the Javanese Kuda Lumping (Flat Horse) ritual directed by Chunky Move’s founding Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek with lighting design by Ben Cisterne. The performers, accompanied by an Indonesian music ensemble, danced themselves into trance states before being lifted out of the room by black-clad shamans. The audience could equally attend a performance by Tao Dance Theatre as they twisted and contorted their way through some of the most controlled contact improv I have ever seen. I was particularly interested to see Matthias Schack-Arnott’s new performance Diplopia, which follows his lauded solo percussion projects Fluvial and Chrysalis.

Diplopia (double vision) plays on the simple yet effective idea of attaching a microphone to each wrist of the performer and amplifying them through stereo speakers so that the performer’s hand movements are translated into rhythmic panning effects. Schack-Arnott surrounded himself with cymbals and tam-tams of different sizes, which furnished him with a beautiful array of metallic resonances.

Schack-Arnott began by gently playing a series of mid-range upturned cymbals, moving his arms in circles. The audience was lulled by the gently pulsating hum highlighted by metallic shimmering. Tighter and looser arm circles produced striking phasing effects, while several very slow circles produced a viscous aural effect like smearing clay. By contrast, a wide, fast arc over a single small cymbal would produce a short, clipped yelp. The moment I began wondering what the harmonic, microtonal properties of the cymbal array might be, Schack-Arnott started playing multiple cymbals producing beating, dissonant tones.

Schack-Arnott explored large tamtams, which gave a rather dead bassy hum, and much smaller cymbals whose rhythmic, amplified resonance was almost vocal in timbre. Swelling sine tones based on harmonics of the cymbals were dispelled by immaculately-timed attacks. The higher the pitch of the cymbal, the more complex and interesting the tones, with the higher cymbals accompanied by beating harmonics.

The flowing, rhythmic performance was a perfect opening for Supersense, but I’d like to hear these ideas explored further. What would jagged and irregular movements sound like? What about using only one microphone so that initial attacks were not amplified but their resonances were? How many different tones could one cast one’s hand over before they became indistinguishable? Schack-Arnott has opened up a world of new possibilities.

Matthias Schack-Arnott
Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic
State Theatre Rehearsal Room, Arts Centre Melbourne
Friday 7 August, 2015

Next Wave: Fluvial

Matthias Schack-Arnott in Fluvial. Photo by Jesse Hunniford.
Matthias Schack-Arnott in Fluvial. Photo by Jesse Hunniford.

Matthias Schack-Arnott
Next Wave Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall
1 May, 2014

Hundreds of sheets of metal, aluminium pipes, tiny metal piano tuning pins and glass bottles hang above or lie upon two long, raised platforms that run in parallel through the centre of the space. There is just enough room between them for the percussionist Matthias Schack-Arnott to move, the sole percussionist in the installation-performance Fluvial.

“Fluvial” may describe the changes wrought upon an environment by streams and rivers. Forever moving, sometimes gentle and sometimes violent may well describe Schack-Arnott’s performance. The show begins and ends with graceful, poetic gestures. At one end of the metallic array, Schack-Arnott sends four thin metal pipes, hanging parallel to the ground, into motion. When struck, they emit clear tones that pulse as they rotate. Schack-Arnott watches their orbits narrowly avoid each other, as though he were some modern-day Copernicus turning his calculations from the heavens to the pressing terrestrial matters of the age.

Things take a chaotic turn after this harmonious vision. Schack-Arnott brings the pipes in collision with the granite tiles beneath them, juxtaposing the pipes’ ethereal tones with the dead clunkings of stone. Moving through the centre aisle, Schack-Arnott strikes a deeper set of pipes that lie across a fulcrum on the granite tiles. As they rebound from the stone they emit a sharp sound like rain on a roof.

Each episode of the piece presents a truly intriguing new sound. While percussionists will be familiar with a tremolo on pipes with soft mallets, the effect of a dozen pieces of sheet metal, suspended from their centres, being thrust onto a piece of granite and then released will be a revelation in the extremes of muting and uncontrolled resonance. As will Matthias’ dramatic throttling and submerging of a bunch of glass bottles in a sink of water and the cacophonous (the only truly ear-splitting moment in the piece) collision of a flock of metal sheeting with a cloud of microtonally-tuned wind-chimes.

The installation is as thought-provoking as it is beautiful. The system’s forces hang in a state of equilibrium. Each piece of metal and granite is microtonally tuned in clusters around different pitch centres. This helps to separate the different sound sources for the listener and at times produces a ritualistic, chant-like quality to the performance. One is also aware that nothing is absolutely static or ordered in this musico-environmental model. As the audience enters, the air movement they produce occasionally causes a bottle to moves against another, or a finely-balanced chime finally tips over into a new position. Schack-Arnott is no prime mover in this environment, but one who powerfully interferes with its balance of forces. Theatrically stunning, aurally stimulating, Fluvial is an unmissable experience at this year’s Next Wave festival.

Fluvial runs 1–4 and 7–11 May.

Partial Durations is a RealTime/Matthew Lorenzon joint project.

Metropolis: Speak Percussion, City Jungle

City Jungle € The Reginald € Seymour-31
Matthias Schack-Arnott and Eugene Ughetti, image courtesy of the Melbourne Recital Centre

Speak Percussion
City Jungle
Metropolis New Music Festival
19 April

Between its origin in mid-1990s rave culture and its contemporary chain-ganging into the long, wobbly march of dubstep, drum and bass was a hotbed of virtuosity and experimentation at the heart of electronic dance music. In Australia, pioneers like Terminal Sound System have continued to develop the unique style of breakneck drum beats and earth-moving bass with an ear towards contemporary art music and the forever-plastic world of electroacoustic composition. At the same time, classical musicians like Speak Percussion founder Eugene Ughetti have drawn from drum and bass and jungle to inspire their own virtuosic playing. City Jungle is more than a collaboration between Terminal Sound System and Speak Percussion, it explores and summarises possible lines of influence between two musical worlds.

An array of cymbals, drums and vibraphones gleam under purple and red lights at the far end of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon. The audience is ranged through the room on chairs, lounges and at standing tables. The intimate-sounding room is arranged not so much for dancing as for an intense, though laid-back listening experience. Terminal Sound System himself is not present, but Matthias Schack-Arnott and Ughetti provide ample visual interest with their focused, breathtakingly-coordinated attack on the battery of instruments.

At times Ughetti and Schack-Arnott provide backbeats on toms and cymbals to expansive electronic atmospherics and smooth-jazz melodies, while at other times they provide spitting, hissing, syncopated breakbeats on snares and Chinese cymbals over melodic bass lines. Moving to the vibraphone, the musicians contribute melodic hooks and ostinati of bewildering complexity to the mix. In these ways Speak Percussion complement Terminal Sound System’s electronics, filling in a part of the whole musical picture.

Of greater interest, perhaps, is Ughetti and Schack-Arnott’s ability to reproduce electronic-sounding effects in a live setting. One effect is stereo panning and phasing. Facing each other at the front of the stage, the percussionists play tremoli on two triangles, gradually muting and unmuting them to create waves of timbre that pass back and forth across the room. A similar technique is used with rolls on snare drums, except this time the players send waves of both volume and speed back and forth. As the speed of the rolls decreases their volume increases, giving the sound spatial depth, as though it were moving towards you and getting larger. Other atmospheric effects included Schack-Arnott’s playing untuned radio static and conjuring unearthly sounds from a China ride cymbal.

Sometimes complementing Terminal Sound System’s sounds and sometimes expanding on them, Speak Percussion show the permeability between contemporary percussive and drum and bass sound worlds. Already in its third outing, City Jungle is becoming a remarkably popular and effective piece of contemporary Australian repertoire.