Tag Archives: Sabina Maselli

Another Other: A self-fulfilling prophecy about the death of art

Image 1_Chamber Made Opera –Another Other_Caption – Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras_Credit – Jeff Busby.jpg
Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras in Another Other. Photo by Jeff Busby

Waiting in line at the North Melbourne Meat Market, I spot the corpse. A humanoid shape lies wrapped in black plastic bags. The sound of clocks (or are they shovels?) emanate from it. A program essay by Ben Byrne tells us it is the body of art. He quotes Ingmar Bergman (The Snakeskin, 1965) who claims that art is basically unimportant, deprived of its traditional social value. Like a snakeskin full of ants, art is convulsed with the efforts of millions of individual artists. Each artist, including Bergman himself, is elbowing the others “in selfish fellowship,” in pursuit of their own insatiable curiosity. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Bergman’s film Persona, Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras, and Erkki Veltheim have crawled inside the film’s 79-minute skin.

The four artists sit facing each other beneath red digital clocks counting down the opera’s duration. Pateras works his Revox B77: a machine with a loop of tape and multiple heads that can be manipulated live to produce a stunning array of sounds. Veltheim nurses his violin, which he processes through a laptop running  MaxMSP. Natasha Anderson festoons her Paetzold contrabass recorder with an array of sensors and microphones. Sabina Maselli commands an arsenal of projectors and spotlights, including reels of custom-shot 16mm film.

Once inside the film’s skin, the collaborators throw out its organs of character and plot. The artists instead motivate its mise-en-scène. Maselli’s deeply-textured footage of hands, faces, and landscapes mirror Bergman’s own sumptuous images. The close-miked sounds of violin, recorder, and water echo the conspicuous detail of 1960s foley. Spoken text references monologues in the film, notably Alma’s story of a foursome on a beach. And so the ideas cycle: hands—faces—landscapes—text, interspersed with solo episodes for each performer, until the time runs out.

Image 2_Chamber Made Opera –Another Other_Caption – Anthony Pateras and Erkki Veltheim_Credit – Jeff Busby.jpg
Comparing hands. Don’t they know it’s bad luck? Photo by Jeff Busby

After the third extended shot of intertwined hands, I wondered whether the artists were labouring under a category mistake. Texture and materiality were the bread and butter of contemporary arts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but the structures of plot and character are surely now considered as much part of the artistic “surface” than image and sound. Thanks to the fashion of basing new music on old films, there are counterexamples. For instance, Alex Garsden’s Messages to Erice I & II, which uses the familial relationships of the characters in Víctor Erice’s 1973 film El Spíritu del Colmena to structure the algorithmic relationships of four amplified tam-tams.

By throwing out plot and character, the creators of Another Other struggle to address the original film’s themes of identity, motherhood, art, and being. The film’s iconic shot of Elisabet and Alma’s juxtaposed faces is critical of traditional gender roles precisely because the characters struggle with those roles. The repeated superimposition of the artists’ faces in Another Other is less critical than narcissistic.

While stating that art’s traditional social function is dead, Bergman’s essay affirms the personal significance of art, a belief that is reflected in Elisabet’s first scene in Persona. Elisabet is an actress who stops speaking because she harbours a burning will to live authentically and shake off the role of motherhood. She laughs at a radio soap but seems affected by a piece of music. In Another Other no such distinction is made between inauthentic and personally authentic art. Veltheim plays the Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s violin Partita no. 2 while the artists’ faces are shown through a day-time soap vaseline lens. I will accept that universally authentic art is impossible, but I struggled to find even an affirmation of personally authentic art in Another Other. Unsure of the artists’ belief in their own work, I failed to commit as an audience member.

After fifty minutes I even started believing that art was dead. Thanks to the clocks high above the stage I could regret every minute left. The saddest thing was that I respect the work of each artist in their own right. But four good artists in a box does not an opera make. At the end of Another Other the artists imagine a different ending to the film. The doctor says that Elisabet’s silence was just another role that she sloughed off in the end, not a real existential crisis. She was perhaps also depressed and infantile. The doctor concludes “But perhaps you have to be infantile to be an artist in an age such as this.” I laughed. It made me particularly glad I trusted them with an hour and a half of my life.

Another Other
Chamber Made Opera
Meat Market
18 February 2016
Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras, Erkki Veltheim.

BIFEM: Recital, Judith Hamann

Judith Hamann
Solo recital
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Old Fire Station
11:30pm, 5 September

In Saturday’s Argonaut Ensemble matinée, the composer James Rushford used the term “penumbra” in describing his work. A penumbra is an area of diffuse light around a shadow. It describes something half-concealed and the peculiar lucidity of half-sleep. It is also an excellent term with which to describe Judith Hamann’s solo recital on Friday night, and not just because it began around midnight and was the last of some six hours of contemporary music the audience had experienced that day.

Hamann has long been recognised as one of Australia’s foremost contemporary-music cellists, though her artistic interests extend far beyond the instrument to the presentation and performance of contemporary music more generally. Her solo recital for BIFEM consisted of five pieces that incorporated projection, lighting and the most non-trad uses of a cello imaginable. In the first piece a thread was drawn through the strings of a carbon fiber cello. The simple but arresting procedure was lit by only a small torch light and one could just make out the thread as Rushford drew it to the other side of the stage. The moving thread lightly activated the strings, which Hamann stopped into various chords. Towards the end of the piece the fibrous thread disintegrated into spider-web strands, making a coarser, louder sound.

Hamann then moved over to a seat lit by a spotlight for Rushford’s The Mourning Panthers, which included a notable effect produced by muting the strings close to the bridge and playing in the small length of string between the fingers and the bridge. One finger is on each string, so that by lifting a finger from a string the resonance of that string was momentarily released. This was one of my favourite sounds of the performance, after perhaps the muting of the bow in Helmut Lachenmann’s Pression.

Wojtek Belcharz’s The Map of Tenderness plays on the eternal theme of the likeness of the cello to the human body. The cello is held upright, with the spike retracted, between the legs of the performer, who peers out from between the pegs. The instrument is thus a mask as well as another being, lending weight to the performer’s whispered words “I was not myself last night.” The piece would be a hit with connoisseurs of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (look it up on YouTube), which can be triggered by tactile rustling sounds and whispering. The cello is equipped with a sensitive piezo pickup and the instrument is tapped and frotted all over, from the pegs to the tailpiece. The bridge makes a particularly bodily, scratchy sound.

A visual cognate of tactile sound is analogue film artefact, which features in Hamann and Sabina Maselli’s collaboration Melting Point. Hamann and Maselli sit behind scrims on which are projected a video of a woman tossing and turning as she tries to get to sleep. Armed with microphones, Hamann and Maselli produce a sleepy soundscape by emptying packets of Pop Rocks into their mouths. Evoking a warm fire, the sound had the same somnambulent effect on me as David Toop’s work at the Totally Huge New Music Festival last year. Eventually the video transforms into a video of a photograph of the sleeping woman, which then catches fire (you should never leave your electric blanket on at night). The use of tactile and visual artefacts is a wonderfully evocative alternative to that other brain-massaging technique of contemporary composers: binaural beats. Where the grain of film artefacts or the saturation of VHS tape is nostalgically evocative to us today, binaural beats will always remain devoid of poetry.

The concert ended, perhaps one piece too long after that excellent nightcap, with Liza Lim’s Invisibility. In this piece the cellist uses two bows, one haired in the usual style and the other with the hair wound round and round the bow shaft. At the end of the piece both bows are used at the same time, creating a timbral polyphony that you can’t believe is coming from one instrument.