Tag Archives: Samantha Wolf

Tilde 2017

The Tilde festival is named after the symbol “~” used to identify objects in the sound processing environment MSP, which is a staple for composers, sound artists, and experimental musicians. This year the festival demonstrated how far it has expanded beyond its namesake. Welcomed to the blazing aluminium and hot-pink stages of Southbank’s Testing Grounds were musicians from experimental, improvisational, notated, and world music traditions. Testing Grounds have also grown around Tilde. From a field of temporary structures made from recycled wooden pallets, Testing Grounds is now a fully-equipped venue with four highly customisable stage areas and a bar. Just the sort of place to spend a hot day in January.The Tilde Academy that takes place leading up to the festival graces the schedule with high-quality student work that has been workshopped with leading composers and practitioners. A true double bass virtuoso, Patrick Lyons, played new works by the composers Jaslyn Robertson and Sam Wolf. With the help of a whispering electronic part in her work Imposter Syndrome, Wolf helped draw the audience’s focus away from the hulking solo instrument to contemplate sonic minutiae. Another student highlight was the performance of John Zorn’s Cobra by the academy students directed by the experimental guitarist Gary Butler. Part of the fun is working out what on earth is going on as the students respond to incomprehensible directions held up by Butler.

Tilde Academy students perform John Zorn’s Cobra directed by Gary Butler.

A Tilde festival wouldn’t be complete without some impressive home made sonic gadgets and John Ferguson’s Circles did not disappoint. A box containing a single-board computer (maybe a Raspberry Pi and two Arduinos) sequence live samples in an intelligently random way that the performer then has to respond to and negotiate with. The device gives the impression of having a life of its own. Its dials and lights are thankfully turned towards the audience, who can watch the performer react as the device throws up autonomous changes.

John Ferguson performs Circles. Photo by Carmen Chan

From hacked electronics to hacked guitars, Chris Rainier performed songs by Harry Partch on his modified microtonal guitar. Rainier’s medley of readings, tape recordings, and songs make his program a complete theatrical performance.

Jacques Soddell’s electroacoustic work In the Park was a timely exploration of Australian nationalism, including field recordings of nationalist chanting and speeches. It was followed by the multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Scully’s performance of solo works on double bass, cello, viola, and violin. While Scully can certainly play all of these instruments, a more confident performance on one would have sufficed. Scully was joined on stage by Mirren Strahan for her work “Gratitude,” an ironic juxtaposition of violent frotting on violin and double bass with shouted exclamations of gratitude.

Flutes featured heavily this year, with performances by Hannah Reardon-Smith, Melanie Walters, and Laura Chislett Jones. Chislett Jones’ recital was a particular delight, taking the audience on a finely curated tour through works for flute and electronics of the past few decades. Taking place days after the murders on Burke St, Michael Smetanin’s at times violent and gentle Backbone was thoughtfully dedicated “to those who are suffering”.

Bianca Gannon. Photo by Jessica Lindsay Smith.

The open stage in the middle of the Testing Grounds hosted a kaleidoscope of acts, making the experience of queuing for an artisanal burger all the more enjoyable. A highlight was Bianca Gannon’s solo gamelan with loop pedal performance, which brought a meditative tone to the balmy evening.

After a long day of new music it was refreshing to hear Nunique Quartet, a complexist super-group turned jazz band. It’s great to know people can have so much fun counting their irrational rhythms. Definitely hire for your next party.

Tilde Festival
Testing Grounds
21 January 2017

Episode 3: The Ties That Bind Us

Musical egg shells, a dancing pianist, and a long-distance collaborative relationship all feature in this month’s podcast. The composer Samantha Wolf, dancer Gemma Dawkins, and pianist Alex Raineri discuss their piece The Ties That Bind Us for Kupka’s Piano’s program The Human Detained.

Thanks to Sam, Gemma, and Alex for the recording used in this episode.


519672-178_Download-128  Download (15MB)

You can watch the full video of The Ties That Bind Us over at Making Waves, a monthly playlist of contemporary Australian music. The Partial Durations podcast is produced with support from RealTime Arts.

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A musical reply to violence against women

Gemma Tomlinson performs alongside the voice of Kaija Saariaho in Lisa Cheney’s When we Speak.

This year’s International Women’s Day saw institutions and individuals around Australia actively intervene in the contemporary music scene in the interests of gender equality. Today (just as a couple of years ago when gender equality was addressed on this blog) around a quarter of the composers studying, represented in concerts, and represented by the Australian Music Centre are women. As Delia Bartle wrote for Limelight Magazine, The Sydney Conservatorium’s new National Women Composers’ Development Program seeks to boost this number by providing emerging composers with two years of intensive mentorship followed by a prestigious commission. Lisa Cheney and Peggy Polias from Making Waves curated a special playlist featuring women composers including Clare Johnston, Maria Grenfell, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, among many others.

In Melbourne, the composer Samantha Wolf produced a concert fundraiser for the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. Entitled This Will Be Our Reply, the concert featured five thoughtful responses to the theme of International Women’s Day and violence against women in particular. Each of the five composers eschewed clichés to present an original musical response to these themes.

“Shrill, pretty, abrasive.” In Hystericus—and other (mostly) women’s words, Alice Humphries uses the language of contemporary music—its squawking, gritty vocabulary—to make the audience think about words often associated with women. In doing so, Humphries has created one of the most conflicting situations for the listener since Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. A listener sympathetic to grating and buzzing extended techniques may draw comparisons between criticisms of contemporary music and misogynist language. “Too loud and complex!” “But you are choosing to focus on only particular, difficult pieces of music,” the audience member might counter. Or they might offer my favourite response (misremembered but courtesy of Adorno) “maybe you understand contemporary music too well, because it is speaking about real problems.”

A misogynist audience member (keeping in mind that misogyny and a taste for contemporary music are not at all mutually exclusive) might instead bring up the Lacanian dynamic of the Master and the hysteric often associated with the relationship of the critic and the artist. No matter what explanation or interpretation the psychoanalyst gives to the hysteric’s words, they will always counter “that’s not it.” “Exactly!” The misogynist new music skeptic might respond, “It is in the nature of both contemporary music and women to be unreasonable, repetitive, and exhausting!” In her program note Humphries doesn’t offer an interpretation of her own but lets all of these subject-positions linger in the air. Whatever your interpretation the compositional experiment was extremely satisfying to the ears, with two thirds of Rubiks Collective (Tamara Kohler and Gemma Tomlinson) teaming up with the rich tone of Kyla Matsuura-Miller’s violin and Aaron Klein’s bass clarinet to run a gauntlet of musical textures and moods.

After playing on stereotypes of women’s voices, Lisa Cheney brought us the voice of a woman, indeed, one of the greatest living woman composers. Cheney’s When We Speak combines live and prerecorded cello with a manipulated recording of an interview with Kaija Saariaho. While Saariaho’s voice is usually manipulated for its sonic value, moments of Saariaho’s reflections on gender politics in the music industry are clear. Cheney’s resonant electronics part is an atmosphere of unfathomable spaciousness. Clouds of voice fragments swirl around the space along with clouds of her solo cello composition Sept Papillons. In the middle of this environment the cellist Gemma Tomlinson struggles to be heard, playing strings of extended techniques with her characteristic commitment and control. At times the live cello becomes one with the prerecorded track or has a fleeting solo moment. This piece could be heard as a solo woman struggling to be heard in the male-dominated music scene, except all of the samples are of women and the piece is composed by a woman. It could also be heard as a woman engaging or even struggling with the history of women composers and the weight of Saariaho’s legacy. The piece ends with one solution, in Saariaho’s voice: “Create something personal because that’s the only thing that counts.”

Kyla Matsuura-Miller returned to the stage to perform Jessica Wells’ Sati and Satya, a two-movement piece for piano and violin inspired by Buddhist notions of “mindfulness” and “truth” respectively. The piece relates in a very concrete way to the concert’s theme, the first movement being composed for HSC students and requiring a certain tonal restraint. The “truth” movement expands on these restrained ideas in a more personally meaningful way for the composer. The composer likens this process to the way she finds herself moderating her behaviour to suit social norms and the difference between one’s “inner” and “outer” selves.

May Lyon’s On the Inside begins with a similar duality before expanding on this theme in multiple directions. The piano trio for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano is a journey of developing harmonic and rhythmic nuance. From simple thematic beginnings the piece gathers colour, variety, and character. Beneath this fine instrumental writing is a sophisticated critique of notions of beauty and gender roles. The piece’s title, On the Inside, suggests a binary between inner and outward  beauty, but the composer is quick to point out that many conventionally “beautiful” moments in the piece have been retained because “perceived beauty is not something to be ashamed of or feared.” Instead of simply busting the binary of inner and outer beauty, the piece explores “a woman’s life, from growth to complexity (as opposed to innocence to uselessness).” Lyon also contrasts the view of a developing, rich inner life to other supposedly emancipated, developmental views of a woman’s changing social value as maiden, mother, and crone.

Samantha Wolf’s The More I Think About It, the Bigger It Gets closed the evening with an affecting theatrical gesture. Footsteps resound through the speakers while Kohler, Tomlinson, and Matsuura-Miller attack their instruments with darting gestures. Audio samples from news reports and talk-back radio describe acts of violence against women, placing the blame on women’s shoulders. The program note described the footsteps and musical gestures as representing a woman walking home at night and the fears and received rhetoric that swirl around her mind. The tension was palpable, showing yet another way in which the techniques of contemporary music can be used as critical tools for interrogating issues of gender and violence.

This Will Be Our Reply
A Fundraiser for the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre
Melba Hall7 March

Alice Humphries, Hystericus—and other (mostly) women’s words; Jessica Wells, Sati and Satya; Lisa Cheney, When We Speak; May Lyon, On The Inside; Samantha Wolf, The More I Think About It, the Bigger It Gets.