Tag Archives: soundinitiative

BIFEM: soundinitiative, Made in France

soundinitiative perform Faction by Raphaël Cendo. Photo by Marty Williams.
soundinitiative perform Faction by Raphaël Cendo. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Angus McPherson

The lurid orange hoses worn around the necks of soundinitiative’s performers in D’Après flamboyantly illustrate Clara Iannotta’s dictum that ‘music should be seen as well as heard.’ The opening is atmospheric, players running their fingers around the lips of wine glasses, the percussionist gripping a bow between his teeth. Pitches warp and contort and sudden flourishes create spikes in the smooth soundscape. The orange pipes produce whistling harmonics and the music evolves, refulgent shimmers giving way to dryer sounds: tapping and short articulate wind entries, and finally, the sounds become gongs and bell-like attacks from the winds. The Italian Iannotta is the only composer on the program who isn’t French, but D’Après was composed in Paris, in keeping with the theme Made in France.

Christophe Bertrand’s Aus sees small cells of music undergo gradual metamorphoses. A heartbeat from the piano builds and mutates, new notes emerging like growths. On first impression the music seems to have echoes of Minimalism, but it is soon clear that the figures never repeat exactly, they roil and spread, shifting like sand. The rolling figures become pointilistic: staccato in the winds and pizzicato in the strings, culminating in a vigorous crescendo of scrubbing harmonics from Julia Robert’s viola.

‘Berceuse’ from Gérard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold) is tranquil and introspective, the instrumentalists providing a lush, undulating accompaniment to Fabienne Séveillac’s flexible mezzo-soprano. In Grisey’s Quatre chants…, this lullaby is the reflective finale following apocalyptic scenes with text taken from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. The composer said of ‘Berceuse’, ‘it is not intended to lull one to sleep; instead it is meant to awaken one to the dying of humanity, finally liberated from its nightmare’. Heard here in isolation, ‘Berceuse’ gives us a sense of peace, but not the catharsis that would have followed the first three of Grisey’s songs.

Grisey died of an aneurysm at 52; Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold was the last piece he completed. Phillipe Leroux’s homage to Grisey Un lieu verdoyant, for mezzo-soprano and soprano saxophone, was written the year after his death. Séveillac and Joshua Hyde shine in this heartfelt performance, their delicate timbres almost indistinguishable as their voices come together and move apart. The balance between singer and saxophone is exquisite, the sighing glissandos and shaking tremolos evoking the grief of the text, which is based on the Book of Lamentations from the Hebrew Scriptures. Hyde turns his back to the audience as Un lieu verdoyant descends into Séveillac’s whispering, ‘mémoire pour Gérard’.

Séveillac is centre-stage again for Gérard Pesson’s setting of poetry by Marie Redonnet Cinq chansons, scored for voice and a quintet of viola, cello, flute, clarinet and piano. Séveillac’s voice entreats over the ambiguous, unstable moods of the accompaniment in ‘La chanteuse des rues’ (The street singer). ‘La stripteaseuse du Mac Doc’ (The stripteaser of Mac Doc) combined upbeat striking of the wood of cello and piano with humorous slides and twists from the winds. The lyrics translate as ‘without a hat/without a coat/without panties’ and so on. ‘La merchande de sable’ (The sand merchant) is a dark miniature, the soft jagged music reflecting the madness of a woman collecting sand and rocks, mistaking them for gold.

Soundinitiative’s finale for Made in France is Raphaël Cendo’s Faction, a wildly joyful piece in the composer’s self-described style of ‘Saturationism’, opening with loud, energetic ‘shredding’ on all three instruments. Faction requires electric guitar, prepared piano, prepared vibraphone (and hopefully prepared vibraphonist, quips Hyde, entertaining the audience during the stage change). Soistier’s preparations seem to involve several kinds of tape stuck to various parts of the instrument. Kobe van Cauwenberghe’s guitar dominates, but vibraphone and Gwenaëlle Rouger’s piano emerge and recede from the almost constant wall of sound.

Cendo’s music is incredibly physical and Soistier embraces this, throwing his body around the percussion section, leaping from the vibraphone to bow a cymbal, and diving over the open piano. He scrapes the piano strings with what appears to be a pink ruler, metallic sweeps mingling with the distortion of the electric guitar.

Consisting entirely of Australian premieres, soundinitiative’s Made in France provided a fascinating taste of contemporary French music by an ensemble thriving on a wide array of sonic worlds and musical styles.

Made in France
soundinitiative
Saturday 5 September
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
Ulumbarra Theatre
Angus McPherson

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (3)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Simon Eales

When, in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, the character Hamm says “Use your head, can’t you, use your head. You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that,” we edge a little closer to understanding what futility in the Irish playwright means. The sense of it is ‘there’s no getting out of the situation we’re in, so just use what you happen to have.’ This call to stark rationality gets renewed with each utterance. As impossible as it seems, there’s always a way to surpass the impasse.

This preoccupation—with exploring possibilities—forms the philosophical jumping off point for Austrian composer Berhard Lang’s new long-form, part concert, part music theatre piece, The Exhausted. Co-commissioned by BIFEM and Singapore’s Yon Siew Toh Conservatory of Music for young French ensemble, soundinitiative, it bears a compelling combination of traditional musical structure and experimental elements. Just as a line of coherence develops, we are jolted sideways into a new stratum.

In his 1992 essay L’épuisé, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze articulates Beckett’s exhaustion of possibilities within delimited sets of field. It’s from this essay that Lang takes this piece’s name, and its libretto. Deleuze explores the ways in which Beckett’s plays work and rework the iterations of physical and logical possibilities, providing some indication of why Beckett seems to require a unique style of viewing. His pieces are populated with characters and stories, but, as soon as they begin, their linearity discontinues. They become about what could have happened had what happened not happened.

Throughout soundinitiative’s performance, the twelve ensemble members break with conventional concert behaviour. They are physically gestural, cleaning their instruments for far longer, and more regularly, than could be practically useful, for example. Mezzo soprano, Fabienne Séveillac, carries most of the dramatic responsibility, stepping slowly at times, quickly at others, trance-like, across The Capital’s thrust. At one point she climbs aboard a table and, lying on it, sings. We are not necessarily watching musicians create a piece of music, but being drawn into a demonstration of the creation of musico-theatrical options.

This notion is concise in Beckett. His sparse settings, few characters, and severe repetition of words, allow him to strip individual phenomena of the power they draw as individual elements. His seemingly sovereign objects could easily not have existed. There seem to be many more possibilities presented here. They bifurcate licentiously, like when Séveillac repeats, “It is night, it is not night. It is night, it is not night,” as a funk bassline and jazzrock groove on the kit links a phase of arresting, strung sustain to an intriguing section of plucks, chimes, and short strums. The words of this latter section huddle around difficulty: “scruples,” “remorseful,” “not guilty.”

As Deleuze might find in Beckett, we come across many half-lines of monologue (delivered predominantly by Séveillac, but also by the ensemble as chorus), constantly stunted melodic progressions, various genres, and a vivid flirtation between cacophony and synthesis. Ensemble members flirt, too. Upon the concert beginning, the whole ensemble arrives, enigmatically engaging the audience with eye contact from their individual positions, before most leave the stage, only a few stragglers remaining. The stragglers then leave. Some players return, make to begin playing, then leave again. These syncopated entrances and exits continue for minutes.

As the piece develops, its collection of generic, modal, tonal, rhythmic, attitudinal, instrumental, physical, and psychological possibilities burgeons, pushing the modest limits of this festival goer’s receptivity. Pique moments, such as Joshua Hyde’s saxophone solo, satisfy what thirst there is for brilliant individualism. But there is genuine pleasure in the play of departures, the decomposition of structure, the humour, the joyful combination of disparate elements, and the phases of rhythmic repetition. We can also always plug into the piece’s verbal impasses to rejuvenate our interest in the instrumental ones: “I gave up before I was born”; “I am my father, I am my son.”

It’s worth noting that Lang’s composition is exceptionally well drilled by its players. In our post-performance correspondence, Séveillac emphasised the complexity of the rhythmic and tonal micro-variations within Lang’s structural looping. Such complexity is reminiscent of Beckett, and the ensemble’s execution of the loops is exceptional. Frequent glimmers of spirited expression in the playing, however, seem to signal a point of departure (in both Lang’s text and its performance) from how Beckett required his work to be performed. He would stringently determine things like stage direction, physical form, and attitude for those selected to realise them. Soundinitiative absorb the strokes of their conductor, who is lodged above and behind the audience, and, at the same time, manage to transform the movements of this intricately mechanised system into opportunities for joy. In doing so, they allow the influence of Deleuze’s generative philosophical style to attain a compelling resonance.

The Exhausted
By Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
The Capital Theatre
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
4 September 2015
Simon Eales

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (2)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Matthew Lorenzon

“Exhausted is so much more than tired” begins Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Samuel Beckett (“The Exhausted,” trans. Anthony Uhlmann, 1995). Tiredness assumes there is more to be done; the exhausted has consumed, expended, or used up all possibilities. Everybody has experienced the former, whereas the latter is the stuff of mathematical definitions. Beckett combines the two. One can exhaust the possible combinations of objects in a series, just as Beckett permutes series of socks, stones, and physical movements in his plays and novels. “Beckett’s great contribution to logic,” Deleuze writes, “is to display that exhaustion (exhaustivity) does not occur without a certain physiological exhaustion.”

Bernhard Lang’s The Exhausted is a music theatre piece co-commissioned by the young Parisian ensemble soundinitiative for their debut at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. Seated expectantly in the Capital Theatre, the audience was initially treated to only a momentary glimpse of the charismatic ensemble. The players wandered on stage, set up their instruments, and promptly exited. The next five minutes saw a constant flow of musicians entering and exiting the stage like waves lapping on the shore. The choreography by Benjamin Vandewalle made the most of the musicians’ natural and untutored movements. These were not actors and dancers striding purposefully on stage, but cellists and flautists repeating the gestural repertoire of the concert hall. The ensemble would stand, sit, slouch, or freeze with the simplicity proper to Beckett’s stage directions. The mezzo-soprano Fabienne Séveillac was no exception, though no other performer was called upon to sing vintage Deleuze upside-down beneath a table.

There is often a tenuous link between compositions and the philosophical texts upon which they are based. It is therefore wonderful to hear a composer developing his work so thoroughly from a single text. Objects on stage including a desk and a grey tape player are drawn directly from Deleuze’s essay. Beethoven’s Ghost Trio and Schubert’s Nacht und Träume feature in Beckett and Deleuze, though the pieces are cleverly introduced not underneath their description in the essay, but under Deleuze’s discussion of Beckett’s play Quad: “Four possible solos all given. Six possible duos all given (two twice). Four possible trios all given twice.”

Despite drawing heavily on Deleuze’s text, Lang has resisted the temptation to interpret Deleuze’s essay literally. He seeks the same nomadic movement of thought from Deleuze’s essay that Deleuze sought in reading Beckett. With all Deleuze’s talk of combinatory mathematics, it would be tempting to write a serial piece or engage in some other form of musical permutation, especially with such direct invitations as Deleuze’s phrase “Watt is the great serial novel.” While there may have been serial moments in the piece, the work seems to build upon the composer’s earlier Deleuze-inspired pieces by looping musical fragments, especially the jazz-inflected grooves of Lang’s student years. The piece, at least on one naïve hearing, plays to the tiredness inherent in repetition while referring obliquely to exhaustion’s formal properties.

Why repetition? A combinatorial sequence repeats the same elements in different ways, but Lang’s repetition is more static. A reader of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition will recognise that repetition is only possible because of the infinitesimal difference between each iteration. This difference may provide a path past exhaustion. The audience and the performers may realise that there really are tangential possibilities hiding within each musical fragment beyond its combination with others. But repetition is also fatiguing and there is always the possibility that tiredness will win out before exhausted repetition opens a window onto the new.

The Exhausted
Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
The Capital Theatre
4 September 2015
Matthew Lorenzon

BIFEM: soundinitiative, The Exhausted (1)

Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.
Fabienne Séveillac performs The Exhausted with soundinitiative. Photo by Marty Williams.

Review by Jaslyn Robertson

The première of Austrian composer Bernhard Lang’s new work ‘The Exhausted’ (‘L’Épuisé’) began without music, members of Paris-based ensemble Soundinitiative moving mechanically on stage, then off, then back on again, repeating the process for minutes. The entrance set the scene for the repetitive, robotic nature of the music set to text from an English translation of Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Samuel Beckett.

Mezzo-soprano Fabienne Séveillac leads us through the text staring eerily above the audience, repeating phrases accompanied or followed by a complementary musical idea, opening with ‘exhausted is a whole lot more than tired’. Walking backwards and forwards, standing and sitting at her desk, Séveillac’s movements reinforce the mechanical repetition of her vocal part. At times, the instrumentalists use this sort of repetitive movement as well, cleaning clarinets and checking the alignment of bows. Described as ‘part-concert, part-music theatre’, movement is a significant part of the work. In a particularly haunting moment Séveillac lies herself across the desk until her head falls over the edge and sings, torso and head upside-down, without breaking her forward gaze.

The highlights of the performance occurred when the instrumentalists of Soundinitiative had a chance to show off their abilities. The stirring passion of Joshua Hyde’s saxophone solo over the cacophony of the other musicians mesmirised the audience. Forceful blowing and tongue slaps pierced through the sound in the background and demanded attention. His natural movements added as much to the concert as the repetitive choreographed actions. Hyde’s slow walk towards the audience, eyes closed, engrossed in producing rips of sound, is an equally unforgettable image.

The music of ‘L’Épuisé’ never loses interest, listeners bombarded with fast and marked change with each new phrase. Sections of text, with their allocated musical ideas, are never repeated for more than a minute, most lasting only 20 seconds or less. The majority of Séveillac’s delivery of text lies on the spectrum of speaking, ranging from breathy whispers to loud, robotic instruction. In the rare moments of high register singing, the clarity of her voice rings through the audience accompanied by sparse textures, from the likes of piano, electronic keyboard and glockenspiel. Like searching through radio stations, the rapid change between styles, varied in texture and rhythm, caused the music to never become static. Some ideas were more effective than others. Jazz sections suggested a shared feeling between composer and performers for the idiom that was clear to the audience, unlike the brief diversion into a hip-hop beat which sounded out of place on the instruments available and beneath Séveillac’s voice.

Although entertaining, Lang’s attempt to translate Deleuze’s philosophical ideas into music was sometimes sacrificed in order to create a hyperactive atmosphere that never allowed the audience to look away. The competence of standout musicians saved the work by giving expression to the chaos. The eccentricity of ensemble members gave it life, Venturini at one point climbing atop his piano in a fit of ‘insanity’. Soundinitiative showed technical prowess and bravery in taking on a work that required precision and adaptability in every instrument, with the added challenge of choreography. I can’t imagine many other ensembles that could capture the wild energy of this piece without missing a beat.

The Exhausted
Bernhard Lang
soundinitiative
Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music
6 September 2015
Jaslyn Robertson