DCC: Glitch by Harada, Matsumoto, Sasagawa
Coming into my first Tura concert on Sunday, I had no idea what to expect. I’m a regular concert goer, but normally I go to Perth Concert Hall for fairly traditional music. I hadn’t heard of Tourist Kid before, or anyone in the second act. Secretly, I was expecting something that would be closer to often overblown ‘sound art’ than ‘electronic music’.
I was relieved then, when I walked through the doors of The Sewing Room. It was a dark, relaxed space where a small crowd of people were standing around, holding drinks and chatting quietly while Tourist Kid splashed out enveloping, luminescent music. Tourist Kid was the supporting act, which was a fine choice. I would describe his music as dynamic and powerful, yet meditative and relaxing. It built up from fine rhythmic constituents and well chosen samples into a looming wave of sound, before crashing down unexpectedly into a new segment.
The headliners, Harada, Matsumoto, Sasagawa with DCC: Glitch, were something totally different. The act explored the acoustic effects of glitching, and represented it visually. An ever-changing pattern of dots were projected on the wall, shifting abruptly and beautifully as the music metamorphosed. The graphical score, an idiomatic real time representation of the music, was projected on a different wall, giving the audience a sense of time and progression. There was a real sense that the musicians wanted to present their experiment as a piece of music, rather than a sonic experiment for a select audience.
The degrees of variety and contrast in the music itself was astounding. A prepared biwa (Japanese lute) provided much of the initial acoustic richness. From there, glitches interjected and disrupted the music as layers began to build. The visuals and score guided the audience, so that even though the glitches were quite harsh we could track them. As the music grew and shifted, sharp bleeps were added to the mix, and a genuinely multi-layered sound developed.
The audience was clearly quite into both acts. In the first act, they nodded along, and most didn’t even go to the bar to buy drinks. In the second act, at a certain point the music was silenced, and the visuals continued. After someone coughed, and the circular patterns on the wall changed, the audience began making soft noises. People laughed and had a great time.
The venue was a great choice. I personally like walking around a little when I enjoy my music. There was a bar off away from the main area, and since we weren’t in a particularly well known or big venue, it felt like an intimate, shared discovery.This was definitely a laid back and enjoyable concert overall.
The words ‘Electronic’ and ‘Concerto’ hardly ever come together. The contrast between a centuries long tradition of virtuosic orchestral pieces and a fertile delta of electronic works seems to be marked and profound. However, Electronic Concerto appropriated the concerto away from its solely acoustic origins, and transformed it into something contemporary.
The eight concertos I heard that night represented eight very diverse events. Musically, each concerto featured a blend of acoustic and electronic performers, with some straying quite far from the classical tradition. Many of the performers (such as Lindsay Vickery and Stuart James) played several instruments. From the precision and intention the performers invested in the music, you could tell that they were highly skilled.
This was certainly helped by the composers, whose concepts were uniformly fascinating. Southern Currents, written and performed by Meg Travers, used a weather map as a graphical score, giving the audience an unusual, graphical structure to follow like in Glitch. Unlike Glitch, the music was measured as a line traced out a circumference; the score was circular. More than being a gimmick, I could hear the dynamics and pitches of the trautonium bend and change as the structure formed a palindrome, with the circle being completed anticlockwise afterwards.
Rare and unusual instruments were given centre stage. The soloist(s) in Stolen Goods (stocketus) (Johannes Mulder) were loudspeakers, while Intersperso-Ultradiano featured an electric noise bass. There were two concertos featuring theremins, and the second, Limp Wrist featuring Jos Mulder and written by Dan Thorpe, was probably the most conceptually interesting. In Limp Wrist, the soloist stood solemnly to the side of the theremin, and gradually leaned over, while the ensemble provided musical commentary. It was fascinating to hear the pitch gradually and subtly lower as he moved further from the instrument. The theremin is normally controlled by the distance between the metal and the performer’s hands.
I would argue that Motherboard – A Circuit Bend concerto (Mark Olivero, solo performed by Louise Devenish) and Noise in the Clouds (Stuart James, solo performed by Kouhei Harada) were both the most fascinating and the most innovative. They weren’t the only concertos to feature live visuals, but they did so in the most engaging way.
Motherboard – A Circuit Bend concerto was fourth on the programme, before the interval. The solo instruments were ‘hacked toys’. I didn’t know what this meant at first, but when the piece was set up, I saw that it really meant hacked children’s’ toys; the ones that go “oink oink” and “let’s play”. The execution of this idea was both terrifying and hilarious. Live visuals featuring binary code culminated in something resembling a satanic ritual, as the children’s’ toys screeched garbled commands.
Noise in the Clouds (the finale) took a much more serious turn – the soloist sat in front of his laptop, manipulating the powerful and oppressive music. The visuals were beautiful, ghostly voids which accentuated the experience even further. Noise in the Clouds is a musical highlight of my year.
I have to admit, I have a careful, indifferent relationship with New Music. New Music, as defined on Tura’s website, is music created by living composers that “rigorously explore new ground in their particular field of creativity, exposing audiences to new possibilities in music and sound”. I used to think that New Music was a stuffy vestige of modernism. But at university, studying music composition, I was exposed to it as a different mode of music making, for better or worse.
While I still find unguided experimentation displeasing, I thought Electronic Concerto was the prime example of a concert which did things right. People with no idea of what to expect, or who’d only listened to Mozart symphonies and Beethoven’s violin concertos, would have enjoyed this concert, so long as they realised they weren’t listening to classical music. I realised that New Music does not need to be ‘challenging’. When it’s presented in the right way, people will be able to appreciate it. As a fascinating multimedia/auditory experiment, I think Electronic Concerto was a major success, and a landmark of the 13th Totally Huge New Music Festival.
My former composition teacher once told me that nowadays people can write whatever they want when they study music at an institution like UWA. The homogenous attitudes in prior decades had broken into a delta of personal music making. Breaking Out, I supposed, would represent that diversity. As I sat down, I was excited and somewhat nervous.
The program for the night comprised of pieces by five students from UWA and WAAPA each. The music itself took a contemporary, topical bent, without resorting to sung or spoken words or parodies.
I found V.K.W. 96FM (duet for voice and radio) (Annika Moses) the most intriguing sonically and conceptually. In this piece, the performer/composer imitated the speech of a cassette recording of an 80s jazz radio program, as it was played back in fragments. Listening to Moses shift and distort the recording seemed nostalgic yet playful. Remarkably, the piece was compose, not improvised, despite its spontaneous delivery.
Kate Milligan’s piece Impression I took a radically altered approach to working with found audio, with political and psychological undertones. In her piece audio from politicians and public figures (whom she agreed with) was manipulated, deconstructed and reconstructed, and then played back randomly from four speakers. Performers then mimicked and improvised “in a bubble of present-awareness”. I feel that this piece made the best use of the venue. The eerie, primordial echoes of politicians contrasted with the confronting live audio. The splashes of familiar accents as they resonated across the concert hall verged on the uncanny.
Digi-Social Echo Chamber (Ryan Burge) and SOUNDness (Gabbi Fusco) also used innovative sources. SOUNDness also worked with the idea of spontaneity, as music was generated through an EEG measuring brain waves and facial movements, live for the performers and audience. Digi-Social Echo Chamber was the most clearly politicised piece, which used direct audio data from the Charlottesville riot and its aftermath in order to inform its score. The piece was performed and composed very seriously, and concluded the night reflectively.
After the concert, I wanted to know how it was like to rehearse and play young composers’ music, so I asked Eljo Agenbach, who played Clarinet and Bass Clarinet on the night.
I asked her, “Coming into this concert as a performer, what were your expectations of the music, audience and difficulty? What was the rehearsal process like? What was most difficult in this concert?”
Going into any concert, as a performer I always make sure I identify which pieces or sections of works require the most focused concentration and which ones you can afford to relax into a little bit. Some of the pieces, like the very first one by Stephen de Filippo, require absolute concentration throughout the entire work and we spent a lot of rehearsal time going over very specific sections, so naturally this piece was the one in which I told myself to be 100% concentrated in, all the time. I knew I had to be absolutely in control over every single note. I also knew that being in the first work on the program meant that I had to make a good first impression as a performer, so there was quite a lot of pressure in that respect. The rest of the program was not nearly as stressful, however the one thing that I tried to bring into every performance was an absolute dedication to what the composer wanted their work to sound like. That is, after all, what the concert was about – performing the works of so many talented young composers. I feel very privileged to have had the responsibility of bringing their pieces to life, and I hope the audience picked up on how seriously I took every single work that was performed.
I always find rehearsals much more stressful than actual performances. In rehearsals, we tended to spend a lot of time going over the same sections and the same techniques over and over until the composers were more or less satisfied, which can be very fatiguing. However, this is all part of the process! Some composers are absolutely set in their ways and know exactly what they want from the performers, while others are open to experimenting with ideas and are happy to change their pieces around according to the feedback they get from the performers themselves. It was important for myself from the beginning to be as open as possible to anything thrown at me, and to not be afraid to offer feedback to the composers and other performers as I saw fit.
Review by William Huang