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26 November 2008

Chronology Arts - Emerging Century

Sydney // NSW // 12.-13.11.2008

'Emerging Century' at Sound Lounge Image: 'Emerging Century' at Sound Lounge  
© Christina Abdul-Karim

Review by L. Mathison

If you had peeped behind the thick, black curtains of the Sound Lounge on Wednesday or Thursday night (12-13 November), you would have seen an enthralled audience, faces lit only by flickering candles, grooving along to the funky new sounds of chronology arts' rock ensemble.

This relaxed, intimate venue was perfect for chronology arts' final 2008 concert, 'Emerging Century', which showcased nine compositions by young Australian composers involving instruments for rock ensemble; keyboards/piano, guitars, bass, saxophone, electronics, vocals and percussion. The imaginative pieces from a wide range of composers explored many concepts and ensemble combinations. The level of originality was remarkable, keeping this reviewer entertained during both concerts.

Lachlan Skipworth's piece Masks opened the concert and was energetically conducted by the composer. Skipworth, a master's composition student who has studied the shakuhachi flute in Japan, is also interested in post and noise rock, which came through in Masks. This piece explored the 'excess of sensory information' of contemporary life, which, according to Skipworth, masks the beauty of simplicity. This concept was manifested musically by a pure alto saxophone melody, played by soloist Sophie Unsen, that became gradually enveloped by layers of sound. Pianist Nathan Curruthers gave a brilliant rendition of the rhythmic, funky and difficult piano part.

Violinist and composer Cyrus Meurant has had several works performed in Australia and internationally. He has completed a MMus in composition and has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study composition in the USA. Highlights of his Quintet were its relentless, toccata-like second movement, (if a baroque toccata was 'funked up' a little, it just might sound a little like this) and the rhythmically exciting fourth movement. The more sustained first and third movements showcased the woody, slightly other-worldly sound of the electric violin.

Perhaps best-known for his work at ABC Classic FM, Julian Day is also an award-winning composer. In great contrast to Meurant's work, Night Nurse took advantage of the volume (loud) and intensity (high) facilitated by the ensemble. The lack of a distinct melody, soloist or dynamic changes conveyed the scene of mystery and unease that Day described in his program notes. The work kept the audience on the edge of their seats with several unexpected pauses between multilayered walls of sound.

Guitarist and composer Matthew McGuigan divides his time between Sydney and Vaduz, where he is involved in electronic and instrumental experimental music. Chambertain's varied texture oscillated between calm solos and a more 'hard-rock' style and utilised the whole ensemble, which was tight throughout. His slightly bewildering program notes explained the process of winemaking, and the piece could certainly have borne parallels to it (squashing of the grapes, perhaps?).

Joe Manton, bassist and composer, studies at the Sydney Conservatorium and also performed in most of the works on the program. His interest in writing music that plays with listeners' perceptions of time was evident in New Grooves for Really Old People. Manton's use of rhythm was interesting, unpredictable and shifted fluidly between time signatures. The style ranged from loose and jazzy to heavy and rock-infused and featured several guitar and bass solos. Manton intended the audience to 'bend with' the rhythms of the piece, and his own performance demonstrated his enjoyment of and engagement with it.

Jessica Wells's music encompasses classical, commercial and film music. Unrecyclable used electronic sounds as a backdrop which subtly shifted in mood and texture, creating an abstract soundscape. No instruments were chosen to stand out here, and the ensemble blended into the conglomeration of sound generated by the electronics.

Two vocal works, 5 Dolls by Peggy Polias and Jane Arnison's Little Red, added further interest and variety to the program. Polias, who is also a pianist, is currently completing her master's degree under Anne Boyd and Matthew Hindson. 5 Dolls was the product of a composer residency on the NSW South Coast at Bundanon and reflected her interest in repeated rhythmic patterns, with a slight exotic touch. The simple lyrics and catchy melody suited Polias's unassuming vocals - which also included electronics - and the texture allowed each instrument to be clearly heard. The babushka dolls on the piano added an effective visual touch.

Jane Arnison has fingers in classical, rock and pop music, having studied at the Sydney Conservatorium, worked in music production and performed in a power pop band. Little Red explored the dichotomy between good and evil in the fairy-tale of Red Riding Hood, and Arnison wanted the audience to enjoy the work as 'a sensual experience'. She fronted the ensemble herself (wearing a little red coat), playing guitar and singing alongside electronic sounds. The good/bad dichotomy was conveyed by the changes in style and tone colours between the gentle, chiming keyboard part (in another excellent performance by Curruthers) and the loud, rough-edged sections for full ensemble - a musical manifestation of Red Riding Hood's 'dark side'.

The concluding piece, Out of the Loop was written by the Sydney-based composer, pianist and teacher Amy Bastow. It reflected her interest in the music of Steve Reich and subtly shifted in style throughout - from loose, jazzy grooves to precise and minimalist - without losing the integral sense of rhythmic motion. The tight ensemble playing was testament to Bastow's very competent direction and keyboard performance. According to Bastow's program notes, the title of the piece alludes to the question of whether classical music is 'out of the loop' - with pieces like these, however, it doesn't look like it.

The concert ran very smoothly on both nights, aside from some minor feedback from the guitars on Wednesday. Most composers performed with participation from chronology arts's Alex Pozniak (keyboards) and Andrew Batt-Rawden (conductor). With an almost capacity audience at both concerts, it was a great end to chronology arts's first year, and the high level of engagement and enthusiasm from the audience and performers looks set to continue in 2009.

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