I'm approaching this with a little trepidation, and promise not to do this too often, but an otherwise nice little concert in The Australian Museum on Thursday night has left me a little troubled.
The Noise is a new string quartet, based in Sydney, that gave its debut concert in the TAM as part of Biodiversity Week. The concert was a series of improvisations based on issue arising from biodiversity. Simple enough, and a lovely idea when species are dying all around us and every extinction affects us somehow (just ask the beekeepers of the world).
The sound world the quartet inhabited was beautiful. The instruments were all amplified and connected to foot pedals which had some effect on the sound, so it all looked excitingly electronic. At the beginning, two of the instruments' sound failed, which made those of us in the audience who regularly use such things as electronics feel simultaneously sympathetic and smug.
The ideas the quartet passed around for improvisation were sophisticated and very well-structured, aided by mastery of the instruments they played. This was clearly an enjoyable adventure for them, and that proved infectious to the audience, which was larger than what one might expect at a concert of improvised music.
The little stone in my shoe here is the fact that this concert was presented as a bit of a ground breaker - part of the avant garde. If so, then it is pleasing to note that the avant garde has at last caught up with what many of us have been doing for 20 or 30 years and what I, for one, have been teaching for the past 15. The ideas seemed to be manipulated by some traditional techniques such as imitation, retrograde, inversion etc. so not a lot to add there.
However, even with that in mind, it was a successful night of music making, in a way that was new to the players and, I'm sure, a few of the audience. There was a goodly gathering of composers and improvisors in attendance, and perhaps their response to the premise of the evening is a little different to mine - a little more generous maybe. However, it is hard to get around the fact that this sort of music making is not the cutting edge that it seemed to want to be, or the dark suspicion that because it was being performed in the big smoke of Sydney, rather than, say, the hick towns around it, like, say Wollongong (grin), it now had some form of legitimacy in Australia.
None of this will stop me going to hear further concerts by this group though, as there is so much potential for great music making here. I will watch them grow with great pleasure and help when asked.
- Houston Dunleavy
- I was born in Northern Ireland, live in Australia, and am a composer, conductor and actor. I am Head of Composition and Production at The Australian Institute of Music and Musical Director of the Sydney Male Choir. I've been Visiting Composer at Universities and schools and my music has been performed in Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, China, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico by many international concert artists and ensembles. My compositional interests include music for orchestra, the theatre (including dance), the voice and the church, the combination of electro-acoustic and acoustic resources especially in real time, the exploration of virtuosity and indigenous Australian music. I've conducted in festivals and concerts all over the world, as well as acted in too many professional theatre works to list here.