The three young musicians who make up Golden Fur are not afraid of experimentation, and in the field of new music they can’t afford to be. Their concert at the Sydney Conservatorium on Sunday, presented by the New Music Network, aimed to ‘forge an intrepid path through unusual notational and sonic languages’ and focus on ‘theatre and ritual, through dramatic performance and complexist musical choreography.’
James Rushford (piano, viola), Judith Hamann (cello) and Samuel Dunscombe (clarinet, laptop) are all classically trained musicians whose resistance to the restrictions of musical institutions has opened them up to the influences of the avant-garde, experimental music and improvisation. This most recent concert included two works written specifically for Golden Fur and one world premiere, and the earliest work on the program was composed just 17 years ago; this is new music indeed.
Australian Liza Lim’s Inguz (a Viking rune symbolising fertility) opened the concert with an exploration of unity and contrast. Performed by Hamann and Dunscombe, it explored ways in which the clarinet and cello can combine to sound like one, and then react against each other to a point where it seems that there must be more than two instruments being played. Both Hamann and Dunscombe brought great sensitivity to the many timbral changes in the piece and communicated the improvisatory nature of the work very effectively.
Kate Neal’s energetic and frenzied Trio No. 5 followed. Rushford, on piano, joined the duo for this work, beginning with repeated scalic motifs that created a filigree pattern which danced above the atmospheric background of clarinet and cello. This unassuming opening soon gave way to bursts of energy punctuated by thumps on the keyboard and the cello, and jazz-like, off-the-rails explosions from the clarinet. In the louder and more frantic sections, Hamann’s cello was often drowned out, but this is more likely a weakness of the composition than any fault of the ensemble.
Alvin Lucier’s Music for Piano with Slow Sweep Pure Wave Oscillator was the only solo work on the program. As an experiment in sound it was an interesting experience, but it would probably be more effective as a sound installation than a concert piece. The recorded sound of two pure wave oscillators that ‘sweep around a central tone’ are contrasted with slow, single notes played on the piano, which apparently causes sound waves to ‘spin through space’. What we hear is a gradual clashing and then harmonising of tones: sometimes they are so close it is painful to listen to and at other times they create standard tonal consonances. This was quite mesmerising for a short time but the lack of development of the idea meant that it couldn’t really be sustained for much longer than a few minutes.
The experimental and adventurous nature of the concert increased in the last two works: Marco Fusinato’s Parallel Collisions and the world premiere of Jaap Blonk’s Transsiberian Part 2. Both composers have strong links with visual art; indeed, the score of Parallel Collisions consists of a series of visual images ranging from ‘volcanic eruptions’ to ‘stills from The Simpsons’! Watching a performance of a work that uses extended techniques like this is always exciting because of the physically dramatic ways in which the performers play their instruments. Dunscombe’s interpretation of the images was particularly compelling, as he shrieked, breathed, slurped and kissed through his clarinet.
All three musicians sat on the stage for Transsiberian Part 2, with Rushford on plugged-in viola, Dunscombe controlling electronics through a laptop and Hamann lying her cello on the floor and bending over it to bow, pluck and stroke its various parts. The eerie start gradually built to an uncomfortably loud climax that became destructive and terrifying before it died away.
Golden Fur are certainly forging an intrepid path through difficult and unknown music and it was encouraging to see a decent audience turn out hear them outside of their hometown. But music like this can be an alienating experience for those who are unfamiliar with it and Golden Fur needs to do more to engage its audience. Not one of the performers made eye contact with the audience until the very end of the concert – at times the audience failed to clap between pieces because it wasn’t clear that the performers had finished. Fusinato’s work would have been so much more engaging if we had been able to see the images that were being interpreted, thereby gaining an insight into the inspiration behind the sounds. Even some spoken explanation would have helped; for example, it seems almost arrogant to assume that the audience would know what a pure wave oscillator is.
I don’t intend to suggest that the members of Golden Fur are arrogant, but perhaps they are so involved in the world of the music they’re playing that they have forgotten to step outside it and think about the experience from the perspective of an average listener. I suspect that many of the audience members on Sunday night were people who are heavily involved in the new music scene, and perhaps they knew what a pure wave oscillator was. But if this music is going to reach anyone not already involved in the new music scene, its performers need to make more of an effort to engage them.
New Music Network presents
Venue: Recital Hall East, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Date: 5pm Sunday 6 September 2009
Tickets: $20 Full, $12 Concession
Bookings: (02) 8256 2222 or tickets available at the door