London has a seemingly inexhaustible provide of quirky venues. On 2 December a pair of Australian ensembles collaborated in a live performance in Rotherhithe, in southeast London, on the banks of the River Thames. The performances befell on the Grand Entrance Hall, Brunel Museum — the previous entrance shaft to the Thames Tunnel, designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. First used as a live performance venue as early as 1827, the tunnel is in the present day utilized by trains, and the hanging soot-blackened partitions of the underground entrance corridor make it appear like an summary paintings. The massive thundersheet within the percussion setup solely enhanced this impression that the live performance befell in an artwork set up.
Ruthless Jabiru, a chamber group of Australian musicians primarily based in London and directed by Kelly Lovelady, welcomed the visiting Decibel New Music Ensemble for this remaining occasion of their UK tour below the auspices of the UK/Australia cultural alternate season. Each are adventurous new music ensembles with clear particular person identities, Ruthless Jabiru specializing in social justice activism and Decibel on performances of graphic notation that integrates acoustic and digital devices. Their programme took us to the depths in additional methods than one: the ensemble, carried out by Lovelady and Noongar musician Aaron Wyatt, comprised predominantly low devices.
The programme, titled The Holy Presence of, was impressed by local weather change, particularly by heavy storms in a Welsh village in 2014. Because the native authority has determined to not restore the village’s flood defences, the inhabitants will in the end be pressured out of their houses, making them the primary local weather refugees within the UK. However what of the music? In her transient introduction, Lovelady advised the viewers may “pay attention with out pondering”: there are at all times other ways to strategy a live performance as a listener, although this assertion quite undermined the fastidiously thought-through concepts behind the programme.
Wyatt, Decibel’s viola participant, directed Kaija Saariaho’s Neiges (1998), right here carried out by a string part of three violas, 5 cellos, and 5 double basses. (Saariaho’s Finnish origins linked unexpectedly to the venue, which may be very close to London’s Finnish Church, constructed to cater for seafarers.) The harmonic-heavy drones of Neiges had been excellent for the efficiency area. It’s straightforward for a Saariaho efficiency to wallow within the enticing soundworld, however Wyatt’s expressive course ensured the momentum by no means slackened.
Two works by composers primarily based in Australia got UK premieres. Lindsay Vickery was the ensemble clarinettist in addition to the composer of Bascule, an unconducted mysterious, expressionist piece primarily based round repeated rocking concepts. For the Chilean-Australian Pedro Alvarez’s Intersperso-Ultradiano, Lovelady offered discreet steering from the entrance and Decibel’s director Cat Hope joined as electrical bass soloist. Recorded sound offered further assist for circling, harmonics-rich chords, and rumbling practice sounds spontaneously added an additional layer. The closely distorted bass guitar interjected with out response from the ensemble: the remoted particular person by no means fairly related with the group.
The British had been represented musically by Tansy Davies’s rhythmically ingenious Feather and Groove (2008). The deep-toned ensemble was extra groovy than feathery, and the long-breathed violin melody of the unique was right here performed by cellist Coral Lancaster, injecting a second of emotional poignancy. Louise Devenish’s deconstructed drumkit underpinned the limping rhythms of Davies’s piece.
After Alvarez’s work, Julius Eastman’s The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (1981) moved us again to a robust rhythmic groove. Lovelady saved the collective ensemble tight, and the five-strong double bass part got here into its personal. The actually vibrant expertise of being so near massed bass string devices will stick with me for a very long time.
Hope was, in her phrases, the “electrical noise bass soloist” within the premiere of her personal By no means at Sea. A hanging bodily gesture marked the beginning: Hope raised a conveyable radio above her head, a gesture adopted by the ensemble. The static interference of the radios offered a disquieting layer, which once more was primarily based round sustained overtone-heavy chords. Hope’s distorted bass guitar was nonetheless extra disquieting, all of the extra so when suggestions was added to the combination. Different devices tried to compete with the bass guitar, however solely Devenish’s gong and thundersheet had been profitable. Hope meant the piece to conjure up the impression of being consumed by water, and it was actually a strong, visceral expertise, with the entire constructing seeming to take part.
The programme ran with out interruption for simply over an hour, enhancing the sense of immersion. On the similar time, there was no printed programme and no announcement of the composers’ names, which did not give credit score to the artists. Ruthless Jabiru and Decibel’s imaginative, highly effective programme was a wonderful match for the venue and a memorable occasion, although I might have favored the composers to be highlighted and credited.
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