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Complexity from simple tools

John Barton: ICMC, Percussion and Live Electronics

With sonic variety and colourful instrumental exploration, the 5th of the International Computer Music Conference concerts prominently featured works for percussion and electronics. In Chatterbox, Oliver Bown [UK/AUS] and Miriama Young [UK] saturated the room with sound—from Raspberry Pis [credit-card-sized single board computers]—planted under the seating. Spatialised sine waves were juxtaposed with a wonderful, shimmering static layer. Chatterbox was imaginative, never losing itself to electronic music clichés.

In Giulio Colangelo’s THAUMA for two guitars and electronics, Vanessa Tomlinson and Louise Devenish drew their drum mallets and turned the hollow bodies of guitars into resonating sound blocks. Scraping and picking at the guitar surfaces, they brought out all the natural resonances of the instruments, which were amplified and thrown around Hackett Hall by Colangelo’s sophisticated electronics.

The first work utilising traditional percussion instruments was USA composer Dan Van Hassel’s Fzzl for snare drum and electronics. Van Hassel teased out the possibilities of the instrument’s seemingly simple body by electronically resonating the snare, delaying and spectrally morphing the band-like rhythms, shattering any presumptions the audiences had about the instrument.

American Seth Thorn’s Dahinterstehend for DrumKat explored percussion in the computer-generated realm. Vanessa Tomlinson hit a pad to created altered drum sounds that resonated out of Hackett Hall’s surrounding speakers. In an aleatory compositional method akin to those used by the New York school of Browne, Cage and Feldman, the timbre of the ‘drums’ changed according to how many times the pad was struck. Dahinterstehend had an interesting premise, which slightly missed out on being profound once the novelty of its system had run its course.

Red River, a work for bass drum, cymbal and electronics by Perth composer Sam Gilles, utilised the excessive sounds of the bass drum and cymbal to create electronic sound that resounded around the hall. While I feel that there could have been at times more adventurous writing, the spatialisation created a dark and rich sound world.

Using a cajon [percussion box] with electronics, Cort Lippe’s (USA) Duo seamlessly flowed between acoustic and electronic events. Charles Martin’s playing was vigorous, adding a wonderful sense of theatricality while drawing out every scrap of the instrument’s capabilities., for snare drum and electronics, saw composer Rodrigo Constanzo scratching and scraping the skin of the drum with his fingers, producing exciting textures amplified through the surrounding speakers. While the ideas were interesting, a certain lack of control hampered the piece from reaching its full compositional potential.

The final piece of the night, US composer Jerod Sommerfeldt’s SamSara for vibraphone and electronics, created layers of sound by utilising the pure sounds of the vibraphone and spectrally manipulating them through the speakers. The layers created, however, often lacked subtlety, drawing attention to their generated nature and so diminishing the effects of a consistent sound world and structure.

Perhaps the most versatile concert in the ICMC series so far, this night of percussion and electronics saw a vast array of compositional strategies for some of the seemingly most basic instruments.

International Computer Music Conference & Totally Huge New Music Festival, Percussion and Live Electronics, Hackett Hall, West Australian Museum, 16 August

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. 44

© John Barton; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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