Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Intercurrent intrigues with shadows and echoes

Simulacra by definition refers to a representation or likeness – an intriguing theme for the third concert in Tura's Scale Variable series where Intercurrent ensemble explored musical doubles, echoes and shadows. Intercurrent formed in 2016 and their vitality, unique instrumentation and enthusiastic commissioning of composers has already set them apart in Australian chamber music practice. The group comprises Lachlan Skipworth co-founder and artistic director, Louise Devenish percussion, Ashley Smith clarinets and Emily Green-Armytage piano.

Ashley Smith, Emily Green-Armytage, Lachlan Skipworth, Louise Devenish. Photos Bohdan Warchomij

Green-Armytage and Devenish opened the program with a breathtaking performance of American composer Hannah Lash’s C.  Two repetitive melodies duelled on piano and vibraphone with patterns of notes grouped in threes, fours or fives hammered up against each other in parallel motion. For a few brief bars in the centre of the work the parts aligned before the phase shifted again in a strange dance of tugging unity. It was an astounding display of fierce independence married with precise synchronisation.

This was followed by an equally impressive bass clarinet solo as Smith relished the challenge laid down by WA composer Chris Tonkin. Entr’acte explored extremes of pitch, dynamics and speed and Smith delivered the full spectrum of bass clarinet sounds and effects with intensity and suppleness. Rapid soft passages were interrupted with explosive outbursts, followed by quirky micro tunings, folksy pitch sliding, slap tonguing and more. The work was anchored by its conclusion, a section of soft, hymn-like multiphonics where the simulacra theme was clearly apparent; each note was shadowed by notes in the harmonic series reverberating simultaneously in a musical and technical masterstroke.


The ensemble members came together for the first time for the world premiere of Alex Turley’s Blue Heat. In a nod to American minimalism Turley’s work was built around repeated semiquaver patterns gently rising and falling in layered waves of sound. The blend of marimba, piano and clarinet created a woody warmth from which sprung soloistic sections for piano and clarinet plus an interlude of piano and marimba droplets sounding just like a music box. Blue Heat was a mix of extreme softness, transparent textures and simmering energy, released finally in a frantic race to the end.

The use of electronics in Julian Day’s Father offered a fresh soundworld. Ghosts of melodies were revealed within electronic pitches that wavered and stretched over a long slow descent. The performers emerged from dark corners of the stage to join the melancholic hymn, adding long smooth phrases built around the repetition of tiny two-note rhythms. The delicate execution by the performers meant the ear became aware of minute changes to rhythm and volume in this work of shadows and fading memories.

Finally, Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion, the archetypal work of simulacra (or at least similar patterning) and the only work on the program written before 2011, making it quite old-fashioned! The ensemble repeated Glass’s five quaver melody in various irregular lengths with metronomic precision, creating relentless static ripples. The addition of an electronic track gave extra haze to the layers as the work progressed. It is an iconic work and coming in at just less than twenty minutes is a challenge to the stamina of the audience and the performers. Frankly alongside the more contemporary (and far more interesting) explorations of layering and echoes it felt a little tame. Which is a good thing, because it means the contemporary music scene is alive, evolving and thriving, thanks to groups like Intercurrent.


This review first published by Limelight magazine in August 2017.

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