Myth, word, aesthetic recycling

Alistair Riddell: ChamberMade 2001: from the lip, Concert No.2

This concert proved a fine example of a hidden jewel in Melbourne’s winter cultural world. Buoyed by an enthusiastic and substantial audience eager for that magic which breaks the bonds of musical convention, the second of the from the lip concerts (produced by Chamber Made Opera) tackled issues of authenticity, integrity and originality. In an historical sense it was not experimental but each work contained elements that seemed to reference the idea of the experimental, while being set within essentially conventional contexts.
The concert began with Narcissus and Echo, an opera by Robin Fox and Elizabeth Parsons. Here the myth found a sympathetic interpretation through a range of challenging sounds and performance practices. Rich in detail, the work utilized a bewildering array of sound sources including pre-recorded sound, traditional instruments, turntables, fans with records on them (yes, vinyl!), a tape loop, speakers and singers. The theatricality of the performance effectively suggested ‘too much’ and, of course, ‘obsessiveness.’ The visual feast and complex sound established a compelling momentum of excess with which the audience could readily empathize, perhaps to the detriment of those moments of subtlety.

In stark contrast, Ania Walwicz’s solo reading of her text, Diana (a reference to Princess Diana), was equally spellbinding. As a delirious, self obsessed, verbal barrage, punctuated by changes in tone and subject, Walwicz’s accomplished performance was clearly a part of the experimental performance tradition of the last 30 years. Solo readings by Chris Mann came quickly to mind because of the musical treatment of the text. In many ways, Walwicz’s performance was both refreshing and passionate and moreso through the raw and powerful experience of witnessing the composer as performer.

Finally, The Broccoli Maestro. This visual and aurally impressive chamber opera in 2 acts, for 6 voices, 6 players and tape by Slave Pianos, unfolded as a challenge to contemporary musical thinking. An aesthetically complex work and perhaps exemplary of how the reputation of Slave Pianos is spreading as their working methodology becomes more widely appreciated and understood. This methodology may be summarized as: the use of re-composition, in this case, composing with other people’s music; the use of other art forms and intellectual subjects including literature, painting, philosophy, religion and politics; explicit reference to other artists (in this case Tony Clark) and a complex performance context which forms a nexus and crucial point of originality. All of this adds up to a sophisticated means of substantiating and legitimating the immediate work.

The effect in performance was as a massed force which advanced on the audience from all directions, forming a convincing experience through the sheer weight of the artistic evidence. The musical component was reminiscent of digital sampling, which is often a crude and frequently short-lived experience in comparison to the juxtaposed instrumental material found in this performance. As a collaborative enterprise, The Broccoli Maestro was a formidable example of aesthetic recycling with its many levels of reference and representation. A product of an institution, or society in this case, it was also a fantastic work of synthesis, of the moment and worthy of further discussion.

ChamberMade 2001: from the lip, Concert No.2, The Experimental, North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, June 22

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 42

© Alistair Riddell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2001
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