Album review: Offspring Bites 3: En Masse

Keith Gallasch

The launch of a bracingly addictive new album from Ensemble Offspring — Offspring Bites 3: En Masse — provides an occasion for reflection in a forthcoming RT edition on our responses over several decades in the RealTime archive to this ever-inventive Sydney-based contemporary music group. Here’s my take on the album after a couple of first listens.

En Masse [32 minutes], Alex Pozniak’s gripping sonic essay on weight and on ensemble-as-mass, almost but never quite transforms into a march; its stormy, thumping piano and drum-kit-driven fits and starts trigger resonant turbulence in the lightning flights of strings and winds that are inevitably earthed in the 30-minute work’s dramatic sense of accelerating entropy, save for moments, especially in the middle movement, when an eerily beautiful near inertia takes seductive hold.

In contrast, Holly Harrison’s bend/boogie/break [10’] revels in regular beats, an invitation to savour the composer’s witty take on instrumental and subtle structural distortions in music’s time-space continuum. It’s variously moody, funky, cartoony, almost a tango, and powers to a finish cut short with final notes slowly warping in descending glissandi, emptying into the void — victims of Pozniakian mass?

Counterpointing the rhythmic energies of Harrison and Pozniak, Thomas Meadowcroft’s Medieval Rococo [13’] commits at length to a reverberant contemplative pattern, its delicate acoustic textures becoming densely layered with soaring electronics. These depart but soon return along with a driving dance beat. It drops out briefly — as sounds acoustic and digital swirl, magically enmeshed — but then pulses on to the end, undaunted by gravity. Perhaps. We know the end story of expanding universes. (As for the title, the composer writes, “‘Medieval’ denotes music crude and backward, ‘rococo’ denotes music garish and arty.” This essentially serene composition seems neither descriptive, ironic or satirical, though ‘arty’ might fit, in the nicest way. Perhaps I’d left my ‘good taste’ sensor unplugged.)

Ensemble Offspring, playing En Masse, Phoenix Central Park, Sydney, photo Elin Bandmann

As mutually rich explorations of music making that rewardingly expand and deepen the listening experience, these three works make great companion pieces. As ever, they are superbly played and recorded by Ensemble Offspring. A recorded live performance of Pozniak’s En Masse and video artist responses to bend/boogie/break and Medieval Rococo are available online, making for all-round immersive engagement.

Ensemble Offspring, album En Masse, Offspring Bites 3, performers Claire Edwardes (percussion), Jason Noble (clarinets), Lamorna Nightingale (flutes), Véronique Serret (violin), Blair Harris & Rowena McNeish (cello), Benjamin Kopp & Zubin Kanga (piano) Roland Peelman (conductor, Pozniak’s En Masse).

Album available here.

Top image credit: CD cover, Offspring Bites 3: En Masse, photo & design Dale Harrison

25 February 2021