The sound shapers

Matthew Lorenzon: Totally Huge New Music Festival: Club Zho

For its 117th instalment, Tura New Music’s historic Club Zho program returned to the Totally Huge New Music Festival to present new music and sound art in a semi-formal environment, this time invading Jimmy’s Bar in Perth for a concert of escalating volume.

Hedkikr

Hedkikr

Hedkikr

Bass clarinettist Linsday Vickery and percussionist Darren Moore performed as the duo Hedkikr. Despite the name, the duo was a picture of refinement and grace. Moore used his drum kit sparingly, focussing on a restricted palette of techniques. Moore bowed cymbals while Vickery drew contorted lines from the clarinet’s middle range. Moore settled into an extended exploration of the zinging and humming quality of wooden sticks on cymbals. Even quieter, he rubbed styrofoam on a snare skin, while barely activating the kick drum. The set felt like an exploration of wind and air, with Vickery’s whistling, breathy reed-sounds combining with Moore’s susurrating percussion.

Bassist Cat Hope and Vickery defied all expectations of a polite classical duo. Performing under the moniker Candied Limbs, the 20-odd minute set was an explosion of irrepressible energy. Vickery multiplied his bass clarinet into a hellish chorus through a Max/MSP patch, while Hope called upon the power of a dozen vintage effects pedals. She successfully channelled some talk-show material from a hand-held radio through the pickups of her bass guitar, while Vickery created a sound with his patch like the squealing of a thousand dying spiders. After more such pyrotechnics, including attacks of ground-shaking bass and deafening feedback (I was glad I’d brought earplugs), the duo developed a masterful texture combining a bed of ambient sound with a clean clarinet tone moving within. The focussed clarinet modulated into a series of 8-bit computer-game-like tones before dissolving back into the pure, unadulterated bass hum. A more atmospheric episode followed, during which Hope’s growls and screams would have made Dario Argento proud. Vickery took the set out with an impossibly high, pleading tone.

Black Zenith

Black Zenith

Black Zenith

Singapore-based modular synthesis duo Black Zenith (Darren Moore and Brian O’Reilly) conjured a staggering array of sounds and textures from their rats-nests of patch cables. While understanding the principles of sound synthesis and being on nodding terms with its most common sonic results, I must admit complete ignorance of the artisanal world of modular synthesis. This may be for the best, considering that some readers of this review will also be in the dark. Modular synthesis is performed through a rack of analogue synthesiser components, many of them hand-made, which are selected and installed by the performer. These components perform discrete functions, such as producing, filtering or changing the envelope of tones. Their inputs and outputs may be patched or redirected to the inputs and outputs of any other module. According to my music technology consultant Steve Paraskos, the difficulty of modular synthesis is not getting a sound going, but shaping the sound and modifying one’s patch in a live setting, a process that requires tactile finesse.

Prior to performing, Moore and O’Reilly spend considerable time modifying their patches in order to establish a sound-world rich in contrasting and complementary possibilities. A performance is then an opportunity to dynamically react to one another, co-navigating this sound world through their respective patches. The range of sounds that Black Zenith produces is absolutely bewildering. Finely textured tones coexist alongside pure sine-waves; dry clicks give way to resonant, drum-like attacks; overlapping waterfalls and burbling brooks transform into wavering, alien ambience. Then there are the metaphor-defying sounds known by onomatopoeia and obscure addresses among the patch cables.

From whispering brushes on snares to sounds so loud they are felt more than heard, Club Zho 117 presented a dynamic portrait of contemporary sound and noise art. Black Zenith’s perpetually unfolding sonic repertoire was an inspiration to all present.

22 May 2015