Topology: musical systems

Greg Hooper

One of the things I like about Topology is their insistence on communicating with the audience. Their program guides have notes on every piece, and URLs for some of the composers and also for the band. Often one of the performers will speak a little about the piece they are going to play, but chatty, not too Adult-Ed. And because they premiere a lot of works (tonight is no exception) it is often useful.

Tonight the concert is about music and generative processes. Sometimes the process generating the music is maths, and obvious, sometimes it’s loose and subtle. All of the pieces are at least predicated on the idea that systems can generate worthwhile music.

A selection of Tom Johnson’s Rational Melodies provides a linking device throughout the night. These are the most overtly generative pieces of the night, and sometimes are a bit too simple to be interesting. Johnson works along the boundary of audification (direct mapping of data to sound) and music. Worth a go. You can try one at home. Play the first note of a scale. Play the first note, then the second note in the scale. Play the first note, the second note and now the third note…Keep going until you’re playing all the notes in the scale, then stop.

So some of the Johnson’s were better than others, and only a couple of other works didn’t work for me. Nyman’s Shaping the Curve was a little formless, and ended up having that ‘one thing after another’ effect. Same for Davidson’s second piece, Squaring the Circle.

However there were plenty of goodies. Bernard Hoey played the first two compositions from the 6 part Viola Sonata by Ligeti. The first, Hora Lunga, is based on the natural harmonics of C. Slow and lyrical, the unusual tuning works a dream—expressive, coherent and consonant, but not quite normal, not quite right. Perfect to convey longing and the melancholic approximation of ideals. The second piece, Loop, is fast, structured, virtuosic, double-stops all over the neck. A stunner performance. Big ovation.

Thou Shalt!/Thou Shalt Not! by Michael Gordon (from Bang on a Can) was another good piece with a performance to match. It’s a strange piece that deliberately prevents the building of momentum by interpolating stilted percussive sections into the larger ensemble performance. This gives a repetitive, disappointing air to the piece that somehow works without becoming monotonous. About half way through, Robert Davidson pulled out the electric guitars and started up a distorted chunky rhythm that sounded like a chicken playing the kazoo. Perfect.

Other memorable pieces. John Babbage’s jazzy Chop Chop, and Jeremy Peynton-Jones’ Purcell Manoeuvres. Based on Purcell’s Trio Sonata #7 in G Minor it still sounded like Purcell, even with all the algorithmic modifications to the old guy’s composition. As always, I came away from a Topology concert chatting away, thinking about buying a CD (the Ligeti), looking forward to the next one.

Topology, Rational Melodies, Powerhouse centre for the Live Arts, Brisbane, March 28

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002