Urban, aural, visceral

Chris Reid hears Dead Horse in the Meat Market

The North Melbourne Meat Market is a gracious Victorian building with a vaulted timber ceiling, wrought iron ornament and cobbled floor, part of both local heritage and contemporary culture. A huge open room that a century ago was filled with spruiking butchers haggling with buyers beneath laden meat-hooks is now filled with a hundred seats, lighting batons, projection screen, imagery of a silhouetted city and a PA—a site appropriate to performance with a viscerally urban edge.

Most of Concave City’s 7-work program is for composite art forms, including 2 works for musicians and video. Biddy Connor’s Sleep Won’t Help (2006), for clarinet, trombone and bass clarinet accompanies Kirsty Baird’s montage of old black and white footage of women in lavish costumes dancing in a humorous parody of burlesque. The video’s soundtrack of recorded laughter is morphed, serialised and segued into the score, the clarinet emitting a staccato laughter before moving onto a lyrical, narrative line. The trombone’s mournful, evaluating speech, precedes an accelerating march tempo that mocks the dreamy, lighthearted imagery. The nostalgia of Connor’s work contrasts with Arnoud Noordegraf’s Netherlands-produced 15 minute video Pong (2003), a delightfully surreal comedy depicting a man’s descent into insanity, which is quietly accompanied by Linda Kent on harpsichord.

Wally Gunn’s The Hive (2005), for viola, percussion and pre-recorded audio, evokes the 3 complementary identities of drone, queen and worker as a metaphor for industrial society. Less metaphorical but equally potent is Kate Neal’s Dead Horse 1 (2005), which opens with a driving jazz rhythm that alternates with moody rumination, plenty of contrasting colour and drama; a work suggesting the influence of composers David Chesworth and Frank Zappa. Neal’s scoring for a highly amplified ensemble of strings and electric bass and guitar captures the intensity of contemporary life.

Two works for larger ensembles, though contrasting in mood and style, are Anthony Pateras’s Fragments, Splinters and Shards (2006) and Brett Dean’s Etüdentfest (2000). Pateras’s dramatic, textured work, the longest of the evening, is for computer-based audio with viola, trombone, recorder and percussion, including some uniquely original instruments. Brett Dean’s Etüdentfest (2000) is an eloquent and mature piece for a more conventional ensemble of strings and harpsichord, opening with a moto perpetuo motif that recurs throughout. The writing is balanced and measured, building to a climax through high pitches before decaying and rising again.

The evening’s finale, Kate Neal’s Concave City & A Love Story for Two Cars (2006) is the show-stopper. In the open space between the string orchestra and the audience, 2 cars drive in, one gently crashing into the rear of the other. Two traffic-weary drivers emerge to confront each other and begin an intense, agile and at times erotic dance in, on and around the cars. The miked sounds of slamming doors, indicators and windscreen wipers form part of the score. The excellent dancers—Lima Limosani and choreographer Anton—portray frenetic urban life with power and energy, supported by Neal’s evocative composition for strings. This collaboration is the most effective and powerful blending of media in an innovative concert for the 2006 Arts House program.

Dead Horse Productions, Concave City; Arts House, North Melbourne Meat Market, Feb 10-11

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg. 30

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2006