Review: Sideband – From the Depths

by | Jul 19, 2020 | Ambassador thoughts

…an engaging and interesting showcase of a selection of Australia’s emerging composers

Sideband are a contemporary collective of composers, founded by Tristan Coelho, Brad Gill and Peter McNamara in 2011. Their aim is to develop and support the music of emerging Australian composers. Sideband collaborates with a wide range of chamber performers.

Sideband have recently released their third album, From the Depths, through Wirripang Media. The album features works by composers Peter McNamara, Brad Gill, Elizabeth Younan, Sarah Elise Thompson and Kezia Yap. Through experimenting with pre-recorded electronics and live performance, the compositions explore themes of war, cross-cultural conversations, personal histories, struggle, fragility, passage of time, and cycles.

The opening track, Peter McNamara’s Voice of the Depths, uses excerpts from a World War Two diary to tell the story. The CD booklet gives the details: Russell Keats joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1939 and was posted aboard the HMAS Canberra, mostly on convoy patrol for the following three years. In 1942, he was sent to Savo Island as part of the Gaudalcanal campaign against the Japanese. During a surprise battleship raid by the Japanese on the allied fleet, he died. He left a legacy of letters describing his life aboard the Canberra. This forms the foundation of the piece. The atmospheric, ominous sound with the low piano chords, percussion and cymbal clashes transport the listener, evoking a battle scene on the ship.

The second track, Tomb, composed by Brad Gill, is an improvisation-based collaborative work, featuring cross-cultural flautist and dizi (Chinese transverse flute) player Chloe Chung. The flute and glockenspiel weave in and out, shifting between Western and Chinese modes of music-making and storytelling.

Gestures, composed by Elizabeth Younan, experiments with pre-recorded electronics and live performance. The work begins with crackling and clicking sounds, before the vibraphone and saxophone come in with syncopated rhythms.

At the Melting of the Snow, by Peter McNamara, for soprano, alto flute and vibraphone, is set to a poem of the same name by Banjo Paterson. The poem, published in 1917, depicts the transformation of the Snowy Mountains in spring, when the wattles bloom again. The flute melody from the introduction forms the foundation of the piece, with the vibraphone accompaniment.

Sarah Thompson’s composition, The Music Box, was inspired by finding vintage music boxes hidden around her home. She uses vibraphone, electronics and pre-recorded tape to evoke the sounds of childhood, of winding the music boxes up again.

Brad Gill’s You are Found Wanting and Old Age Falls explore language, passage of time, fragility of life, and the human condition. The poems are written in Pali, the canonical language of the Theravada Buddhist tradition still dominant in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Featuring soprano, flute and percussion, these pieces are slow and gentle, allowing for a moment of reflection.

To close off the album, Orbit, by Kezia Yap returns to the idea of the interactions between pre-recorded electronics and the performer. The vibrant vibraphone sonority is transformed into sounds with a much darker timbre. The title ‘Orbit’ is reflected in the work, as a repeated note is orbited by cycles of recurring and transforming pitches.

Overall, Sideband’s From the Depths was an engaging and interesting showcase of a selection of Australia’s emerging composers. It was the perfect way to relax on a rainy afternoon.

 

Released by: Wirripang Media.

 

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