The combination of pre-recorded sound with live music has often troubled the electro-acoustic concert-goer. More often than not the two operate in two different sonic spaces: the poor-quality PA speakers boorishly competing with the crisp immediacy of the live performers has never sat particularly well with me.
Enter then Australian boutique high-end audio manufacturers, Kyron Audio, whose lavish Kronos hi-fi setup greeted the audience on stage at this evening’s performance of BLEEDTHROUGH, a series of works by Australian composers for flute, guitar and electronics. The pre-performance demonstration of Kyron’s exquisitely crafted speaker pair and amplifier was sublime enough to pique my interest into perusing the brochure, but with a price-tag of $82,000 I fear the Kronos will, for another year, be notably absent from my lounge-room.
The addition of Kyron’s system meant that finally, the sonic spaces of the laptop and the live musician were seamlessly integrated, as both playfully and harmoniously bounced around the Oratory’s very live acoustic.
This blend was best enjoyed in Anthony Lyon’s work, Lace Frequencies, which opened the program innocuously enough with a pre-recorded recitation of Ross Gillett’s poem Death of a Dragonfly. As the piece unfolded though, Laila Engle’s plaintive mixolydian flute melody pushed the pre-recorded material into the background. The interplay between the two was often reactionist: tails of overblown flute gestures decomposing into harmonic overtones and white noise.
Christian O’Brien’s work, Hollandia, began with the briefest of technical false starts. The offending unplugged audio jack nicely echoed the inspiration for the work, which explores the juxtaposition of the human and mechanical elements of the bygone telephone exchange system. The spidery interplay between the pre-recorded acoustic guitar and Ken Murray’s thoughtfully controlled playing at times bearing echoes of Steve Reich’s immortal Electric Counterpoint.
The haunting soundscapes and shimmering downturned arpeggios of Samuel Smith’s work Bleedthrough also featured both live performer and the sleekly designed Kronos system. At times the artificial reverb of Smith’s effects-heavy pre-record, rendered with such clarity by Kyron Audio, seemed to not gel quite as well as some of the other works on the program. The disjunct and fragmented lines of musical material, whilst undoubtedly creating the intended sense of unease, resulted in a structurally incoherent work: the listener left with the ghostly whale song of slowed-down magnetic tape and throbbing feedback loops.
Sahul, taken from a larger work written specifically for Engle and Murray by Melbourne ex-pat Lisa Illean, reflected the timeless expanse and vast dormant power of the ocean. Breathy yet steady alto flute gestures creep benignly below the detuned pickings of the prepared guitar. Again, the space-shuttle speakers of the Kronos system were allowed to deliver every nuance of Illean’s pre-recorded material: an understated low ebbing drone, perhaps the groan of two great continental plates imperceptibly passing against each other.
Wally Gunn’s Mantid, originally composed for Shakuhachi master Riley Lee, still bore the reverent and haunting hallmarks of the Japanese folk-music tradition in this new adaptation for alto flute. Timeless modal figures contrasted cleverly with a soundscape filled with the whirring clicks of relay switches. The addition of the live acoustic guitar, an afterthought, was often an arbitrary addition to the sound-world.
The final piece on the program, Volta, by young composer Carolyn Schofield, allowed guitarist Ken Murray to take the listener on an aural sorbet-like afternoon saunter. This beautifully constructed short work of gossamer fret-board meanderings and intervallic exploration truly embodying its thought-provoking Portuguese title.
Bleedthrough Electro acoustic works for flute and guitar
The Oratory, Abbotsford Convent, Sunday, November 2, 2014