Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival is probably best known for its iconic lightshows – and punter crushing crowds – but since its inception in 2009 Vivid has concurrently hosted a diverse ‘Music and Ideas’ program.
One such event on this year’s bill was Musify + Gamify, exploring intersections of play and sonics through two concerts and an exhibition. Video game music? Well, yes in part but Musify + Gamify digs deeper into systems based and semi-aleatoric performances. Think more Cage and Zorn than Donkey Kong and Mario.
Concert One featured a stellar lineup including Ensemble Offspring, Chris Abrahams and Robbie Avenaim.
Michaela Davies opened the show with ‘A New Musical Masochism’. Playing a transverse cello with mallets, Davies’ limbs were involuntarily jolted into action by electrical impulses – a similar approach to her recent works with the Involuntary Quartet project. I expected a haphazard collection of polyrhythms, but instead the piece unfolded in absorbing and steady minimalism. The mallets on both the neck and strings hinted at tuned percussion timbres, and filled the Everest Theatre with mesmerising and beautiful pulsations.
Ensemble Offspring premiered four new works, bookended with variations of Julian Day’s ‘Social Systems’. Day himself hosted these pieces which in essence were musical games of snap, complete with game show prizes and vibe. The Bass Clarinet duets were particularly effective. Stefan Ianigro’s ‘Elastic Evolution’ found the performers responding to a projected graphic score. The score itself was shaped by public interaction beforehand via a website. ‘Not by Halves’, by Damien Ricketson, employed John Zorn styled gestures to set variations in duration into play, resulting in some intriguing textures. Col Fuhler’s ‘Poisonic Doctors: Mr Noble’s Anacrusic Music & Ms Nightingale’s Pickup Bar’ added cheesy cha-cha and rhumba beats from a home organ to the woodwinds. In the context of Ensemble Offspring’s rollercoaster set it made perfect sense. Is there anything this group won’t take on?
When I first saw a picture of Lucas Abella’s ‘Mini Duelling Guitars’, I wrongly assumed it as a cool photoshop mashup; a pinball machine featuring a guitar amp head, built in effects pedals and flanked by two electric guitars, strings exposed to ricocheting balls. But lo, here it was in the flesh waiting to open the second half of the concert. As it turns out Abella has been constructing these pinball/instrument hybrids for some time and Del Lumanta was the lucky player up for a game/set tonight. Lumanta was joined by Alon Ilsar playing his Airsticks. Think of two handheld wii -like controllers triggering and manipulating samples with physical gestures and you get the idea. Together the pair wrangled thick angular sheets of sound in their highly visceral set.
More free improvisation closed the evening with Robbie Avenaim and Chris Abraham’s ‘SARPS + Piano’. Avenaim’s SARPS (Semi Automated Robotic Percussion System) covered a fair portion of the stage’s real estate with multiple bass drums, snares, cymbals and assorted percussion while Aabraham manned the grand piano. Both men are of course huge figures in improvised music both here and overseas; their set tonight was equal parts intensity and meditation.
As curators, Ollie Bown and Lian Loke deserve kudos for pulling together such an impressive opening concert in the series. Sometimes the fun of discovery is lost – or at least cloaked – in ‘new’ music. Musify + Gamify however, managed to amplify both the joy and depth of musical exploration.