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The Sound Barrier making friends: with Karen Heath, Henrik Denerin, and James Hullick!

The Sound Barrier : Blog

A testament to Melbourne's continued and unwavering enthusiasm and adventure in its relationship with new music will be seen at two exciting and creative concerts coming up in the next two weeks. Next Sunday night, 12 November, will be Music of Stockhausen and More at Melbourne Recital Centre, and the weekend after that, on 17 and 18 November will be the double bill Disruptive Critters and City-Topias at the Melbourne Meat Market, as part of Melbourne Music Week.

The link between both is Melbourne clarinettist and composer Karen Heath who will be performing in both events and she, along with Swedish composer Henrik Ederin, whose music will also be included in the Melbourne Recital Centre concert, and James Hullick, who is the mastermind and composer behind the Melbourne Music Week events, joined me in the studio at PBS on the latest edition of The Sound Barrier to talk about and share their music.

Karen played, live in the studio, two works she will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre next week, Karlheinz Stockhausen's IN FREUNDSCHAFT ('IN FRIENDSHIP') a work composed originally for clarinet but then adapted, first by Stockhausen and then later by others, for many other solo instruments, and TANZE LUZEFA! ('DANCE LUZEFA!) a work which Stockhausen adapted from the opening scene of his opera DONNERSTAG aus LICHT ('THURSDAY from LIGHT'), which Karen played in its bass-clarinet version.

IN FREUNDSCHAFT is a great testament to what music can be and do. Just as its two melodies, high and low, come together throughout the piece, so too do the many musicians who perform it. As Karen said when we chatted, it is a piece that celebrates music as a gift, given in freindship.

Anyone who listens even just a few times to The Sound Barrier hardly needs to be told how central and significant I see Stockhausen to be in music's story, and especially in the music of the 20th and 21st centuries and, while the other works in the show, from Henrik Denerin and James Hullick, were not directly influenced by Stockhausen (although Henrik has studied composition under him), the sense of innovation and adventure in their work reflects a determination to keep forging new territory for music, and for the things with which it connects, that Stockhausen so tirelessly championed. Whether it be the explorations of how precise notation and improvisation connect and work together that we heard in Henrik Denerin's Fluchtlinien-D, or the explorations of spatialisation of sound that is exploited in James Hullick's Disruptive Critters, these artists show us that the 21st Century is a place where, despite all the great new music that has been composed since those early years of the 1950s, when Stockhausen began discovering electronic sounds at the WDR Studios for Electronic Music in Cologne (listen back to The Sound Barrier from a couple of weeks ago for more of that), the energy and enthusiasm and creative mastery to keep finding more ideas and to do new things with them is still very much alive.

During my chats with these three incredibly gifted and generous musicians, James Hullick talked about the importance of music in shaping our futures. We tend to be, he said, people who are very much aware of what is wrong with where we are, but not so articulate about where we want to be. That, he offered, creates an open space for music to fill.

I think this is very true. Even when music comments on the past, or on the present, its very nature is such something abstract is there within it and I think, when the music is very good, those abstract qualities can become the seed for us to think about where else we might be, for us to think beyond our own selves and our own stories. We take those things that are in the music, connected with this or that, and apply them to something else, somewhere else, sometime else, and often what we learn and find will startle us.

I hope you will get along to these concerts over the next two weekends in Melbourne because they will give you exposure not just to some of astonishing brilliance of our local musicians (as well as others brought here from afar), and not just to some of the sensational new music being composed today, and not just because it will be a chance to hear some Stockhausen live (which we get to enjoy so lamentably rarely in Melbourne), not only all of that, but also because it will be a reminder of how music connects us and opens up opportunities for us to go to new places.

It is as the music master says in Hermann Hesse's novel, The Glass Bead Game: "What better way to become friends than to make music together?'"

From the communities with whom James Hullick works in so many of his musical projects back to the profoundly simply yet vital connections of friendship that are captured in the piece with which Karen Heath opened the show, music offers us a different way to understand who we are and who we might be. It just awaits our creativity to realise it.

As always, the playlist and audio for the show is right here on the show's website for you to check out if you missed it live, or just want to hear it all over again!

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