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Ossicle, earth, stars, and eight very frenzied octaves

The Sound Barrier : Blog

The Music Master of Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game remarked to the young Josef Knecht that there is no better way for people to become friends than to make music together. It is true, but so too is its reverse: there is no better way for music to be made than by people who have become friends.

And it was in this way that Ossicle Duo began its formation eight years ago when, as friends, trombonist Benjamin Anderson and percussionist Hamish Upton began exploring the possibilities for bringing their instruments together. Benjamin and Hamish were my guests on the latest edition of The Sound Barrier.

As Benjamin explained on the show, one of the seminal works for this somewhat unusual combination is Richard Barrett's EARTH (1987-88), a work that was itself created through the idea of exploring the possibilities of these two instruments that have virtually nothing in common – the hitting of the percussion against the blowing of the trombone – a combination which, as Richard Barrett has described it in explaining EARTH, first involves each instrument coming to the other from different angles but then their connection ultimately dissipates and the instruments begin to break up even within themselves, such as through separate notation for the slide and the lips in the trombone part. The piece ultimately therefore becomes an exploration of connection and dislocation, both within and between the instruments. We listened to a recording of the piece, played by Melbourne musicians Brett Kelly on trombone and Peter Neville on percussion.

EARTH will feature in Ossicle Duo's upcoming debut concert Natural Order at South Melbourne's Temperance Hall on Sunday afternoon, 18th February. As, too, will some selections from Karlheinz Stockhausen's TIERKREIS (1974) in Hamish's and Benjamin's own version of the piece for a vast array of percussion, and an equally assorted collection of trombones, from which we heard TAURUS, which Hamish and Benjamin played on glockenspiel and alto trombone live in the studio.

TIERKREIS is a set of twelve piece, one for each sign of the Zodiac, which Stockhausen originally composed for music boxes. Each piece has its own unique character, its own unique central note, its own unique tempo. Stockhausen invited musicians to create their own versions of the pieces, a challenge that has been, and continues to be, taken up by many artists in the now-over-forty years that they have been around.

The unique combination of trombone and percussion gives a wonderfully original perspective on these immortal melodies – perhaps for the very reasons to which Richard Barrett had referred: the stark contrasts of how the two instruments create music. And so, in the Ossicle Duo version of the TIERKREIS pieces we hear the magic and sparkle of the stars in Hamish's percussion, dancing with their characterisation and personalities in Benjamin's trombone.

Later in the show I played another version, this time of the complete cycle, created and performed at the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo in September last year by one of Stockhausen's collaborators, Massimiliano Viel, whose version for piano and electronics manages to strike, and hold throughout the twelve pieces, that difficult but vital balance of respect for the original melodies and originality in creating a new approach to their interpretation. Electronic sounds whoosh in and out, filling each melody, played faithfully and magically on the piano, with the timbres and harmonies and temperaments of the constellations.

If you are interested in exploring more of TIERKREIS, the score, together with guidelines for creating your own version of it, is available from The Stockhausen Foundation for Music, along with recordings, books, and DVDs, of and about Stockhausen and his music.

The piano shifted gear dramatically for the second half of the show with what must surely be one of the most densely, unrelentingly, frenetic pieces of piano music ever created. Music in Eight Octaves involved a series of recorded takes where Anthony Pateras and Chris Abrahams together navigated each octave of the piano, and these were then all superimposed upon one another to create 50 minutes of feverishly wild music that takes neither prisoners nor breath. It is powerful and crazy, unstoppable in its force and ferocity, irresistible in its intensity. For 50 minutes it is impossible to look away.

Whatever friendships music enables, or whatever music is enabled by friendship, the connections that music forms are endless in their possibilities. Difference finds ways to engage and, together, to tell something new. Between the Earth and the stars, there are limitless octaves of ways for one to touch the other.

Don't forget that you can revisit the show, right here on the show's website , where the audio will remain available for six months, and where the playlist will stay pretty well forever.

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