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The Sound Barrier : Blog

Sometimes, as I program each edition of The Sound Barrier, things fall into place in ways that enable points to be made that I had not necessarily sought to make when I started out assembling the show.

This happened in a rather fortuitous way on the latest edition of the show. Contacts with three very different musical projects all seemed to happen at around about the same time, with the result that three different approaches to creating music coalesced into something that, collectively, shone light on how those differences can stand so convincingly and powerfully alongside one another.

First there was the domain of improvisation, as we discussed in the first half hour of the show with Carmen Chan and Gemma Horbury, two of the figures behind Improv Idol 2016, which takes place this Thursday night at the Wesley Anne in Northcote. Carmen is one of the founders of Improv Idol and Gemma is last year's winner and one of this year's judges. It leaves all the other Idol events for dead, exposing them for the lame copies that they are. Because, of course, improvisation is not about copying, it's about building – the ingenuity of spontaneous composition, and the Improv Idol is where it happens at its best, its most intense. Improvisers are put into ensembles of four, where they must use their skills to collaborate with their competitors. It's something that world leaders can typically only solve through brutality and invasion, but musicians, like the ones who participate in Improv Idol use it as an opportunity to create great music, spontaneously, individually, collectively.

Next, I chatted with Kaylie Melville and Tamara Kohler from Melbourne's new music ensemble Rubiks Collective, about their upcoming concert songbirdsongs, also this week in Melbourne. Rubiks is an ensemble that works mostly with notated music, and their concert this week in Melbourne consists entirely of works that are having either their world or their Australian premiere. Creating new music in a climate of reduced public funding for artistic innovation, a climate where composers will often wonder if they will ever have a chance of having their music performed, calls for the a level of passion and determination that creates the sort of music that ensembles like Rubiks are eager to perform. And it also helps build a sense of camaraderie and cooperation amongst musicians, a sense of everyone being participants in a shared task. Both Kaylie and Tamara work across a number of ensembles and we talked about the importance of doing this to continue keeping the new music community alive and vibrant. Their concert this week focusses on how music can communicate the connections and relationships between nature and technology and we listened to one movement from the concert's titular work, 'Evensong', from John Luther Adam's moving and poignant tribute to bird song.

This week's major work was also a world premiere – the world premiere broadcast of Untitled (for Pierre Boulez) by Venezuelan composer and multimedia artist, Gil Sansón. It is a work that is constructed from samples of much of the oeuvre of the great icon of 20th-Century serialist and aleatoric composition, Pierre Boulez, who died in January this year. The samples are layered, and transformed, punctuated with electronics and soft metallic percussion, in little conversations with sound, silence, music and noise, as if the music of Boulez – and maybe even whatever the essence of him as a human being is – is slowly dissipating through space and time, becoming part of a more distant sphere that never really leaves us but instead expands around us, creating new spaces for us to fill. It was a moving and beautiful tribute to this composer – but not only to his music, but also to his spirit of meticulous search for the placement of sound. It was an honour to be able to broadcast this extraordinary work on this, its world premiere.

I write this blog for this week's edition of The Sound Barrier from Basel in Switzerland, to which I have returned to attend three revival performances of Stockhausen's massive and magnificent DONNERSTAG aus LICHT. This means that I won't be presenting The Sound Barrier for the next two weeks, where the chair will instead be filled by the brilliant Adrian Meade – so please remember to tune in, or log on, and hear what he has to bring you. It is always a thrill to know that the show is in his hands.

Of course, heading over to Basel for a Stockhausen opera meant that I had to include a little of his music at the end of the show, and so for the last few minutes I played a short excerpt from the Third Act of the opera I am now in Switzerland to see. It was the scene in which Michael, the opera's hero, part angel, part human, returns to his home amongst the stars from his quest travelling the Earth to discover the meaning of humanity. He is greeted by a monumental Festival and receives, amongst the many gifts that are given in honour of his return, three 'light compositions'. It was this passage we listened to tonight, where a huge multi-layered invisible choir resounds through loudspeakers around the auditorium, while a live choir sings on stage. It is music at its grandest, but also laden with hints of an awe that is untouchable and as frightening as it is wonderful.

Remember, as always, you can follow up all the details of the show's music, as well as listen back to it, on the playlist and audio page here on the PBS Sound Barrier website.

I'll talk to you again in two weeks!

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