Since Roger passed away in August I’ve been to two concerts featuring his music (see near the end for the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra’s concert).
It was great to be in the audience last night (20160607) for a Tura concert consisting entirely of music by my mentor, Roger Smalley (1943-2015). The Perth group Decibel performed five works in the first of their first Scale Variable concerts in the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre (in Western Australia). Most of the music was composed in the UK before 1976 when Roger moved to Australia to teach composition at the University of Western Australia.
What a delight this was! Though I recognised some of the material I had the feeling I was hearing it for the first time, or with new ears. After reading the great programme notes (by Cat Hope) I realised that some things had found their way into later works, so mystery solved.
These are pieces rarely heard with some probably not performed for decades. The members of Decibel and their friends went to a lot of trouble to assemble or recreate the materials needed, beginning with tracking down some lost items.
The first work was Didjeridu, for four channel tape, composed when Roger was Composer-in-Residence at UWA during his first visit here in 1974. From the programme: “[the work] uses source materials extracted from an LP that is still housed in the UWA library, featuring traditional music from the Mornington Peninsula.” I happened to sit next to Jenny Wildy, who was the music librarian at the Wigmore Music Library for nearly forty years. She said “I know that LP!”
Transformation (1968 rev. 1971) is for piano and live electronic “ring-modulation.” I thought I’d heard Roger using ring-modulation in another work, but I don’t recall it sounding like this. Adam Pinto’s masterful rendition of this virtuosic work was exciting, and the ring modulation was a revelation.
Impulses (1986) for ensemble treats ideas from an earlier work, Pulses. Full of pulsating, of course.
Another piano solo with ring modulation is Monody (1971-72), “the first of Smalley’s pieces to feature ring-modulation as structural, rather than colouristic and decorative role.” This was quite a mesmerising performance by Stuart James.
Decibel gave us the Australian premiere of Zeitebenen (‘time levels,’ 1973-75) for live electronic ensemble and tape, a major 45 minute work which made up the entire second ‘half’ of the evening. A large and varied work. I feel so privileged to have heard it, and I was impressed with how the composer managed the long time frame.
Before coming to Perth Roger was part of Intermodulation, an important electro-acoustic group of four composer/performers, for which he wrote this music. “Decibel is not unlike Intermodulation in its make up and intent… thus the program is dedicated to compositions for acoustic and electronic instruments… Decibel is a world leader in the integration of acoustic instruments and electronics, the interpretation of graphic notations and pioneer digital score formats…”
On 6 December 2015 I went to another really wonderful concert by the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra in the Fremantle Town Hall but I didn’t get around to blogging about it at the time. They gave a great rendition of Roger’s Footwork (2006, also known as Birthday tango) in a programme of mainstream works, and it was very well received. I’ve misplaced the printed programme and there’s nothing about it on their own website. Unlike last night’s concert there was no restriction on photos.
So that’s my five cents worth; I don’t write full-on music reviews. There is a little more about the Decibel concert at http://www.decibelnewmusic.com/intermodulations.html Perhaps the whole written programme will be put online, too? It has a lot more detail. (Hint, hint to Cat Hope.)
There was also a review of the Decibel concert the next day in The West Australian newspaper by https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/31795960/decibel-honours-smalley-legacy/:
For more about Roger see my first blog about him from August 2015 and the many comments on it at http://mixmargaret.com/blog/2015/08/19/vale-roger-smalley-a-great-australian-musical-intellect/ At the end of that blog I’m adding more and more links to performances and articles about Roger, including the Decibel concert and any reviews I find.