Copyright infringement is bad, mmmmkay?

The Rambler has posted lucidly and insightfully on the recent awarding of $1.92m in damages to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in their litigation against Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who uploaded twenty-four songs to the Kazaa file-sharing network.

What struck me, though, was that this is the first time one of these RIAA lawsuits has made it before a jury – the rest having been settled out of court – and the jury appears to have gone to town. (BAM! That’ll teach you for not just bending over and settling!) Given that this is the first time this corner of the law has actually been tested, though, I would think it would have far-reaching ramifications for future trials.

More details about the trial itself here.


Elliott Carter sketches at the Library of Congress


I haven’t had a chance to really dig through these properly, yet, and most of it is the earlier (i.e. less interesting) stuff, but this looks like many hours’ worth of gleeful geekitude.

MRC f*cks it up.

Thus far, my posting on this blog has been a bit of a Melbourne Recital Centre love-in. And what can I say? The inspired programming of that particular venue has symbolised for many a sort of coming-of-age for Melbourne. Chamber music has never quite had a venue in this city that’s represented anything more than an acceptable compromise. Melba Hall is too small and, well, weird, Hamer Hall is too big and sounds stupid when you put a solo lutenist onstage, BMW Edge is too noisy, Collins St Baptsist Church is too churchy (read ‘pew-y’). In the meantime, Melbourne’s players have been getting better, younger, and more numerous. Melbourne’s music education institutions have been turning out some really remarkable performers (particularly, it has to be said, the VCA before it was assimilated, Borg-style, by empire-building Melbourne University bureaucrats) who have been struggling in an absurdly decentralised chamber music culture to forge a career. It hasn’t been easy.

While there are still ensembles that desperately need to be brought into the fold (ELISION, Golden Fur, e21, Ludovico’s Band), it’s a remarkably positive sign that ensembles as diverse as Speak Percussion, Latitude 37 and the Freshwater Trio all now have a home that’s able to do them justice, and provide a focal point for Melbourne’s growing scene. (If you are interested in reading [what I’m sure is a journalistically bowdlerised version of] pianist Anna Goldsworthy’s thoughts on Melbourne’s growing scene, then clicky.)

Except that the MRC appear to have f*cked it all up!

I get the impression that the $1.5m shortfall is due to low sales in the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, which I find surprising, because you don’t need to have put together many funding applications to know that you never bank on getting a big audience to things. A big part of that is that precisely this sort of thing will happen. Meanwhile, concerts in the Salon regularly seem to be selling out. So much so that, in squeezing as many seats into that tiny space as possible, audiences are routinely placed too close to sound sources, necessitating the handing out of earplugs at concerts. So it seems that Elizabeth Murdoch is too big, and the Salon is too small.

Anyway, all of this is just background to the story that ensembles are having their gigs cancelled. The basic details are in the story. But it’s fair to say that being so administratively inept that contracts arrive months late shouldn’t be able to be used as a way of screwing musicians out of said contract.

The MRC has been an administrative nightmare to deal with from the word go. My own interactions have been thankfully minimal (or maybe I’m just jealous?), but have been like pulling teeth (with the notable exception of the artistic side of things). Also, their approach to ticketing, complaints and customer service has been Not Good. A composer friend of mine had to argue his way into his own concert. A performer friend of mine was finally able to convince them the day before the concert that two complementary tickets was not quite enough to share between the five people involved in the concert.

This is an amazing building, and a remarkable opportunity for this city. It’s far too important to be put at risk by incompetent management and an approach to customer service that makes McDonald’s look like friendly night out.

Pateras percussion portrait. Shreds.

So I dragged myself away from the drawing board to go and see the Anthony Pateras Percussion Portrait, featuring Speak Percussion and Clocked Out on Sunday afternoon, and boy am I glad I did. This was the second performance of the program, the first having been the previous night and reviewed with typically noncommittal panache by The Age here.

[EDIT: another review of this concert by Steven Hodgson has just been posted by Resonate Magazine – 15 July 2009]

Overall, the music was provocative, at times utterly beautiful, and compellingly performed throughout. The program opened with Mutations for percussion sextet. This piece was composed in 2002, and so represents a much younger Pateras than the remainder of the program. A series of short movements brackets different ‘types’ of timbral processes and collections into sections. This has both a positive and a negative effect. On the one hand, there is a seemingly wanton eschewing of temporality in this music – it is always about the making present of a particular sonic state – but on the other hand this results in an apparently arbitrary distribution of materials. There is no sense that a particular unit should have a duration of 20 seconds as opposed to 2 minutes, or even 20 minutes, and the sequence in which these states are presented seems calculated to undermine the ability of the listener to construct larger-scale formal symmetries. This abdication of time’s mediating force renders the music is effectively a series of separate static panels. But, that being said, the most fascinating bits of the piece for me were invariably when two radically different states were juxtaposed – ie: when the effect of time was most foregrounded – such as ‘sustained single sound’ vs ‘envelope of repeated sounds with instant decay’, or ‘continuous sound state’ vs ‘silence’.

The second piece – the premiere performance of Mutant Theatre – Act III for solo percussionist was performed stunningly by Vanessa Tomlinson. I’m not sure what implications the titles of the Mutant Theatre pieces have (Mutant Theatre and Mutant Theatre – Act II, Sc. 5 appeared on Pateras’s 2004 CD release on the Tzadik label), as there was no program note. I’m not sure if the ‘theatre’ refers to a possibility for performance as a work of mutant musical theatre, or simply the equally stimulating physical theatre of percussive performance. Written in 2008, this work is interesting both in terms of what has changed in Pateras’s language in this time, and what has remained the same. The work opens with a delicate and dazzling play of densities, owing not a small amount to the percussion music of Iannis Xenakis. That’s where the resemblance to Xenakis ends, however, as Pateras makes very clear that his focus is still first and foremost on timbral exploration and juxtaposition.

Mutant Theatre – Act III retains, too, the formal strategies of the earlier work, consisting of a series of vignettes each featuring a significantly (often radically) changed instrumental/timbral pallette. Over the rather long span of the work, the sequential presentation of a series of discrete sonic spaces predetermines the mode of architectural reception – the structure effectively stymies any mid-level cross-referencing and development/juxtaposition of different ideas. The effect is like being transported instantaneously to a foreign environment. You can look around, and the detail is very beautiful, but you are then transported instantaneously to another environment, and then another. This is all very well, but I would have liked the opportunity (to continue the analogy) to walk around a bit, pick up some dirt, or smash some rocks together. I found myself wondering if the disjuncture I was perceiving would have been mitigated by, say, a crack team of two or even three percussionists alternating individual vignettes (dare I call them movements?) so that the break for the obligatory change of mallets and instruments could be a little less disruptive, and a little more pregnant.

The temporal effect of this music highlights, I think, an important difference in perceived musical content between improvised and notated performance traditions. In improvisation, the ‘present’ is something that is intrinsically transitory, and intrinsically dissolved into the broader continuum of sonic activity. Improvising performers are constantly acting and reacting with reference to what they have heard – in real-time – in the past, and instinctive/intellectual understandings of potential combinations in the future. (This is, necessarily, a pretty gross simplification of the extraordinary alchemy of improvisation. Suffice it to say, though, that the elasticity and tactility of chronology are present in improvised performance by default.)

Notated music doesn’t quite work that way. There is a certain rigidity in the way a notation forces sound materials to interract that needs to be negotiated/confronted/combatted/dealt with in some way. If an improvisation includes a section of (what is effectively) timbral stasis, there is nevertheless the sense that that stasis is an imposed one: the music is going from somewhere to somewhere else purely by virtue of its being created extemporaneously, and its trajectory has been obstructed for a given amount of time. Notated music doesn’t carry the same weight of implied progression: when stasis occurs in notated music it sounds like a single moment/idea/sound that is being prolonged. In other words, improvised stasis sounds like the manipulation and suspension of something complex and evolving, whereas in the absence of explicitly implied evolution, notated stasis sounds like a single object multiplied indefinitely.

Perhaps this is a result of the translation of sonic ideal into notation and back again, rather than remaining solely in the aural domain. And maybe I’m talking out of my arse. And thrilling stasis is certainly not out of the question (I think particularly of thinks like Patterns in a chromatic field of Morton Feldman, or the bit in Lachenmann’s Schwankungen am Rand where the two pianos bash away at that high note repeatedly for, like, two and a half minutes), but it’s something that needs to be really carefully worked out in notated music. There’s also the (very high, I imagine) chance that, if Pateras read this, he’d say something like “You’ve completely misunderstood everything I’m trying to do”.

The third piece on the program was Hypnagogics for ‘microsounds’ crotales and tape. The microsounds here consist of a set of very small objects (such as shot glasses, specially-made mini temple-blocks, that sort of thing), amplified. I think this was probably a really fantastic piece. The reason I ‘think’ that is because there was a small child near where I was sitting loudly requesting to go home all through it, and I found it really distracting (said child was making a rumpus throughout the first two works, also, but reached a very special crescendo during the performance of Hypnagogics). I really look forward to having the opportunity to see and hear this work performed live once again.

The final work of the program, Refractions for percussion sextet, was just that: a series of sound states ‘refracting’ across the extensive timbral resources of the ensemble before transforming into something else entirely. I found this piece much more satisfactory for not being a series of vignettes, and the architecture seemed to sit very naturally (and mum had finally decided to take the cranky toddler home). Timbrally, however, this work seemed less boldly exploratory than Transmutations. Perhaps this was a necessary condition for the composition of a work that deals so explicitly with time (refraction is, after all, a temporal phenomenon). The piece raised considerations for me of sonic identity, and the point at which a sound object loses that identity and becomes something else. This is a fantastically interesting line, and one that I wish the piece had interrogated in a bit more detail. It seemed very much a case of opening a door, and then not going through it, although, when the door is as stimulating as this one, it seems a bit precious to be criticising it.

In fact, levelling criticism at work of this calibre seems almost perversely precious. This was one of the most stimulating concerts I’ve been to all year, and was absolutely wonderfully performed. The fact that I felt moved to get off my arse and commit nearly 1400 words to virtual paper, largely focussed on my own ruminations on things arising from these works, says something profound about the provocative qualities of Pateras’s music. Because I’m very lazy.

Concerts this weekend

Unfortunately I’ll be unlikely to be able to make either of these concerts, due to being chained to my drawing board problematising musical materials for ELISION, but:

This weekend features two extraordinary concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

The first is titled Stylus Phantasticus, presented by the phenomenal Latitude 37. Consisting of Australian violinist Julia Fredersdorff and gambist Laura Vaughan, along with Kiwi harpsichordist Donald Nicholson, this group has been around the traps for a little over year, now, and is absolutely one of the best things going in terms of this repertoire in this hemisphere. The program on Friday night consist of German Baroque works, featuring the works of Dietrich Buxtehude set against the works of his approximate contemporaries, such as Biber, Erlebach, Richmann and Decker.

Full details available at the MRC website.

The second program of interest is, fortunately, being present twice. First on Saturday night, and second on Sunday afternoon. The program is another being presented by the formiddable Speak Percussion, this time presenting a concert solely consisting of the works of composer Anthony Pateras. Pateras is by far one of the most interesting compositional voices on Melbourne’s musical landscape, and the opportunity to hear his notated works arises all-too-infrequently.

Full details available at the MRC website.

Chants de terre et de ciel

Here is a review of a concert the other week by rock-star Melbourne soprano Jessica Aszodi, with pianist Peter de Jager. Stephanie Blake provided violin back-up for Kate Neal’s work.

The program was as follows:

Kate Neal Hourly scrutinising
Luigi Dallapiccola Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado
Robert Dahm Hölderlinfragmente
György Ligeti Der Sommer
Luciano Berio Selections from Six encores
Olivier Messiaen Chants de terre et de ciel

Obviously, I’m hardly the ‘objective reviewer’, and maybe my brain was too fried from the dazzlingly inept pre-concert interview I’d just given, but this was a really fantastic concert. The highlight for me was the Dallapiccola. This has, as far as I’m aware, been in Aszodi’s repertoire for far longer than the other works, and it really shows. The depth of nuance she brought to these pieces was genuinely remarkable. For the Messiaen, Aszodi succeeding in creating the atmosphere of charged stasis necessary for this music to communicate – something that happens in surprisingly few performances of the work.

Also noteworthy was pianist Peter de Jager’s assured grasp of what was a truly ambitious program: definitely a performer to watch.

Speak Percussion in Melbourne this week

This week is a veritable feast of Speak Percussion goodness at the Melbourne Recital Centre Salon.

Tonight, there is the second performance of Graphic Music, featuring three works by sound-and-graphic artist Catherine Schieve. This will be performed by Speak regulars Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott, along with Leah Scholes, Warren Burt and Catherine herself.

Further details to be had here:,1,1,1&EventID=942

The second event, this Saturday 6 June, is American Masters. This program, which sees the Speak core of Ughetti, Schack-Arnott and Peter Neville augmented by guests Greg Sully, Tim Phillips and Gary France, features a couple of twentieth century American classics, such as Steve Reich’s Music for pieces of wood and Elliott Carter’s Tintinnabulation, alongside the work of composers heard all-too-rarely in this country, such as Alvin Lucier and James Tenney:

John Cage Quartet tom-toms
James Tenney –  Pika-don (Australian Premiere) with electronics
Elliott Carter –  Tintinnabulation
Alvin Lucier –  Music for Snare Drum, Pure Wave Oscillator and One or More Reflective Surfaces (Australian Premiere)
Steve Reich –  Music for Pieces of Wood
Johanna Beyer –  March for 30 Percussion Instruments

Full details here:,1,1,1&EventID=945

Welcome to Sound is Grammar

Welcome to my new blog.

Sound is grammar is intended to be a vehicle for discussion about music generally, and the Melbourne music scene specifically.