Extreme Lands

Frances Moore (voice), Anna McGregor (clarinet), Ben Hoadley (bassoon), Pia Palme (contrabass recorder), Dylan Lardelli (guitar), Nell Thomas (accordion), Takumi Motokawa (percussion), Charlotte Fetherston (viola), King Pan Ng (erhu).
CAROL MICALLEF: “Cigarettes for Ping Pong”;
HERMIONE JOHNSON: “The Deep Blue Sky”;
KING PAN NG: “ExtremeLand”.

Massey University Theatrette, 21-22 August 2009

“Extreme Lands” was an event incorporating sound (live and recorded), words, and images, imaginatively curated by Wellington composer Alexandra Hay.

There were four items on the programme, beginning with “Cigarettes for Ping Pong” by experimental singer-songwriter Carol Micallef, which she sang in her attractive voice, accompanying herself on a tiny retro synth, with the aid of erstwhile guitarist Dylan Lardelli on viola.

Alexandra Hay’s own work, “Moon Song”, utilized a text by Branwen Millar, ingeniously presented as an interplay between words projected onto a screen, and words vocalized by Frances Moore. Each section was associated with a different aspect of water, for instance The Harbour, Ice, Tap, and Open Bodies. Hay’s use of electroacoustic sound files, such as the warm enveloping introduction, and the undulating filtered white noise underlying the voice in “The Harbour”, were reminiscent of the use of electronics in her atmospheric “White Rain” for amplified flute (which won the Victoria University composition competition in 2006). On the other hand, the exploitation of extended techniques on the live instruments (down to transferring the conventional western violin tremolando onto Ng’s traditional Chinese erhu), reminded me of her daring demands on the NZSO in the quietly powerful “Bellum Nocturnis” (winner of the 2008 NZSO/Todd Corporation Award).

Hay’s fellow graduate from the Victoria University NZ School of Music, Hermione Johnson, has been interested in very low sounds, and very high sounds. In “The Deep Blue Sky”, she joined Hay in exploring very soft sounds, and non-standard ways of playing instruments. Intense concentration on the barely audible world of the bellows-breath of Nell Thomas’s accordion, the bowed bridge of Dylan Lardelli’s guitar, and the key clicks of Ben Hoadley’s bassoon, drew the listener in, until the first tentative notes of definite pitch began to emerge towards the end of the piece.

King Pan Ng’s “ExtremeLand” relied mainly on projected images and recorded sound files to carry its message (encompassing the ends of a geographic spectrum, from Burmese refugees to icy landscapes). The performers seemed to have little to play: for them, it might have been “avant karaoke”. The images, however, stayed on in the mind, particularly those of the victims of the Myanmar junta.

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