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OUT HEAR: Invisibility

Members of ELISION:

Séverine Ballon – cello [pictured]

Richard Barrett – electronics

Daryl Buckley – electric guitar

Richard Haynes – clarinets

Benjamin Marks – trombones

Peter Veale – oboe

Tristram Williams – trumpets, flugelhorn


Timothy McCormack: Disfix

Klaus K. Hübler: CERCAR

Liza Lim: Invisibility

Richard Barrett: Aurora (wp)

Roger Redgate: Tehom (wp)

Evan Johnson: Apostrophe 2 (pressing down on my sternum)

James Dillon: Crossing Over

Richard Barrett: Codex XI (wp)


Kings Place, London, 8 February 2010


Hall 2 at Kings Place was full for the first London concert of 2010 from ELISION, Australia's international contemporary music ensemble.


They presented a brass-heavy programme of works by long-time and recent associates. Benjamin Marks, ELISION’s indefatigable trombonist, was busiest, appearing in all but two works, including Klaus Hübler’s solo CERCAR. This fiendishly difficult work – like so much of Hübler’s music – ‘decouples’ the instrumentalist’s activities into separate units, which are then notated on independent staves. CERCAR divides trombone playing into three groups of activities: slide positions and the F valve, overtones and diaphragm thrust, and pitch, sung multiphonics and mute. Marks’s mute was held in position on a stand, like a singer’s microphone, and he would move the instrument towards or away from it as required. On several occasions it was visually obvious that he was moving quite independently of any sound being produced, a Beckettian effect challenging one’s judgement of futile and useful, and perhaps the constraints such judgements place us in.


Timothy McCormack’s Disfix builds on similar techniques of decoupling. The multi-dimensional interaction of mouth, fingers, breath and vocal actions in his trio for bass clarinet, piccolo trumpet and trombone produces a tough, infinitely complex nest of contradictory forces, and music that is both brash and continually under threat of self-destruction. It made for an invigorating start.


Evan Johnson takes such latent fragility to greater extremes. Apostrophe 2 (pressing down on my sternum), for flugelhorn and alto trombone, goes beyond the boundaries of the possible into the realm of the deliberately impossible and self-defeating. It is related to the bass clarinet duo Apostrophe 1 (all communication is a form of complaint) like household dust is related to the home. Tiny motes of music drift in and out of the light, each hinting at the remnants of something long gone, gently articulating currents of air, the passage of bodies, the dimensions of a room.


Roger Redgate’s Tehom also explored ideas of self-destruction. Like several of the pieces in this concert it was highly fragmentary and scattered with pauses and silences, but it also had an austerity that made it hard to grasp on a first listen. At the other end of that spectrum, James Dillon’s Crossing Over was given a melifluous and lyrical performance by clarinettist Richard Haynes, its model of genetic splicing smoothed to emphasise the overall evolutionary process.


By far the most impressive piece on the programme, however, was Liza Lim’s Invisibility for solo cello.

Invisibility draws inspiration from Aboriginal art, particularly the the use of ‘shimmer’ effects to reveal the simultaneity of past, present and future spiritual reality.The piece demands two bows, one standard, the other a ‘guiro’ bow of Lim’s devising, in which the bow hairs are twisted round the wood of the bow, like a damper spring. This gives the sound across the string an irregular, serrated effect, rather like the cross-hatchings of Aboriginal art. The bow stunted the cello’s dynamic range, but as well as obscuring it also revealed new drifts of sound beneath the notes. Unlike many of the other composers represented, Lim deals not in the sparks and abrasions of conflicting musical forces, but in a stretching and dissolution of those forces to find new realms beyond: discovery, not destruction. The result was breathtakingly beautiful. Séverine Ballon’s superb performance may be a hard one to follow, but this is a piece that deserves a long life in the repertoire.


The two Barrett pieces were both, unfortunately, disappointments. Codex XI is a semi-improvised composition for six instruments and electronics, but it seemed too reliant on sustained tones at the beginning and took some time to take off. Aurora, for what might be any number of reasons, just felt flat. Again, an opening built around sustained pitches (derived from the harmonic partials of a low C) was too reserved, even thin, to convince on this occasion.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson

Hear Séverine Ballon playing Liza Lim's Invisibility in the premiere at Huddersfield [Editor]