This evening’s (rather poorly attended) concert given by the Bozzini Quartet featured a trio of works by composers from their native Canada. Of the three, Martin Arnold‘s Vault was the most straightforward, the quartet for the most part enunciating a single melodic line as a single musical body, united by material, rhythm, dynamic and mode of articulation. It would be pushing it to call it interesting exactly, although for a time there was something quite enchanting about hearing the undulations of the line handled so very quietly. However, the decision by so many bronchitic members of the audience to cough their guts up during the piece severely undermined its hold. Marc Sabat‘s Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery, receiving its UK première, explored “tuning differences between the untempered natural harmonics of the [quartet’s] 16 open strings”; using just intonation, this seemed to herald 25 minutes of microtonality, but Sabat’s emphasis is on just tuned triads, meaning that much of the piece sounded perfectly ordinary; the first movement underwent a gradual ascent to a high altitude where the unusual tunings, heard in gleaming harmonics, finally became obvious; the second movement initially answered this with a descent but its ultimate trajectory and purpose were very much harder to ascertain. Most striking of all was Nicole Lizée‘s Hitchcock Études, another UK première, where cut up sound fragments from a number of Hitchcock’s films—Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Birds—form the basis for the quartet’s material. In some ways the music resembled parts of Steve Reich’s Different Trains, although Lizée was concerned more with musical phrases coming from repetitions of non-verbal sounds. Much of the passagework was minimalistic—an inevitable consequent of looping short snippets—but the way Lizée steered the music set up an interesting relationship with the original film context, which was reinforced by being presented, also in cut-up form, on a large screen above. Sometimes the relevant scene was given an altogether fresh sonic underlay, and in the case of the infamous shower scene from Psycho, it was a relief that Lizée had avoided simply leaping on Bernard Hermann’s vicious string slashes. Furthermore, in her étude based on the scene in The Birds (famously a movie without any non-diegetic music) where the flock descends in force on the fleeing schoolchildren, Lizée latches onto the song sung by the children immediately beforehand, serving as a poignant reminder of how much things have changed in only a few minutes. This interplay with an existing narrative was fascinating.
Later in the evening came an early birthday celebration for Electric Spring, a concert series that has been running at Huddersfield University for (nearly) 20 years. The festivities began with four works, opening with Alex Harker‘s Fractures 5’33, in which a guitar floated seemingly untouched and unmoved by the bursts of generictronics cascading around it like miniature supernovae. Michael Clarke‘s Enmeshed 3, with Seth Woods on cello, was a breathtakingly effective example of the now very hackneyed ‘call-and-modified-response’ use of live electronics. There was actually very little sense that the cello was interacting with a machine, the treatment of its material sounding more imaginative, more sentient even, than is commonplace. And despite the emphasis on electronics, it’s worth highlighting the material played by the cello, highly eloquent stuff, which Woods delivered with real emotive force. Rift Patterns, by Monty Adkins, was presented in its video trilogy version, with three tracks from the larger cycle (my review of which is here) and accompanying visuals by Jason Payne. The connections between sound and sight were telling, Payne keeping the sense of journey allusive, Adkins’ material impacting on it in various interference patterns. i was struck again by Adkins’ superb sense of timing, particularly the slight harmonic kink partway through central movement ‘Ecstatic Drift’, and the eventual introduction of heavy bass elements in the closing ‘Spirals’. Bringing the concert to an end was Still, Again by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Not so much a chamber opera (as billed) as an intense dramatic scene, the work—featuring soprano Peyee Chen—is a kind of 21st century Voix Humaine, in which the woman forcefully engages with an unnamed and unseen other (presumably a significant other), shifting through a kaleidoscope of emotional guises and sentiments, the surrounding electronics both reinforcing her stance while also forming assorted ripostes. A recurring, regular rhythmic impulse came to resemble an over-insistent heartbeat, which as the work progresses seemed to become a kind of thorn in the side for the soloist, each beat like a blow to the chest, ultimately reducing her to silence. Chen’s performance was amusing and affecting, a perfect foil to Tremblay’s rather gloriously mischievous music.