13 March 2014

Interview: Sarah Ballard, NZSO-National Youth Orchestra Composer-in-Residence

Sarah Ballard is the 2014 Composer-in-Residence with the NZSO National Youth Orchestra. Here she talks with Listener contributor Alex Taylor about her music and the upcoming residency with the NYO.

AT: How would you describe the relationship in your music between colour and sound? Does your music start from a visual impetus?

SB: There’s not usually any direct relationship in my music between colour and sound. My pieces very often do start from a visual impetus, often a physical landscape or environment. Within this scene there may be a predominant colour or tint if you like that is subconsciously considered and this helps formulate the mood of the music. This affects how most parameters within the piece will be approached, particularly harmony, timbre, melodic intervals, instrumentation, blends, and which instruments will be at the forefront or define the character of the piece.

For the piece I am writing for the National Youth Orchestra, colour is a direct instigator for the musical material, but the relationship between colour and sound is less significant than you might think. It simply acts as a catalyst to generate the initial material and then moderates the unfolding of the piece. I don’t like the extra-musical to dictate what goes on in a piece too much. For me, the joy of composing is observing and responding to where the music wants to go after it has taken on a life and energy of its own, after you’ve established the foundations. I’m constantly responding to the needs of the music I’m writing throughout the process. I don’t want to rein it in just because it doesn’t adhere to the concept, and for me the concept presents itself before the music. It’s not really something that’s applied as an afterthought. I have to have something to say, an inspiration to express, a reason to write in the first place. That’s not to say the concept isn’t a malleable thing: this can develop and morph along with the fruition of the piece.

I often get excited at the prospect of writing an orchestral piece because you are presented with this vast canvas upon which to do a Pollock. Not that my music sounds like that, but that’s how I see an orchestral score, all the contour and texture, it’s a work of visual art. All scores are like this of course, but with an orchestra this visual aspect is augmented. We speak of colour, contour, texture and line in music as we do in visual art. The two art forms are inextricably linked to one another.

Why do you create music / sonic art rather than a different medium of art, for example visual art?

I’m not a materialistic person (although I see most art as a different sort of materialism to the one I’m thinking of). I like that music has this invisible form to it, a sense of immaterialism, and by this I mean music in its audible form. I like that there are multiple forms in which a piece of music can exist, and there is this fantastical void between it being notated on the page and being translated into sound by performers. The most physically material state of a piece of music is when it’s in score form. Essentially the traditional score is the mechanics, the code, so it’s produced more as a practical object (or at least initially intended to be), rather than something to be displayed. It’s the fact that you have to go looking for the music on the page, while visual art presents itself to you. I’ve always had the desire to play with sound. This started with recording pretend radio shows with my sister and bashing cluster chords out on a two-octave keyboard while wailing nonsensical lyrics. Music has always been a reverie for me. I also think that of any medium, music has the most emotive power. You take the music out of a film that was designed to have a soundtrack, and its power to make you feel is substantially lessened.

Would you say then that music’s primary purpose is an emotional one? How do you go about “mak[ing someone] feel?

We utilise music and make it present in our lives in order to gain something out of it emotionally. Music gives us an aural space in which to reflect. It sets mood and ambience to heighten our sense of reality. These practices are inherently related to emotion. Whether you’re actively or passively listening to music, you’re looking to absorb something from it. It is this intangible power of music that makes it such a mysterious energy force. We look for music to lift us up, we allow ourselves to wallow in it for release and mourning and to enlighten us.

In terms of making someone feel, my answer to this relates to the “do you consider your audience when you write” spiel. When I compose, I’m inadvertently considering my audience through my own objective/subjective modes of listening. At times I’m distancing myself from the piece and at others, allowing myself to be completely immersed within it. Of course, I have my own perceptions and preferences when it comes to sound, but this is the best I can do in terms of considering the listener. An audience is a variable thing.

Often the elements that make me “feel” are timbral combinations that transfigure the individual instrumental sounds, the ways in which sounds interact when they meet. Also, well-considered contouring of a piece through the rate of textural activity and harmonic progressions can really transport me as a listener. Curiosity is something I’m interested in. I can only hope that the sounds I write prompt some kind of response from the audience, make them feel something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive feeling, as long as I can provoke some sort of response.

How do you deal with the huge forces available in a symphony orchestra?

I tend to whittle things down to sections, so quite often you’ll get the strings working together to create a texture, the brass creating harmonic interest and every now and then elements from various sections will start to intersperse and combine, with the percussion to highlight and embellish. The extra-musical theme dictates which instruments I predominantly use. Ideally I like to go through each part and make sure there’s something enjoyable for every player. It’s a question of balance. Sometimes you may want to have the orchestra functioning as one entity, but it’s not much fun for the players if they’re just an idly ticking cog within this super-instrument, although it always helps in rehearsal when they are able to hear how they fit in and contribute to the work.

Is that important to you – whether the players are having fun?

I’m not concerned whether the performers have fun or not, that’s up to them, and the piece may not call for it. What I’m concerned about is writing music that’s stimulating for them in the same way I’d like my audience to be intrigued by the sounds I am getting the orchestra to play. I would like for them to take something away from the experience, whether it’s a new technique, or appreciation for the sound combinations I am asking them to make.

What impact (if any) has the programming of the NYO concert had on the planning and/or construction of your new work?

In considering the enormity and grandiosity of the Strauss, I’ve tried to create something that also harnesses these elements, but in a different way that I think is more subtly portrayed. There won’t be the great pillars of strength that the Strauss has, but I know that my work will contrast nicely. I didn’t think it necessary to go to the lengths of quoting the Strauss or anything like that. We have two substantial works in the programme from this great composer… do we need more of his presence? I do think however that the bass bell on E in Also Sprach Zarathustra is pretty special to have at one’s disposal, so I have incorporated this into the piece on a minor level.

How does this piece fit in to your output - how is it related to your other music?

I’m composing the piece using the same methods I always have done. I feel my way through. As I usually think of each piece I write, it is a ‘transitional piece’. I am trying to head to a new way of thinking about musical impetus and of treating musical parameters. It is related to my previous work in that it’s quite atmospheric and there are a lot of sustained textures within it, which I tend to gravitate to.

How would you describe the NYO residency - is it an educational opportunity? Professional development? Work? Something else?

The NYO residency is an opportunity to grow as a composer. You need to keep in mind the level of the performers you are writing for, but I also want it to be an opportunity to test where I’m at compositionally. Now’s not the time to try what’s safe, it is the time to be curious. As long as you take the time to work that out with the performers, I think it’s a rather valiant and productive way to treat the opportunity. One thing I certainly wouldn’t see it as is work.

Why not?

I have a philosophy to not see what I do compositionally as work, in any sense of the word. I have to do this partly to keep myself sane. I try to distance composition as much as I can from what I do for my day job. Paraphrasing John Cage, it makes it light enough for me to enjoy!

It’s also an educational opportunity. The relationships you forge with performers are worth more than any orchestration textbook. I started conceptualising this piece without regard to when and if it would be performed so I am very grateful to be able to fully realise the piece and to have a set performance date. It’s most certainly a networking opportunity. I get such a buzz out of working and making connections with performers and it’s astounding what you can learn from them and also to see how much more they can learn about the possibilities of their instrument once you start asking them questions.

Last year parts of [2013 NYO Composer-in-Residence] Sam Logan's work were cut by the conductor - how would you feel about something like this happening to your work? What degree of control do you feel you have in this situation?

It would depend on how structurally sound I felt the piece was. I don’t think it would make any sense to cut anything out of this piece due to its progressive nature. If I felt the section was integral to the piece I’d certainly try to reason and state a case with the conductor. Sometimes if you cut something out of a piece, you’re cutting out meaning and I would be most unhappy about losing the opportunity to communicate effectively to my audience. It’s like cutting words from a sentence. I feel that as long as the music does not breach anything set out by the organisation, the composer has the right to have the music performed as submitted. It is part of the educational programme, shouldn’t the composer have the opportunity to make their own decisions and learn from the process?

How do you see the relationship between a living composer and an orchestra?

It’s a synergistic relationship. As I mentioned before, it’s not only the composer who learns from the process of having a new work rehearsed and performed. The fact that an orchestra can ask of a composer precisely what they want is quite extraordinary. I think the orchestra has an obligation to the composer, as does composer to orchestra. The composer, along with the orchestra, exists to help bring the music of our time to the people of our time. The relationship can often be seen as you the composer, and the collective mass that is the orchestra (with conductor as middleman or ruler of the roost depending on which way you look at it). As long as you do your homework and actually consider what the performers have to physically do when they are playing what you’ve written, the relationship can be very fruitful. The living composer keeps an orchestra relevant. There has to be growth and change, otherwise you’ll hit a brick wall.

You can hear some of Sarah's other work on SoundCloud:

You can hear Sarah Ballard's new work "Synergos" performed by the National Youth Orchestra in two concerts:

Wellington – Friday 18 July  / 6.30pm / Michael Fowler Centre
Auckland – Saturday 19 July / 7.30pm / ASB Theatre Auckland

11 March 2014

Review: 175 East 'New Music' - Celeste Oram

the Loft, Q Theatre, Auckland, Sunday 9th March, 5pm

featuring works by John Lely, Eve de Castro-Robinson, James Saunders, Tim Parkinson, and Samuel Holloway
performed by Luca Manghi (flutes), Donald Nicholls (clarinets), Andrew Uren (bass clarinet), Sam Rich (percussion), Alex MacDonald (viola), Katherine Hebley (cello), David Kelly (keyboard)

conducted by Samuel Holloway
artistic direction by Samuel Holloway
review by Celeste Oram

Half the stage had been occupied by a phalanx of at least one hundred portable mechanical devices. They were arranged according to that kind of organized chaos where you know someone has meticulously configured things to look purposefully randomized. It felt like an art gallery, except the walls were black. This felt like an important distinction. We were not in an operating theatre. We were in a theatre, which is messier and germier. The white-walled gallery lends itself to conceptual cleanliness. The black box theatre, being immediately real and also flagrantly artificial, is conceptually filthy.

For some time 175 East has been championing the work of what a fanciful musicologist might in 60 years call The Huddersfield Huddle: UK composers whose work probes a kind of literalist, cerebral experimentalism. There’s even something delightfully literal about their names which echoes the bluntness of their work: Tim Parkinson. James Saunders. John Lely. They sound more like plumbers and electricians than composers.

Focussing on a select group of composers as a programming core—especially when their work exudes such a clear agenda as these composers’—is a bold and praiseworthy approach for an ensemble like 175 East. Everyone wins: the composers’ work gets given a fair go and a decent airing; the performers get a chance to get under the skin of the work and tease out an appropriate performance practice; the audience enjoys the comfort of feeling like informed listeners.

There’s something hypochondriacal about The Huddle’s work: it reveals an anxiety of sound being infected by music. Sound events are handled like laboratory specimens; performers are made to wear latex gloves, and audience members surgical masks [not literally] – lest their perceptual frame of reference contaminate the sonic specimens.

It was an evening of binary sounds: ons and offs. Assembled differently: but by and large, sound in two forms. On and off. Sometimes sounds made by devices, sometimes by people; but by the end of the night, you basically couldn’t tell. It seemed inconsequential whether a musician was going ‘on-off’ with a food processor or with a clarinet. Uncanny valleys.

First up: John Lely’s Symphony no. 3 – perhaps the most anti-heroic piece going by that name. It’s the kind of work where the programme notes are pretty crucial, so I’ll reproduce them here: “The piece is notated using the Parsons Code, a system intended to enable the identification of musical works through simple representations of melodic motion. In this work, the code is used to indicate whether to move up or down in pitch, but the performers independently decide how much higher or lower to play, allowing unanticipated harmony to arise.”

Starting in unison and periodically returning to that aural palette-cleanser, on-off homophonic events were turned out with the steady, unyielding regularity of a conveyor belt, each one settling on a different vertical alignment of pitches. The result was the strange phenomenon that a piece so seemingly indeterminate could sound so calm and orderly. Much like the organized chaos of the hundred-odd devices meticulously strewn behind. Funny paradoxes spring up when thoroughly accidental events sound scientifically deliberate, while meanwhile some exacting New Complexity score sounds like a train crash.

Significantly, the makeup of the ensemble was balanced to the point of vanishing into thin air. Alto flute, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, violin: the blendiest instruments, playing for the most part in middling registers. The result was, in effect, the sine wave of the Western orchestra. It’s the closest instruments can get to being just sound, just pitch – to negating their corporeality as instruments.

As the piece continued, something was nibbling away at the silences between each sound. Perhaps it was a kind of impatient tension between the mathematical grid imposed on the sonic events, and the performers’ inescapably human, subjective perception of time. I began engrossed, my attention waned, I ploughed on through the boredom and came out the other side, and by the time the conveyor belt was shut down and the piece stopped, I was just about ready to keep listening for another hour.

Knowing his propensity for text scores, the title of James Saunders’ piece could well be the score itself – AT LEAST ONE HUNDRED DEVICES BEING TURNED ON AND OFF. This is exactly what happened. The musicians delicately picked their way through the ranks of devices, turning some on and turning some off: some electronic (alarm clocks and smart phones), some mechanical (music boxes and metronomes), some knickknacky (toy cars and light sabres), some domestic (espresso grinders and electric beaters). In a fit of manliness, Alex MacDonald revved up a purring weed eater with a cloud of noxious-blue smoke and the cloying sweetness of diesel. Even my surgical mask couldn’t spare me the fumes.

The result was of course the delightful hum and racket of mechanical drones being ripped from their usual comfortable ambience and made to perform. Talking to Donald [Nicholls, clarinettist] afterwards, he said he would rather have liked the audience to have been able to mingle amidst the devices and partake in the switching on and off. I would have quite liked this too; I was disappointed at not being able to see all the gadgets in action, and I imagine the experience of moving through them would produce some fun stereo effects. But then again, the sight of that mechanized phalanx staring down the audience from behind the fourth wall was also amusingly sinister. At least one hundred whirring mechanisms were intimidating enough to make me quite comfortable in the safety of my theatre seat.

Percussionist Sam Rich sat onstage apart from the rest of the ensemble. He was the concert’s coin-operated boy, or gold-painted human statue, or motionless, hand-less moustached gentleman of Queen Street. Sam came to life in between the big ensemble numbers to make interjections to the programme that in comparison were—gasp—shamelessly theatrical.

Perhaps this was why he was kept quarantined under the spotlight. A piece like Eve de Castro-Robinson’s whisper for solo snare drum aches so acutely with a sense of loss and meta-corporeality that even in its starkness it seemed positively decadent alongside its programme companions. “Written on hearing of Xenakis’ death”, reads the programme note – an elegiac tone gently but potently rendered in this exquisite miniature. The drum seems anthropomorphized, the little pit-pat fingertaps its feeble heartbeat, the snares buzzing as Sam blows air onto them its keening wail. Sam owned the performance with the white-hot focus and patient ritualism the piece demands. He had the audience so engrossed that he could well have afforded to go further, to take more time, to be even more deliberate and controlled in his physical movement.

Sam’s other solo turn of the evening was Tim Parkinson’s snare drum: a tightly controlled excursion around the snare drum and all its colours and rings. It was noisy, it was rhythmic, it grooved (as well as being very quiet and almost singing at times); it was a welcome moment on the programme. It let off a lot of steam that needed to be vented.

And, for the final trick, Samuel Holloway seemed hell-bent on writing the most unmusical piece of music imaginable. The piece in itself achieved this with masterful success. It was the zenith of artful artlessness.

Things. A title both impishly vague and yet also scientifically precise. Because that is exactly what the piece was: Things. 209 Things, to be precise. 209 Vertical Static Sonic Things, to get really pedantic – Sonic Things turned on and off. No pretence that the Things were anything more or less. Never anything too harmonically strenuous: generally just intervals or triads—sometimes a clustery Thing—intoned by varying combinations of the ensemble of flute/piccolo, clarinets, viola, cello, and synth. Some Things were long, some Things were short. A few Things were followed by a long pause. It sounded rather like a very very long aural skills test.

But then, sound is not very good at being thing-y. You can’t hold it in your hand. Surely that palpability is a defining feature of thingness. You have to be able to point to it. You can’t point to sound.

You can point to a score. And in fact, the performance played out a constant tension between the sonic Things—which desperately wanted nothing more than to be Nothing, nothing more than just sound—and the score, whose weighty, spiral-bound, 100-gsm thingness engulfed the performance. Peering over Samuel’s shoulder as he conducted I could see each Thing had a page to itself: on a bar’s worth of grand stave was wedged two or three or so vertically stacked semibreves. A few pencilled scribbles presumably indicated which instruments were to play and for how long.

This was a strange paradox. The Things, rendered in sound, were thoroughly unremarkable; they started, they stopped, they were forgettable, disposable. On paper, however, emblazoned in the centre of a page, a few semibreves can look monolithic (if you don’t believe me, click this). And the delicious crunch of each page turn in between each Thing concretized the sonic Nothings into very objective Things. Look, that was the Thing you just heard. Here, you can point to it. PAGE TURN: now for the next Thing. Ready? Go.

And so these quotidian no/things kept being churned out, beyond ad nausem, beyond ad absurdum, to venture bravely to the next level of uncompromising incessance.

Does this kind of music need be endured to be ‘understood’? By which I mean, do you actually need to hear the whole piece to ‘get’ whatever you need to ‘get’ to ‘get’ the piece? Does reading the programme note tell you everything you need to know, and is actually sitting through the piece just an accessorizing formality?

The gentleman who walked out in the middle of things/Things certainly thought so. His was a slightly poignant eleventh-hour surrender; the piece was actually almost over. But then, the walkout seemed fairly undramatic, as walkouts go. Because by that point, Samuel had built a world where Things are just things. The walkout was just another Thing. It almost seemed scored into the piece, as the ensemble patiently waited for the walker-outer to extract themselves before continuing with the next Thing: but it was no trouble really, no interruption, because after all, they were just playing Things. Anyway, in these gigs, walkouts tend to be beheld as badges of honour.

So do these kinds of pieces need to be endured to be ‘got’? Or, like a Yoko Ono text score, is their power in their potentiality, their invitation to be made real, but their ambivalence towards actually being made real?

To the walker-outer, I would say that yes, these works do need to be endured to be ‘got'. Because concepts are clean and neat and tidy in the realm of theory. But their real test is in being dragged kicking and screaming into the grime and germiness of phenomenological existence. You can have the most watertight hypothesis, but you still need to conduct the experiment to find out the good stuff.

In this way, Samuel’s piece provided an interesting bookend to the Lely which began the concert: both sequences of on-offs. And while Samuel’s was by far the more experientially excruciating, I think it was by far the stronger work. It was more extreme, yet less formulaic. It wasn’t a conveyor belt: the instrumentation of Things varied, sometimes Things overlapped. Sometimes the Things teetered dangerously close to the edge of their thingness, and looked down into the abyss of Music, like when the minor triad impeccably voiced for woodwinds reminded my filthy referential mind of an Italian opera overture. By braving to look into that murkiness, and yet still remaining in the safe world of thingness, Things was the more thorough experiment.

Things’ attempted experiment seemed to be the annihilation of both form and the accrual of meaning, an experiment conducted by presenting a sequence of Nothing-events with no relation to one another. And yet, in the attempt, because content was reduced to objecthood, Things is in fact nothing but form. Things is highly composed, highly ordered. It was actually Things in Two Acts, as was articulated halfway through by the intermission of conductor and performers exchanging one score for a second. These are Things, remember: they are Things precisely because they have a form. Things ends up apotheosizing the very Thing it seeks to annihilate.

And if there is a wild success of Things, this is it. It achieves the impossible: its enforced ambience bleaches all the music out of musical events. It is as close as the phenomenological world will let us get to ‘pure music’. Then again, the gentleman who walked out might invoke that old chestnut: but is it music? It was anti-music: by posing as something, it negated that very thing whose semblance it assumed. As the piece went on and on—god, how long, half an hour or something? [ed: 50 minutes]—music became sound, sound became Things, and then, for the coup de grĂ¢ce, became just an object. In my aural exhaustion, the sound even surrendered its thingness. This is a triumphant transformation. A desperately cynical, nihilistic triumph – but a triumph nonetheless.

It is only now I’ve come to the end of writing this that I realise I have committed the ultimate rudeness of neglecting to acknowledge the efforts of the ensemble performers. In all frankness, this is because I had somewhat forgotten about them. Which is to say, they executed their task masterfully. They succeeded in engineering their own invisibility; their black attire camouflaged them into the black walls; their physical presence was eclipsed by their mechanistic counterparts lurking in the shadows behind them. They performed with breathtaking non-expressivity, and redoubtable precision. They were virtuoso anti-musicians.

A note from the editors: Please note two reviews of the same concert have been published. We recognise this is uncommon and see it as a progressive and innovative to have more than one view on an event. Please also read Jonathan Mandeno's review

Review: 175 East 'New Music' - Jonathan Mandeno

the Loft, Q Theatre, Auckland, Sunday 9th March, 5pm

Music by James Saunders, Eve de Castro-Robinson, Tim Parkinson, John Lely, Samuel Holloway
Performers: Luca Manghi, flutes; Donald Nicholls, clarinets; Andrew Uren, bass clarinet; Sam Rich, percussion; Alex McDonald, viola; Katherine Hebley, cello; David Kelly, keyboard
Artistic director: Samuel Holloway

Review by Jonathan Mandeno

Under the directorship of Samuel Holloway, 175 East is boldly putting forward more challenging new works than ever.  While these can range from the sublime to the exasperating, it is always gratifying to be given access to such radical experiences, which provoke us to think deeply and critically about music and art. 

At Sunday’s concert the programme moved seamlessly between order and randomisation.  It is the second time in a row UK composer James Saunders has been featured, last time with the technically ambitious but utterly gruelling 511 possible mosaics.  This second work was in many ways the complete opposite.  AT LEAST ONE HUNDRED DEVICES BEING TURNED ON AND OFF was written for a centenary celebration of John Cage, and did exactly what it said on the tin.  The audience was faced with a kaleidoscopic array of whirrs, hums, clicks and roars from an impressive battery of fans, weed whackers, mixers and lightsabers which the performers darted around, finding scintillating timbral combinations between them.  Exuding a typical Cagean philosophy, much of the process of creating music happens on the part of the listener, whose imagination is left to make musical sense out of the sounds being presented.  As rewarding as this is, I couldn’t help but feel that Saunders brought nothing new to the table.  It was a reiteration of a statement that Cage made over fifty years ago with works like 4’33” and Water Walk.  In the light of historical context, what  was radical then seemed little more than gimmickry now, once you looked past the visual/aural spectacle.

The snare drum was featured as a solo in two of the evening’s works, and between them no surface of the drum was left untouched.  Percussionist Sam Rich distinguished himself by performing with accuracy and an admirable attention to detail.  Eve de Castro-Robinson’s whisper was written as a eulogy to Iannis Xenakis.  Part miniature and part performance art, Rich was seated with drum cradled on lap which he lightly tapped and scraped with fingertips, then producing a ghostly whistle across the snares, making sounds of astonishing tenderness and moving intimacy.  With every movement measured and ritualistic, the sparseness and cunning spacing of events helped one lose ones sense of time, despite it being the shortest work on the programme by far.

While played on the more traditional surfaces, Tim Parkinson’s snare drum provided an extended exploration of the instrument’s sonic capabilities.  It began with a driving repeated beat centre-drum, then moving outwards around the skin providing a tantalising string of morphing timbres. From the dull thud of the centre to the bell-like overtones on the edge, every sound was treated with the precise touch of a jeweller.  Yet more sounds were explored with snares, fingers and rimshots, and monotony was adroitly broken with strategic pauses and deft shifts in rhythmic pattern.

Bookending the concert were two ensemble works that shared a similar sonic plane, although their approaches were extremely different.  Opening the concert was John Lely’s Symphony No.3 (The Parsons Code for Melodic Contour).  Notated using the Parsons code, the players are given the indication to move their pitch up or down, but by how much to move it is left to the individual.  The work consisted of evenly spaced sustained notes, and the freedom allowed to the players brought forth a rich and constantly shifting harmonic tapestry.  Such a composition highlighted the skilled ensemble work of the players, who seemed to relish the sonic exploration of each chord while also exhibiting the discipline to move as one, often returning to a unison note as something of a ritornello.  The mood was hypnotic and lulling, to the point where subtleties such as extended stretches of silence were deafening, and where the music happened to occasionally alight on the familiarity of a triad the effect was electrifying.  Sadly, the long runtime of the work coupled with its determined lack of variation in rhythm, dynamics or orchestration meant it ended up overstaying its welcome somewhat.

According to the programme notes, composer Samuel Holloway has “been thinking a lot about literalness in music.  Also: the movement in perception between singular forms and their constituent events/objects.  And: how relationships form and meaning accrues even when you try to avoid them.”  He invited us to consider these questions with his massive work Things, an exploded jigsaw puzzle of a piece where every page of the score was host to a single musical event, replete with a solemn pause between each.  Confrontational in the extreme, painstakingly methodical and unapologetically long, Things nonetheless forced one out of listening complacency to regard every single note and harmony with concentrated attentiveness.  In doing so, one became more acutely aware of patterns and relationships forming between each event, in spite of the gaps:  A snatch of something approaching a melodic line, notes traded between players, unisons or even the occasional suggestion of a cadence.   If this was the object of the experiment, the bold[bald]ness of it perhaps made it a success.  However while all music has pattern, pattern by itself is not music, and as we crept round to the thirty minute mark I couldn’t help but think about other admittedly more airy-fairy (but in my opinion no less essential) aspects of music.  Music is also imagination, provoking or provoked by an instinctive response.  What of music’s potential to transport the listener emotionally, psychologically or spiritually – the things that make people remember the experience, and the things I began yearning for.  Are these more metaphysical elements able to survive under the intense glare of Holloway’s microscope?

175 East again proved itself to be on the cutting edge, and the expertise and dedication the performers bring to each performance is something we are fortunate to have in Auckland.  For all the challenge and intellectual stimulation the concert provided though, perhaps the programme could have benefited being leavened ever so slightly - if only to give the exceptionally patient audience some respite to help them through some of the more austere moments. 

A note from the editors: Please note two reviews of the same concert have been published. We recognise this is uncommon and see it as a progressive and innovative to have more than one view on an event. Please also read Celeste Oram's review