‘From afar’ – Halcyon explores time, sound and space

Singers and sound artists, Halcyon and austraLYSIS along with freelance interactive sound artist and composer Jon Drummond, bring together the sounds of voice and electroacoustics in From afar… explorations in time, sound and space.

Presented by the New Music Network, the conceert features two world premieres and rarely heard works by Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, Jon Drummond, Kaija Saariaho  and Roger Dean. The concert is a revealing exploration of the interplay between the human voice – an instrument that reaches back into millennia, with the electronic innovations of recent centuries.

Morton Feldman’s acoustic piece Voices and Cello is one of several miniatures from the 1970s in which two high womens’ voices are used  as instruments, not singing words, but rather making non-verbal sounds. The voices and cello sing long notes that overlap and merge calmly into one another at various points. The music is typical of Feldman’s style, quietly dissonant without being harsh, free-flowing, and seemingly timeless.

Xenakis’ Orient-Occident,  was composed in 1960 as the soundtrack for a film by Enrico Fulchignoni which depicted sculptures and objects from cultures around the world over a vast span of history. It accompanied a UNESCO exhibition in Paris with the same theme. There are musical quotations from Xenakis’ earlier PH Concret, using fire crackle sounds, and a sense of the ‘granulation’ techniques he pioneered and promoted.  There is a range of percussive sounds from tam-tam, bowed metal-tones, water-drops, and bird-like and sliding tones, as he plays with repetitive structures and ‘industrial’ overtones, which have recurred in a whole movement of electronic dance/club music since the 1990s. DescribingOrient-Occident, Roger Dean says, “when one thinks back to the tedious and slow technologies available at the time, such as repeated playback of tape at varying speeds, physical cutting and splicing, playing tapes across multiple tape heads to create reverb, one can appreciate the huge effort required in making Xenakis’ classic electroacoustic pieces of this era.”

Taking inspiration from the Chinese classic text the I Ching, Drummond’s Book of Changes casts a unique mosaic of graphic score fragments for each performance. These score objects are combined with textural shards and live computer sound processing of the singers’ performance to create a dynamic, interwoven tapestry of acoustic and electroacoustic sound. Book of Changes is created using a network of computers exploring the use of screen as score.

Saariaho’s Lonh teams amplified soprano with prepared soundscape to explore unrequited chivalric love. The title Lonh, meaning far away or distant, comes from the old Provençal language, in which the text is sung. The text itself, a poem about love from afar, famous among scholars of mediaeval poetry, is attributed to the mediaeval troubadour Jaufré Rudel. Lonh is a prologue for Saariaho’s opera projects dedicated to soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Roger Dean’s new work, Akurra, uses pre-recorded and live electronics to summon  the imagined afterlives of Akurra, the creators of Wilpena Pound (Ikara) in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, a great isolated valley almost completely surrounded by two mountain ranges. Where did they next appear after the pound was made? The two singers use dislocated speech-sounds to describe and illustrate their post-history in the context of changing climates and the imagined creation scenario.

Halcyon is a leading exponent in the field of new music, specialising in vocal chamber music from around the world, with an emphasis on Australian content. The pioneering ensemble was founded by mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong and soprano Alison Morgan who continue as its core performers and artisitic directors. The Halcyon concert series showcases rarely heard international works and premieres new offerings from esteemed Australian and international composers, amongst them, Nigel Butterley, Andrew Ford, Elliott Gyger, Andrew Schultz, Raffaele Marcellino, Rosalind Page and Nicholas Vines. Halcyon’s performances have taken them to music festivals around the nation. They gave a collaborative landmark performance of  Tehillim in both Sydney and Melbourne, and have performed at the Peggy Glanville Hicks Address, the AMC/APRA Classical Music Awards and the Paul Lowin Awards. In 2011 Halcyon launched its inaugural emerging composer’s project, First Stones, which culminated in a showcase of 9 new works at Sydney Conservatorium. In 2012, Halcyon presented another series of concerts at Sydney Grammar School where the ensemble is currently in residence. Earlier this year they joined Synergy for a performance of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at the Opera House, in the presence of the composer. Halcyon’s records for the label CD Baby.

austraLYSIS is an ensemble of composers, improvisers, and perfomers who have developed new ways of combining rhythms, harmonies, and timbres in performance.  Since 1995 they have used computerised interactive and networked technology. ‘Incredible interaction’, said the Wire (UK); ‘eclectic and consummate’, said BBC Radio 3. Formed originally by Roger Dean in 1970 as the innovative European group LYSIS, austraLYSIS has played in 30 countries, and appears on more than forty commercial recordings.

austraLYSIS has evolved continuously from its inception. During the 1970s and 80s, it focused on commissioning and premiering new compositions, and presenting contemporary classics and improvised music. Today, it creates real-time computer interactive work, and elaborately composed acousmatic music, often in intermedia contexts involving real-time image manipulation, with text presentation and generation. Most work is created by members of the ensemble, often collaboratively. In 2010, austraLYSIS has performed in Australia, Canada, Denmark, UK and USA, as well as broadcast internationally.

Jon Drummond (b. 1969) is a Sydney based composer. His creative work embraces instrumental music, electroacoustic, interactive, sound and new media arts. His electronic and ensemble compositions have been performed at numerous Australian and international festivals and galleries including the Adelaide Festival, the International Computer Music Conferences and the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. His research and creative explorations include human-computer interaction design, new interfaces for musical expression, gesture analysis, improvisation, sound spatialisation and data sonification.

More about the electro-acoustic techinques used at:


Tickets: $20 – $30; Visit www.cityrecitalhall.com call (02) 8256 2222 or at the box office, City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, Sydney.

The Program

Morton Feldman Voices and cello (1973)

Iannis Xenakis   Orient-Occident (1962)

Jon Drummond  Book of Changes III (2012) world premiere

Kaija Saariaho   Lonh (1996)

Roger Dean      Akurra: Lives in a new world (2012) world premiere

The Artists: 

Alison Morgan, soprano

Jo Burton,  mezzo soprano

Geoffrey Gartner,  cello

Roger Dean,  sound artist

Jon Drummond,  sound artist


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