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Seeking musical ecstasy through repetition

Double bassist Ben Ward and Claire Edwardes on percussion performing as Ensemble Offspring at The Street Theatre. Photo: Dalice Trost

Music / Xanadu Sky, Ensemble Offspring. At The Street Theatre, June 19. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Ensemble Offspring brought its latest mesmerising show, Xanadu Sky, to Canberra, which included three solos and an epic 30-minute trio of new music.

With special guest pianist Alex Raineri and double bassist Ben Ward, along with Claire Edwardes on percussion, the concert began with American composer Caroline Shaw’s work titled Gustave le Gray. 

With reference to Chopin’s A minor Mazurka, for solo piano, it began with a repetitive theme, not dissimilar to some minimalism pieces of the 1970s. The music flowed, it built, it fell back, and it felt quite personal too. Idiosyncratic, but in a way that’s not too far removed from certain popular pieces. 

It’s easy to hear why Shaw is such a hot ticket in the contemporary music world today. Performed by Alex Raineri, he created a sound that breathed and filled Street Three with warmth.

Brenda Gifford’s, Walimbaya (Return), was performed by double bass player Ben Ward. With many effects, such as letting the overtones shine through by a particular playing technique and making the bass sound like a didgeridoo, this made it a quite mesmerising work. It is not only inventive; it aims to help reconcile through it reflecting the great and beautiful vastness of the expansive Mt Kosciuszko area and down to Eden, known as the Bundian Way.

Special guest pianist Alex Raineri. Photo: Dalice Trost

For toy piano and glockenspiel, Musica Battuta (beaten music), by Andrián Pertout, explores mathematical patterns and novel harmonic concepts as part of its construction. The interest in this piece lies in its changing rhythmic patterns. Also, through varying keys, it has a base of notes that forms an envelope of continual change.

A listener is able to pick out notes and patterns that keep reemerging as they rise and fall back to let something new appear. Not only was it innovative, but also entertaining. 

Spectral Malsconcities, by Sarah Hennies, is for percussion, piano and double bass. It’s built on six linked and varied sections constructed to trick people into hearing the music as never completely in sync. It was the longest work of the night, at almost 30 minutes.

While jazz-like, to a degree, and complex and experimental, it also contained a range of fun non-musical tools, like a rubber superball, to extend the capabilities of the percussion instruments. While the repetition did get a bit too much, the extended techniques and tools added to the interest, and it developed enough to keep it stimulating.

Ensemble Offspring always creates something new with every concert. This one highlighted how achieving a state of ecstasy through repetition is also a form of musical enjoyment.

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