by Urszula Dawkins
‘Music for strings’ is one of the most familiar and established Western compositional forms around. But it’s also one of the most versatile, according to the creators of Metapraxis: a form in which familiar instruments can create sound worlds that are utterly new. Metapraxis is an exciting program of rarely performed and recent compositions, presented by members of local string quartet, Atticus along with legendary Australian composer Jon Rose and a bevy of special guests.
Urszula Dawkins spoke with Atticus members and Metapraxis co-producers Lizzy Welsh and Judith Hamann, about an immersive experience on a scale not often seen in Melbourne – one that will impact its audience sonically, physically and visually.
At the heart of Metapraxis is 20th-century Greek composer Jani Christou’s Praxis for 12, written in the 1960s and never performed in Australia. Atticus have long wanted to present it, says Lizzy Welsh. “It is such a large-scale work requiring collaboration amongst 12 musicians with a particular interest in avant-garde music. Melbourne is an ideal place for such musicians to congregate and produce this work.”
Christou’s writings, as well as his music, have inspired the concert. A philosopher and mystic well versed in psychology, anthropology and physics – as well as a composer – Christou emphasised the importance of new art as a transformative action, challenging conventions in order to provoke growth from one artistic era to the next. The concept of a ‘metapraxis’ was based on Christou’s idea of music as a transformative experience, says Judith Hamann. She explains a metapraxis as “an action which transcends logic” – one that sees music “as theatre, as ritual, as myth”.
Metapraxis is not limited to sound alone, says Hamann: “[Christou’s] work includes movement, stage directions and actions that fall outside the realm of what would usually be part of a chamber music performance, including the space, actions and voices of the musicians in one cohesive whole.”
The idea of Metapraxis was to program Christou’s work and explore this particular idea in a concert that allows the audience to experience new music in an informed and especially vibrant way. Praxis for 12, says Lizzy Welsh, is “aurally and visually explosive”.
Welsh and Hamann are equally excited about programming some of the “innovators and provocateurs of our own time and place” – including the iconic Jon Rose, one of Australia’s greatest innovators in string repertoire. Rose will lead the string section for Praxis for 12, as well as presenting a new work for the concert.
Judith Hamann explains Rose’s involvement with the project:
“I’ve worked with Jon Rose before in his Un-Australian string quartet and have always been fascinated by his work and his process… Large forces of strings engaged in making new music isn’t something that happens that often, and I thought this might be a great opportunity to expand on the compositional practice he uses for strings.”
“Jon is one of Australia’s most significant innovators, not only in terms of the violin but in regard to composition, improvisation, instrument building, and also drawing our attention constantly to our musical heritage as Australians, in terms of both Indigenous and post-colonial sonic cultures. He has been involved in shaping our interpretation of the Christou score and also in developing [his new work Strings and Fences II].”
Strings and Fences II is based on Rose’s previous work of the same name; employing similar ideas in a new work for video and amplified string octet.
“Jon’s work can be viewed as engaging with the ideas of Christou in terms of taking an object that is immersed in the everyday – the thousands of kilometres of fences that stretch across the vast expanses of the Australian outback – and turning it into a sound source, a musical tool that is at once vibrantly new in its timbral qualities, yet quintessentially Australian.”
Metapraxis will also include string works by Cat Hope and Antony Pateras. Hope’s Cruel and Usual explores the theme of solitary confinement, isolating individual players and reinventing the ‘string quartet’ via four bass amps, electronic processing, and the anarchic and volatile sound of bass frequencies. Pateras’s Crystalline, also a ‘string quartet’, takes a wild approach to the classical genre, at times pitting one instrument against three, or dividing the quartet into duos while creating ever-more-complex pitch relationships.
Jani Christou described metapraxis as a destabilising, implosive gesture, pushing against the norms and against the implied logic of an art form. For a musician it’s a form of exposure, says Lizzy Welsh, “but we see it as our job as artists to strive to produce better and interesting art…this is only possible through experimentation.”
More than a new music concert or an experience in sound, Metapraxis, says Welsh, is ‘sonic theatre’. She explains:
“Sonic theatre can be described as the combination of sonic and visual performance. Metapraxis is a good way for an audience to experience new music for the first time, as it’s visually as well as aurally stimulating. It opens the gateway for collaboration across art forms.”
Metapraxis also opens a gateway from past to present, bringing the familiar and the unexpected together in one place:
“New music isn’t a great unknowable thing,” says Judith Hamann. “It’s important to engage with the artists and musicians who are living and creating today, as much as honouring our past musical heritage. Come with open ears and enjoy the sound worlds and experiences.”
JON ROSE, ATTICUS & GUESTS
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Thu 19 – Sat 21 July 2012
(03) 9322 3713