Move Records, founded by Martin Wright in 1968, is a rare beast in that Wright has managed to sustain the initial intention of the independent label over a fifty- year period, a unique and extraordinary achievement in an ever-growing multi-conglomerate environment.
Wright’s agenda has always focussed on classical, jazz and experimental art music genres and he boasts a stable of both emerging and highly established musicians. His focus, unlike other independent Australian labels of this ilk, is risky. He facilitates the recording of works by Australian composers in particular, from jazz musicians such as Andrea Keller, Tony Gould and John Sangster to more experimental composers such as Ron Nagorcka, Warren Burt and Ros Bandt, and classical works by other such luminaries as Peter Sculthorpe, Helen Gifford and Margaret Sutherland.
Another strong advocate for Australian music is writer and medical practitioner, Arjun von Caemmerer and it is he who has initiated and supported Move 50, bringing together members of the Move ‘family’, many providing new compositions, some dedications to Wright, for the project. For example, Brendan Colbert’s masterful Sisyphus illuminates the story of the Greek king forced to push a rock up a steep hill for eternity. It is indicative of other compositions by Colbert, which often seem to explore an uncompromising sense of striving. He has collaborated extensively with Michael Kieran Harvey in the performance of his works, as he does here, and in an ABC recording comments that ‘there are really no boundaries when you’re writing for a guy of his abilities’. Those skills certainly get a workout in this intricately structured and moving piece.
Harvey who has also had a long collaboration with Move Records also advocating for Australian composers through his recorded performances of their works and as a fine composer himself, plays many of the pieces on this disc. There is a veritable feast of music across the twenty-four tracks and it is impossible within a review to do justice to them all.
There is, understandably, an underlying theme of time running through many of the compositions. Eve Duncan’s texturally rich From a Star Afar for example, is an imagined view of the earth from a distant star, thousands of years ago, with a perceived change in colour and character at a nearer point in time. Harvey subtly brings out the composer’s interweaving left and right hand melodic motifs, the piece musically exploring the complexities of the relationship between space and time – music, of course, the perfect medium.
Brenton Broadstock’s piano piece, An Endless Ripple also written for this project and performed by Harvey, shares a similar space/time trajectory. The rippling melodic motifs in the right hand gradually spread their reach. They are accompanied in the left hand by an unwavering undercurrent of descending chords. Recurring notes in the right hand have harmonic-like resonance which evokes the feel of sustenance Broadstock seeks. This ‘simple act of caring creates an endless ripple’ as he says, where the dynamic is resolutely contained. It’s beautiful!
Gordon Kerry’s Sonnet After John Keats draws on that poet’s work, ‘On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again’ with all the ambivalence he feels for the arts drawing upon life’s existential dramas as creative fodder, whilst also using their inherent aesthetic to transcend such turmoil. Stefan Cassomenos is the pianist and Merlyn Quaife, the soprano. The interplay created between piano and voice is exquisitely wrought and fittingly reflects the power of the aesthetic to transport one out of life’s perfunctory chaos.
With recordings with Move Records dating back to 1978, Warren Burt has showcased his particular interest in computer generated and sampled sounds. Postlude written for this project, uses samples made on the amazing Fairlight CMI, invented in Australia in 1979. Burt merges one sample into another. He also uses samples of a gamelan, as with other selected sounds here, also recorded in the 1980s. There is a large degree of random selection in the composition relying on a computer program allocating sounds of varying pitch, length and dynamic, their placement controlled by gate switches. Burt demonstrates the changing nature of the way in which we conceive of composition and its authorship. But he also captures the relationship he has developed with Move Records in the use of these historic music samples as he simultaneously allows his own endeavours to evolve with technologies.
Sound artist, Ros Bandt, has a similar relationship with sound, in that the context of sounds is always of great import in her use of them. Aspects of history, or environmental import or sociocultural significance are all considerations in her work. Bandt often works with natural sounds, such as water, or the acoustic inside a wheat silo, or with traditional instruments from ancient civilisations, aware always of the sound-print of these sources. Mystic Morn, performed by Gabriella Smart was written in response to Hans Heysen’s 1904 oil painting of that name and composed on the family’s piano; history made palpable through music and art. The piece has a pentatonic feel with clusters of sustained notes capturing the earthy, awe-inspiring ambience of the painting.
With similar experimental flair, Harvey’s Keen differs markedly from his previous compositions, often highly complex works exploring themes that allow both his astute creative thinking and virtuosic skills to shine. He often develops intricate structures based on the thematic materials with which he composes. Here the pitches stem from the letters B-A-C-H and are finally ‘resolved by a chord incorporating all twelve tones’ as with the subject of Bach’s 24th fugue in the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. But Harvey is interested too in the notes between the notes of the twelve semitones and here he uses the ‘keen’ or wailing sound of the pitch-bending glissandi emitted by plucked piano strings such that there is a reciprocal relationship between these curving pitches and their vibratory source. The ostinato that is created is offset by carefully spaced tones on the keys providing a contrasting but equally important tonal quality and feel. The full and changing colour of each and every sound is allowed its own space and time as the intensity of the piece as a unified whole increases. There is an unsettled sense in this wailing, the slow pacing of the tones and the increasing loudness that is, however, in many ways resolved with the exuberance of the final arpeggio. Fabulous!
Paul Moulatlet’s Dark Star must be mentioned, exploring as it does, the penchant of humans to allow their fear to override their normal sense of decency leading to often regrettable and world-altering decisions. He allows this ‘happenstance’ to occur within this piece written for bass flute and performed by Peter Sheridan, but providing freedom within the score for Sheridan to take his own creative path. There is a haunting sense of searching here, with great poignancy shaped in the openness and depth of tones available on the instrument. Sheridan’s technique and expressiveness are superb.
There is so much more from Andrea Keller, Andrián Pertout, Tony Gould, Linda Kouvaras, Kanako Okamoto, Julian Yu and many others. And Arjun von Caemmerer has created a fitting concrete poetry tribute to Martin Wright and Move incorporating the label’s date of establishment and its marking of fifty years.
This is an important CD celebrating Martin Wright’s collaboration with, and advocacy for remarkable Australian composers, some of whom may not have had such a forum for their work without Move Records.
LISTEN AND VIEW
http://www.move.com.au/disc/move-50 (Highlight URL, click right, click where indicated)
Michael Kieran Harvey: Dancing to the Tremors of Time by Brendan Colbert
John Keats’ On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again
The Fairlight CMI
Bach’s Fugue No. 24 in B Minor, Book 1, Well-Tempered Clavier
Hans Heysen – Mystic Morn