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Electric Cello
Carl VINE (b. 1954)

Inner World for cello and sampled cello (1994) [13:03]
Roger SMALLEY (b. 1943)

Echo II for cello and two digital delays (1978) [9:18]
Martin WESLEY-SMITH (b. 1945)

Welcome to the Hotel Turismo for cello and CD (2000) [13:00]
Andrew FORD (b. 1957)
Memorial for solo cello with digital delay (1994) [10:22]
Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)

Onomatopoeia for solo cello and delay (1984) [9:11]
David Pereira (cello)
Christo Curtis (sound engineer)
Rec. May-June 2005, Tapitallee West Studio, Kangaroo Valley
TALL POPPIES TP180 [54:04]

This CD is a rich treasure-trove of new and not-so new work for cello and electronics. Only one of the pieces here uses sounds other than David Pereira’s cello as a source for the electronics, but the character and diversity of the pieces always kept me involved, and sometimes left me jaw-droppingly impressed.

Carl Vine’s Inner World is a very good opening track. The electronic sounds which accompany the solo part are, according to the composer, entirely derived from Pereira’s cello. This is sometimes clearly apparent; at other times the sounds have been treated so far beyond the cello sound as to be unrecognisable as such. This is not a criticism – in fact, the only disadvantage of this is that the session from which the samples have been taken seem to lack some of the refinement of the performed recording. Pereira’s cello answers itself like a violin, a plucked harp, like explosive drums, like birds, laughing Hyenas or burning trees. This is a remarkable soundtrack, with some beautifully expressive cello lines threading themselves between the effects, leading up to a rhythmic and ecstatic finale.

Roger Smalley’s Echo II turns the solo part in three cellos playing in canon, with delays at 2.5 and 5 seconds. The first echo is placed soundstage left, the other to the right, and the solo part in the centre. This placing clarifies the counterpoint, and the clarity of David Pereira’s playing further heightens the effectiveness of this piece. The fact however remains that its concept is based on the use of antiquated electronics; and the essential predictability of this treatment on the cello line makes it a little grey and old-fashioned sounding by comparison with some of the more recent pieces.

Martin Wesley-Smith is only a year or two younger than Smalley, but, 22 years after the previous work Welcome to the Hotel Turismo is a case in point. This is the one piece on this CD with an electronic backing track which has been manufactured from sounds other than the cello, and right from the start we get ‘Timor’, the location of this now derelict hotel, sung over the sound of vandals’ stones crashing through glass. The title is then wryly and dryly sung and pronounced over a Conlon Nancarrow-like bar piano and cello Tango, ‘although we’re always full, we will make you comfortable…’ and you just know you’re in for a good time. Wesley-Smith’s notes on this piece set the scene admirably, and our imaginations are set alight by the music as if we were reading an old colonial story by Grahame Greene. There’s a little of David Jaffe’s ‘Silicon Valley Breakdown’ world in this for me, in the sense of humour, but also in the swift and unexpected, but ultimately always logical and structured twists and turns. The cello joins Nancarrow’s bar piano in some wonderful nostalgic wallowing (I spotted at least one quote – is that ‘Feelings’?), and time and place breathe over us like a sepia picture in sound – all ticking clocks, newsreel chanting and strange, echoing voices, gunshots, a crowing cockerel. This piece goes to show how it is possible to create an effective concrète tape accompaniment to a live instrument. There are enough musical clues and cues to integrate the cello part, and plenty of emotional movement – from surrealist cartoon soundtrack humour, through sheer good music, political statement and tragic irony – I love it.

Andrew Ford’s Memorial refers to the handing back of ‘Uluru’ (Ayers Rock) to its traditional guardians (the booklet says ‘owners’, but that’s another debate). Ford wrestled with his reluctance to engage with Aboriginal culture, but ultimately, seeing Uluru’s physical presence as a kind of memorial, almost a cenotaph in the middle of Australia, expressed this partly as a lament, partly as a celebration of the strength and endurance of the Aboriginal people. The cello is treated with a delay which in fact makes it sound as if it is placed in a vast acoustic. The echoes come to us as if from the inside of caverns measureless to man, and to me very movingly express the loneliness and incredible hugeness of the Australian outback.

Onomatopoeia by Nigel Westlake was originally written for bass clarinet and delay, and was adapted for cello with the assistance of David Pereira. This is not ‘just another delay piece’ as I was fearing. It uses the digital delay not only for repeating the cello line, but for holding musical moments in repeated ostinati – a little like Terry Riley’s early work, and with some similar sunshine harmonies to complete the comparison. The improvisatory nature of the music works well over the rhythmic soundbed of these delay patterns, and provide a fitting conclusion to this marvellous disc.

The freshness and energy of this production leap at you from your loudspeakers. While not all the composers are Australian, to me the whole thing exudes Australianness, providing a sizeable window into the musical potential there. I had my own little musical performing tour of that land a year or so ago, and the impressions I gained then have been reinforced by this disc. If you will excuse me quoting from one of my own stories: "The greens are greener, the skies seem blue beyond blueness, and at night the moon and stars appear watchful and friendly, as if they sense a hope for the future which the northern hemisphere has already wasted." You want a little bit of that in your own home, surely?

Dominy Clements

 

 



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