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William BARTON (b.1981)
Birdsong at Dusk [11:34]
Improvisation [4:23]
Petrichore [11:52]
7/8 Not Too Late [3:33]
Dreamtime Duet [2:32]
Didge Fusion [7:36]
William Barton (didgeridoo, vocals and guitar)
Kurilpa String Quartet; Delmae Barton (vocals); John Rodgers (violin)
rec. 25 August 2013, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Studio 420, Brisbane Southbank.
ABC CLASSICS 4810962 [41:57]

The name William Barton is by no means unfamiliar, having appeared as soloist in Sean O’Boyle’s River Symphony (review), and with ABC Classics also having released titles such as Kalkadungu (review) as well as in his work with composer Peter Sculthorpe.

The sounds of this album balance the didgeridoo as an equal partner with the other instruments. With plenty of distinctive singing and expressive string quartet writing this is not only a remarkable meeting of cultural sonorities but also a deeply personal statement. You might expect to hear birdsong in the opening title Birdsong at Dusk, but this is more like an extended aria or adagio, the final three minutes or so picking us and the quartet up and taking us aloft with driving didgeridoo rhythm.

Improvisation has perhaps more to do with sounds in nature, open fifth strings in the cello suggesting a wide horizon and a violin exploring twittering in the undergrowth, while the second half grows over that dancing pulse which would seem ideal for ruminative dancing. Petrichore is string quartet-led, with the didgeridoo adding percussive and conversational effects. The combination of these instrumental worlds works surprisingly well, though it is Barton's individualistic way with one of Western music’s cultural icons which brings them together. Barton’s statement on this is revealing, as he sees these qualities not as contrasts but as an opportunity to express “songlines of a universal kind ... A canvas of cultural identity which is retouched with everyone’s own unique story, perception and interpretation of life.” The unity of strings and didgeridoo becomes almost as natural as that with clarinet or any other wind instrument, bearing in mind that the didgeridoo speaks in a language other than the more familiar notes on a stave.

7/8 Not Too Late is for didgeridoo alone, William Barton exploring the insides of his instrument with a remarkably complex range of tones and multiphonics. He creates original music within the wide technical possibilities of this apparently simple tube, at times with a witty touch, ‘check this out ...’, and with no need for special effects or electronic fudge. The opening of Dreamtime Duet could be something like a feedback guitar, but circular breathing generates a bed of sound over which Delmae Barton’s vocals rise with a feeling of expressive defiance. The final track, Didge Fusion, has violinist John Rodgers interacting with William Barton playing guitar as well as singing and playing the didgeridoo in concert - yet another colour in this already kaleidoscopic set.

This is the work of a musician who listens, both in terms of magical performances in the most sensitive of chamber music settings, but also in absorbing inspiration when composing. Barton’s description of the place in which this music saw its origins says much about its content, “overlooking the inlet on a low tide, the sun drifting to meet the sky, I listened to the birdsong at dusk.”

Dominy Clements