Cat HOPE (b. 1966)
Miss Fortune X for AM radio, viola, cello, piano and cymbals (2012) [7:07]
Cruel and Usual, for string quartet, live electronics and four bass amplifiers (2011) [8:03]
Broken Approach, for bass drum kit, AM radios and wind-up mechanisms (2014) [12:02]
Dynamic Architecture 1, for solo double bass and electronics (2015) [21:36]
Sogno 102, for bass clarinet, bass flute, viola, cello, piano and live electronics (2013) [7:02]
Miss Fortune X, Sogno 102: Decibel
Cruel and Usual: Zachary Johnston (violin), Lizzy Welsh (violin), Phoebe Grey (viola), Judith Hamman (cello), Samuel Dunscombe (electronics)
Broken Approach: Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion soloist)
Dynamic Architecture 1: Mark Cauvin (bass soloist)
rec. 2014-15 Soundfield Studio; 2011 North Melbourne Town Hall (Cruel and Usual)
HAT[Now]ART 200 [55:53]
I must admit that the name, never mind the music of Cat Hope is new to me, also that my twenty year old son described part of it as the sound of a dying orchestra, but his concept of classical music was somewhat spoiled by an unimaginative Music GCSE syllabus. She is an Australian composer, musician and academic and one of the leading lights of the Australian contemporary music scene. She is a kind of conceptual artist, but one working in sound rather than the visual arts, who is probably best known for her noise installations and as a performance artist, having been part of or co-founded various ensembles specialising in the performance of her music and that of other contemporary composers, indeed she performs the flute part on Sogno 102 on this recording. She is also part of the team that developed the Decibel Score Player, a graphic music player app for the iPad, examples of which can be seen online.
Her music, as represented on this disc, is largely composed for chamber sized ensembles, although the sound she creates is on a larger scale than one would expect from her limited palette, this is mainly due to her innovative use of electronics. For example in the first piece on this disc, Miss Fortune X, which is named after the radio controlled model aeroplane built by her father, Hope employs the white noise or static of an FM radio to produce the sound of the model, whilst the more conventional instruments of the two, the piano and cymbals, are played in an unconventional manner, the strings of the piano being played directly whilst the cymbals are often played by a bow, the resulting sound world being quite mesmerising.
Hope has a fascination with bass sounds and this is illustrated in the next piece, Cruel and Usual, a title referring to the use of solitary confinement in US prisons, pits a string quartet against live electronics that sample and distort the quartet's musical line and play it back at a much lower register through the bass amplifiers, and as a self confessed string quartet addict, who has recordings of works for string quartet and live electronics, I find this piece the most fascinating.
In the next piece, Broken Approach, the FM radio reappears as does the bass register, although this time through a bass drum kit with the juxtaposition of the static and the percussive elements at times being both exciting and interesting, the addition of the wind up alarms giving aspects of finality to the music.
The longest and most recent of the works on this disc is, I think, my favourite; Dynamic Architecture 1 is scored for double bass and electronics. Here the instrument is laid on its back and played with three bows, one of which has had the usual horse hair replaced with a guitar string, whilst the electronics are played by the score player mentioned above through the double bass by placing a transducer under the fingerboard. It opens with long sustained drones which are reminiscent to that achieved by that archetypal of all Australian instruments, the didgeridoo yet with the rich and dark harmonic sonorities and the string instrument. This piece is over twenty minutes long but never overstays its welcome.
The final work on this disc, Sogno 102, a kind of homage to the twentieth century Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, the instrumentalists, including the composer on bass flute, are sampled in real time and played back to once again distort and enhance the sound, I admit to this being the piece my son heard and did not like, although he had sat there and listened intently to Dynamic Architecture 1, and here we have the point, not all will like this music on this disc, but the way that Cat Hope explores and even develops totally new and exciting sound worlds is the value of this disc.
This is an enjoyable disc of music which is both challenging and enthralling, one which is not just an academic experiment, but one that offers the listener something new. The performances are all excellent, as are the notes by Christopher Fox and Cat Hope who writes short introductions to each piece. This is an ideal introduction to the music and philosophy of one of Australian leading contemporary musicians and performers.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf