The Sound Lounge, July 21


Cutlan Karp res
Paul Cutlan. Photo: Peter Karp.

One of the wonders of music is its ability to conjure ideas and evoke emotions without the limiting specificity of words. The world premiere of The Eleventh Hour was composer Paul Cutlan’s response to the centenary of the end of World War I. In four movements (plus two interludes), Cutlan’s 35-minute work for string quartet (the Noise), his own bass clarinet and Brett Hirst’s double bass was partly programmatic, partly elegiac and partly philosophical commentary.

Prelude established the work’s demand for improvised contributions from all, including violinists Liisa Pallandi and Lachlan O’Donnell, violist James Eccles and cellist Oliver Miller. The music carried a morning-after mood of the adrenaline having drained away, leaving a combination of devastation and resilience.

An interlude, Portent, led to Intransigence, Conflict, Desolation (a second interlude) and Deliverance. The work’s most striking aspect was not just the sophistication and sometimes labyrinthine density of the harmonic language, but how Cutlan used harmony to make his intellectual and emotional content variously more ambiguous or more lucid.

Preceding this was his string quartet, Merge/Emerge, which, while recorded, had never been aired in concert, and this performance clarified the significant role of improvisation in a work penned for the Noise, and playing to its members’ strengths. Out of mists of harmonic ideas melodic lines loomed into focus, only to retreat once more, with Cutlan notably using dissonance to beautify rather than evoke tension, suspense or violence.

To open the concert Simon Barker played four pieces for solo drum-kit (with some use of electronics and loops) that often incorporated complex rhythmic devices into music that sounded as gloriously naive and inevitable as nursery rhymes. Barker has a deep-rooted sense of how to establish and sustain drama using space, dynamics and texture, but it is his ability to imbue his playing with such tangible emotional substance that truly sets him apart. At one point an almost martial ferocity not only seemed to portend Cutlan’s piece, it led to such hurtling density that one was almost inclined to duck.