HOPE Ephemeral Rivers
Alongside Liza Lim, almost her exact contemporary, composer Cat Hope (b1966) has emerged as one of Australia’s most exciting and individual creative voices. However, whereas Lim has recently moved towards large-scale compositions for extended forces, Perth-based Hope continues to produce small-scale, open‑ended works for chamber-like configurations. Reflecting her ongoing work with the Australian new music ensemble Decibel, which she founded in 2009, Hope has evolved a style that supersedes the notion of genre, drawing together mainstream avant-garde and experimental traditions, acousmatic music and sonic design, noise, found objects and extended improvisation, post-rock and ambient in contexts that often fuse music with film, video and installation.
The five pieces included here were all composed between 2011 and 2015 and represent what Hope herself has described as ‘a nexus of electronic and acoustic instruments, animated notations, drone and noise’. Christopher Fox notes in his excellent introduction that, while all five may fall under the category of chamber music, in every case ‘the sonic resources of acoustic instruments are located within a musical frame that includes other elements’.
These ‘other elements’ are as wide as they can be varied. For example, in the queasy, claustrophobic Cruel and Usual, live electronics create sonic extensions of the instruments themselves: the sounds of a live string quartet are sampled then either distorted or repositioned in much lower registers.
At other times, acoustic sounds are juxtaposed with electronically generated ones. In Miss Fortune X – whose autobiographical title refers to a radio-controlled model airplane built by Hope’s father – a gentle aviationary soundscape is generated by combining glissandos on viola and cello, sustained timbres on percussion, drones produced from playing and strumming inside the piano in addition to sonic colourations of AM radio static. In Hope’s homage to Giacinto Scelsi, Sogno 102, live electronics disturb the music’s acoustic surface.
Hope’s main aim is often to ‘get inside’ the sounds themselves, as heard on the most recent work on display, Dynamic Architecture for scordatura double bass and electronics, whose microscopic scrutiny reveals the instrument’s rich harmonic spectra, all of which suggests that the ephemeral rivers of this remarkable composer run deep indeed.