Lyle Chan has a story to be heard. As an activist at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Australia, he was part of the grass roots movement campaigning for the needs of the suffering, in a time when rampant stigma surrounded the disease. Chan’s story is told through a multi-movement string quartet, performed with skill by the Acacia Quartet, who are gaining a reputation for classy performances of new Australian music.
Chan draws on a stockpile of genres, from classical to jazz, creating a language where nothing is out of bounds. He explains his cherry picking: “I never know what musical style will come onto the page when I compose… I’ve learned to allow all authentic voices out, to not judge anything that wants to be articulated.”
His music conjures up the agitated period. A pursuit dominated by disjointed rhythms and police whistles depicts a small group of activists with a very large, but then illegal, purpose. The feeling of injustice is heightened in movements like Dextran Man, where a nervous rain dance tells of thousands calling out for medical aid when there was so little.
Genuine grief is balanced by a cute sentimentality, and there are touches of humour, in movements like Tony-ony Maxaroni, a loving portrait of a fellow activist from Sydney known for his creatively staged public protests. This is affecting music and a unique and powerful means of relating this terrible history.