Contemporary music ensemble Rubiks Collective opened its 2019 season with a focus on technology: how it can “reveal, obscure and transform our perceptions and innermost desires”. Lasting about an hour, this program of five works revealed that while technology permeates our daily lives, it is by no means a panacea, and certain age-old dilemmas remain. These dilemmas about how we relate to the world and each other were explored in a variety of musical expressions, aided by various visual media, some of which were projected onto muslin-like cloths, hung like so many flags in a military hall. 

Rubiks Collective. Photograph supplied

Anna Clyne’s Fits + Starts was commissioned as a dance score and features a solo cello against a prerecorded tape. Gemma Kneale negotiated with great empathy the expansive and technically variegated solo part; underlining the various changes in mood and texture, and interacting well the tape whose manipulated cello, viola and harpsichord utterances ranged from lyrical to disturbing. Accompanying the music were projections of abstract images reminiscent of birds and clouds against a cyclo-blue sky.

Crackles by Neo Hueckler, given its Australian premiere, features three female performers, each in front of a microphone who engage in various choreographed movements; some audible, some not. As the work progresses the performers bring out little hands (think of what lies at the end of a long-handled backscratcher) and begin to caress the microphones. Later, little bells are the source of further titillation. An authoritarian voice eventually intrudes, commanding the performers to do various things, such as smile at the audience. This exploration of the power relationships between creators, technology and audiences is not without humour, and indeed is all the better for it.

Nostalgia and humour mix well together in Julia Wolfe’s East Broadway where a toy piano is pitted against a tape evoking a malfunctioning 1980s ‘boombox’. It is comforting to know that the toy piano remains a virtually indestructible instrument, whether at the hands of toddlers or at the hands of a pro like Jacob Abela, who following the composer’s lead has to treat it vigorously as a loud percussion instrument, while conjuring up a driving rhythmic soundscape bursting with the energy of rock. Meanwhile projections of various spiral shapes aided the nostalgic recollection of old fashioned Spirograph drawing sets and Slinky toys.

Receiving its first performance, Selfless by Bec Plexus and Allison Wright is a work in two parts, based on a recorded Skype conversation between the two composers as they grappled with the intense challenges of their relationship while living on opposite sides of the world. Each speaker’s contribution to the conversation has been separated out – Plexus’ side forms the basis for the first part and Wright’s the basis for the second. 

Each has composed a ‘soundtrack’ for their raw, impassioned outpourings and each part is accompanied by a captioned video of the text, projected on a white box. In the first part the video includes images of a woman in an enclosed space, who eventually sheds her clothes – no doubt images that reflect the difficulties of the creator-speaker. In the second part, projections of oscillating sine waves above the performance space, matching Morse code references in the music partner with the captioned text. 

Both composers utilise the resources of the Rubiks ensemble well, with the able participation of Tamara Kohler on a variety of flutes, Kaylie Melville on percussion and Jacob Abela on ondes martenot and keyboard.

This well attended program with its high musical and technical standards was a passionate reminder that whatever “glitches” may exist between technology and human beings, there is a need for every generation to engage in the cathartic activity of creating and performing music. That Rubiks encourages such intelligent and well-presented music making is to their great credit.