★★★★☆ Melbourne new music collective serves double the thrills in their first action-packed concert of 2017.

Church of All Nations, Melbourne
February 5, 2017

With a fast-growing reputation in Melbourne and among Australian new-music circles, Rubiks Collective opened their 2017 series last Sunday with a concert inspired by the personality’s darker side: the second self. Inner evil twins, shadow selves, and private personae were the models for this intense programme, that served as a reminder to look out for friends and loved ones who may be cultivating a second self, and hiding their depression behind a public mask. The musical result of this exploration was a concert surveying some of the most cutting-edge sound imaginations in contemporary music, and none of it written before 2005.

Rubiks cellist Gemma Tomlinson opened the concert with Missy Mazzoli’s psychedelic A Thousand Tongues (2009), joined partway through by special guest mezzo Lotte Betts-Dean. Tomlinson delivered controlled, full melodic lines that were gradually enveloped in a thick, ambient electronic accompaniment. Betts-Dean’s pure, alluring mezzo timbre was a beautiful feature of this sound world, intoning the haunting words of a Stephen Crane poem beginning, “Yes, I have a thousand tongues, And nine and ninety-nine lie”.

Dutch avant-garde composer Jacob TV’s sonic portrait of Marilyn Munroe Able to Be shattered the dreaminess of the opening work. In this dark exploration of the Hollywood icon’s inner demons, melodic and rhythmic cells emerged mimicking short sampled audio segments of the screen siren’s speech. The ensemble managed an incredibly tight and dramatic performance of this work, Betts-Dean again shining through her impressive vocal dexterity and precision. At times vocal and instrumental details were swallowed in the electronic mix, but on the whole the work’s variegated timbral palette was well captured.

Pianist with Rubiks Collective Jacob Abela took to the stage next to perform Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s pulsating piano solo with tape, Stainless Staining. Dennehy’s composition sees the traditional identity of the piano transformed through reiterating cells, with sampled piano tones intermingling with the live performance in a kind of ecstatic machine music. Abela’s reading was entrancing for its sheer energy and rawness, as well as the expert handling of the work’s fiendish rhythmic complexity.

David Bird’s schizophrenic nightmare Series Imposture made for highly compelling listening. Featuring Betts-Dean, Rubiks flautist Tamara Kohler and percussionist Kaylie Melville, and guest clarinettist Cameron Smith in a tight, intimate square, the absence of any soundtrack in this work made it a refreshing reprieve from the thick, electronically dominated programme. With the quiet, intricate timbral universe of this buzzing, whirring, hallucinatory score tickling the ears in such a new way, it was always going to be a standout. What made it the piece of the night however was the quartet of musicians, whose impeccably crafted performance was frankly world-class.

Andy Akiho’s NO one To kNOW one made for a high-impact finale. Barging forward with no hint of letting up, Akiho’s work was dominated by a soaring vocal line and feverishly motoric instrumental cells passed like rapid-fire from player to player. Underscoring the sparkling network of melody, Melville with guest Madi Chwasta made sure the pointillist, almost industrial percussion section came out on top in this exhausting but satisfying work.

With this stellar opening programme, Rubiks Collective has made a significant case for it being one of the most exciting ensembles gracing Australia’s contemporary music stage.