Raphael Solarsh

New graduates showcase a diverse and interesting suite of new compositions for this Astra concert series.

Astra choir. 

To talk about the composition of electronic music is to invite confused stare of many an orthodox musician. ‘Compose?’ they ask, ‘How is manipulating and repeating the music of other through a computer, composing?’ But to describe electronic music like this says two things: One, that you haven’t listen to any electronic music of worth and two, that you misunderstand what it means to make. Very few composers, regardless of genre, have not taken inspiration from others. People are borrowing, adapting and re-inventing all the time in the service of creating new pieces of art be they made out of sounds, words or images.

Instruments aren’t just violins and pianos anymore, drums aren’t just made of drum heads and shells. Electronic music, synths and sampling allows the right composer to take the sounds of street or the home and bring them inside the concert hall or make into sound things that don’t align with notes and scales. Take Jeffery Dunn’s opening piece from …Now…: Phasic Pain. He uses an electroencephalograph (a device to monitor electrical activity in the brain) to control a granular synthesizer (a device that stretches tiny components of a sound into the scale of ordinary hearing) programed to change the pitch and tempo of his pre-arranged piece in response to changes in mental and physical activity. You can literally hear the interplay of thought and movement in a person wandering around a room to create a musical experience that is as much about the sounds themselves as the experience, an experience that could not be created with the rigid tools of ordinary composition.

Those who scoff at concept-heavy music need to understand that what is being created is something qualitatively different to an orchestra playing Brahms. It invites questions about how we experience the ‘ordinary’ and disrupts the ‘normal’ thoughts that have been streamlines into the unconscious. Most of all it can trigger unsuspected emotions; powerfully. When it’s done well at least. The margin for error with any concept-heavy art form is much smaller than their more mainstream alternatives.

…Now… has it’s hits and misses. In addition to Jeffery Dunn, Tamara Violet Partridge’s 'Please Hold', Dylan Imeneo’s 'Moving In' and Nick Saxton’s 'Black Opal' were standouts. The fact that the pieces were played as recordings rather than live detracted from their engagement but live performance is not always an option. Although not always effectively executed, all showed interesting choices in samples, instrumentation and composition but what set the standouts apart from the rest was a narrative arc and the intangible ability to thread sound with memory that pulled you in without completing the thought it hooked on to.

In 'Once Upon a Past' from Wax Taylor’s Hope and Sorrow album there is a great sample that sums it up: ‘Where a cultural production, at least musically, was full of possibilities by virtue of being able to freely appropriate from the musical past and to make new combinations, and thus, new meanings, that society… free to borrow and built upon a past, is culturally richer than a controlled one.’

 3 1/2 stars out of 5 


Astra Concerts 2017
The Eleventh Hour, Fitzroy
9 September
Works by Elle Kharitou, Michael Macdermid, Sahar Lin, Nick Saxton, Yolanda Dorosz, Jeffrey Dunn, Matthew Paine, David Weaver, Tamara Partridge, Dylan Imeneo
Curation: John McCaughey
Technical Director: Michael Hewes
Concert Manager: Margaret Lloyd
Astra Manager: Gabrielle Baker
Front of House: George Baker-Holland

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at raphaelsolarsh.com and tweets @RS_IndiLit.