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Australia's enfant terrible of new music: Anthony Pateras!

The Sound Barrier : Blog

The Sound Barrier had been running for scarcely a year when I first interviewed Australian composer, improviser, pianist and electroacoustic musician Anthony Pateras. He was, at the time, back home for just a short break from his life in Berlin and Brussels and it was during that time in Berlin and Brussels that he was working on, amongst other things, the composition that is the main feature on tonight's edition of the show.

That work is Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All, a huge electroacoustic and percussion composition that explores the ways in which rhythms can be layered – both vertically, in the sense of on top of each other, and horizontally, in the sense of spreading across time and space. It takes you on a long sonic expedition, where sounds move around you and over time, and in the end you are not exactly sure where it has taken you, because it is to somewhere you haven't been before, but it is a place that leaves you breathless in a kind of combined awe and fear. The music's ways of working with rhythm build complex colours and densities that are always shifting, and the gradual pace of those shifts, and the subtlety with which the textures move, is underscored by the microtonal curves of the music's pitches. The compositional layer of the music is complemented by the improvisations of electroacoustic artist Jérôme Noetinger, and is performed on a huge battery of 100 percussion instruments, initially assembled for Pléïades, the 1978 work for percussion sextet by Iannes Xenakis, which has just been recorded by the performers on this recording also, Synergy Percussion.

Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All in some ways exemplifies what Anthony Pateras is all about: the breaking down of lines everywhere – between composition and improvisation, between musical electronic and acoustic sound, between genres, between the shapes and colours that music has. None of these are ever static in Anthony Pateras's work, but rather they are all places for bouncing off into somewhere else – every idea becomes a reason to generate another idea. Maybe there is something of this in the work's title – beauty does not rely on a memory from the past. It forgets what has gone before. It is always new, always surprising, always creative, and yet still somehow always connected.

Alongside this fluidity in Anthony's music, his inexhaustible challenging of established musical tropes, is his energy. Some of his music can be very quiet, very slow; much of it can be very loud and very fast. But all of it has an unmistakable energy to it, an excitement about the discoveries it is making, so that even when it is soft and hesitant, there's an animated quiver in its voice. It is new music that always feels new, as if you are right there, sharing its moment of discovery.

These are the sorts of things in Anthony Pateras's music that have always startled and fascinated me, ever since I first heard his work years ago in the wild PIVIXKI duo for piano and percussion, which he formed with Max Kohane. There that energy is utterly unbridled, enough to leave you gasping for breath after the first few moments of listening to it, but Anthony's ways of channelling that energy into ever-new directions, with ever-changing collaborations, is just part of his creative restlessness. He always works alongside strong performers, so it means that the results are always strong and unpredictable, always flabbergasting and novel, every time a new collaborative project is established. I've played examples of these many times over the past five years, and a couple of these were revisited on this week's show, such as the organ-like shifts of sonic registers in his dual prepared piano work with Erik Griswold through their 2001 collaborative project Extended Pianos, finally recorded last year on the album Switch on a Dime; and the meditative breaths of clarinet, piano and electronics, picking their way through fragile space, with Anthony Burr on The Long Exhale.

Others are new. I opened the show with one of the most exciting of these, his Prayer for Nil, composed for Australian soprano Jessica Aszodi: a work where all of the sounds are her voice: heard live and electronically manipulated. From its shimmering, ecstatic opening, to its sad, plaintive end, the piece is a remarkable exploration of the human voice, slowly being left alone.

Aside from this piece, soon to be released on Hospital Hill Productions (in a thrilling double-album vinyl release, featuring Jessica in works, in addition to this piece by Anthony Pateras, by Alexander Garsden, James Rushford and Jeanette Little), all of the recordings on tonight's show are released on Anthony's own label, Immediata. That label kicked off just as The Sound Barrier did, in early 2012. Its first release was a 5 CD set, surveying Anthony's works from 2002-2012, and I played the first track of the first CD of that set on tonight's show also: Crystalline composed in 2010 for amplified string quartet. Exploring shifting textures and colours, by grouping the quartet's instruments in different ways throughout the piece, Crystalline gets its name from the notion of compositional ideas 'crystallising' from time to time, in moments of unexpected clarity where the gap between what is imagined, and what is produced, seems to suddenly fall away.

Gaps are what Anthony Pateras is always traversing. The boundaries that music has conventionally created around its genres, around the ways in which it is conceived or made or performed, have traditionally separated musicians from one another, and audiences from one another. When an artist like Anthony Pateras leaps over those gaps, and plunges with one finger in grindcore while another finger is in avant-garde classical, suddenly connections are made that no one ever knew possible – between musical worlds, and between the people who create, live in, and love them.

It seemed, then, a nice place to round off this series of four episodes of The Sound Barrier where I have been celebrating the work of four composers whose work was seminal to the show's origins five years ago: the genre-bending John Zorn; the noise-god Merzbow; the mathematics and magic of Karlheinz Stockhausen; and now, this week, Australia's own enfant terrible of new music, Anthony Pateras, connecting it all across the void of commodified, commercialised, compartmentalised, conventional music.

Remember that you can check out the playlist and audio for the show if you want to listen back to any of the music, or get the details of the recordings.