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Musical (re)invention: fugues and formulas on The Sound Barrier!

The Sound Barrier for Sunday 7 May 2017

Newness in music is, like newness in anything, a relative thing. And sometimes newness comes not so much from the notion of doing something no one has ever done before, but rather of reinterpreting, reinventing, what has been done for a long time.

Bach's The Art of Fugue was left incomplete at his death in 1750 but, even so, it is a massive, even archetypal, musical treatise on the nature and possibilities of fugal composition. It has continued to fascinate musicians for now over 250 years: musicians who have sought different ways of approach and performing this huge work. Some of the contemporary interpretations of it have been the most adventurous as they find their own ways of negotiating a truce between a loyalty to the past and a passion for the future.

Melbourne's Inventi Ensemble will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre this Monday night their own unique reinvention of this icon of Western music, and Inventi's Artistic Directors Melissa Doeke and Ben Opie will be joining my on the show this Sunday night to talk about, and perform part of, their version.

Inventi is an ensemble that proudly and creatively straddles new and classical art music and Monday night's concert is going to be a great showcasing of the ways in which they keep even some of classical music's most stapled diet alive and relevant to today.

Along with my chat with Melissa and Ben, I'll be playing you selections of some modern approaches to The Art of Fugue, including from German industrial metal band Laibach, and versions by Peter Westaway's psychedelic rock outfit Westaway Projects and bluegrass trio Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall.

For the second half of the show I will be playing you one of the 20th Century's most impressive and convincing answers to the classical fugue and to its exploration in Bach's composition: Karlheinz Stockhausen's mammoth foray into formula composition, MANTRA for two pianos with ring modulation.

MANTRA, like Bach's The Art of Fugue, takes core musical material, just a few bars long, and explores the ways in which it can work as a genetic code for an entire composition, how the relationships and proportions within it can be shifted and stretched and compressed and inverted so that both diversity and unity are always contained within each other.

It will be an exciting exploration of both the old and the new, of both the now and the ever, in music: showing us how the distinctions between the two is never as clear-cut as we sometimes make them out to be.

I hope you can join me this Sunday night at 10.00 PM (AEST) on Melbourne's 106.7 PBS FM or on PBS Digital radio. You can also listen live from anywhere in the world via the PBS app, or online. The show's audio and playlist will also be archived online shortly after it has gone live to air.

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