Slipping quietly into the final section of a rehearsal, Sydney Con students enjoyed an exclusive up-close view of preparations for A Clockwork Orange and Beyond, a concert of some of the most audacious electronic music written for the big screen.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, led by Richard Tognetti, was working with Will Gregory (of UK chart-toppers Goldfrapp) and his Moog Ensemble, to bring Wendy Carlos’s ground-breaking score for the still controversial 1971 film A Clockwork Orange to life.
A Clockwork Orange uses popular classical pieces by composers as diverse as Henry Purcell, Gioachino Rossini and Ludwig van Beethoven to soundtrack now-iconic film sequences. These were famously arranged using synthesizers by Wendy Carlos, imbuing them with a sinister playfulness that perfectly underscores the journey of the film’s protagonist Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell).
The students enrolled in Live Electronic Music Performance watched the rehearsal and then talked with musicians Will Gregory (who plays Moog Minimoog Model D) and Simon Haram (Moog Subsequent 37) about their work in what quickly became an informal masterclass at the ACO Nielson theatre in Walsh Bay.
Nick Astill (Digital Music and Media, 4th year) said it was a joy to see professional musicians rehearsing. “As a music student, part of that joy is seeing and understanding how music and people interact outside of the classroom. Seeing ideas in action that would be hard to organise yourself fuels the mind.”
He said watching the interplay between synthesised elements and more traditional acoustic counterparts was especially enlightening.
“Hearing the practicalities of the sounds mixing, and seeing the technical set up of the synth gear in a well-crafted space isn't something you get to experience often, especially in conjunction with professionals who know what they are doing; all fantastic examples to draw upon,” said Nick, who also plays piano and does orchestral and ensemble writing.
“Talking to the musicians afterwards was great because we gleaned a more in-depth technical understanding, but more importantly, an understanding of their philosophy and approach to performance.”
Finn Berryman (Contemporary Music Practice, 3rd year) said the most fascinating aspect of chatting with the musicians after the performance was “seeing their quite independent signal chains”.
“Each performer had one or two synthesisers, either monophonic or polyphonic control, and a variety of pedal effects, such as delay, reverb and flanger,” said Finn, who plays saxophone and is interested in ambient music-making.
Finn enjoyed musician Simon Haram demonstrating the many controls on an EWI wind synthesizer that can evolve and express a single note on the Moog. “Simon also highlighted the difficulty in using the EWI as a MIDI controller, as the device controls the volume of the sound, as well as expression, meaning it has to be switched off when performing with the keyboard,” Finn said.
Finn added the sound of the space was particularly interesting. “Having most of the synthesised sound coming through amplifiers onstage, providing positioning of all sound elements within the space, whilst marrying the eclectic live performance of synthesisers alongside strings.”
For Thnvir Gill (Composition, 4th year), a guitarist who writes electroacoustic music and jazz, seeing a compositional concept come to life in a performance was “inspiring”.
“It’s always a difficult process, especially when unique instruments or techniques are involved,” Gill said. “The Moogs used have a specific set of restrictions such as being monophonic or requiring tone to be altered one parameter at a time. It was fascinating to see how the composition accounted for that, leveraging the strengths of the instruments while rendering these restrictions unnoticeable.”
Gill said it was interesting to hear about the reasons why those pieces were chosen. “The famous moments in synth history were being paid homage to, and the philosophical intent of inserting synthesisers into an otherwise entirely acoustic setting.”
Dr Benjamin Carey teaches Live Electronic Music Performance, which is devoted to preparing students to present electronic music of various types onto the concert stage. In the class students learn about live looping and sampling, performing with synthesisers, and many other aspects of this unique and relevant 21st century performance practice. The class incorporates students from many creative degree streams at the Con, including Composition, Digital Music and Media, Contemporary Music Practice and Composition for Creative Industries.
“It was great to bring Nick, Thnvir and Finn from this class to watch this unique open rehearsal, and to meet the musicians,” said Dr Carey. “Wendy Carlos and her work with the Moog had a pivotal influence on electronic music, and to see her legacy celebrated on stage, with these synthesisers blended into a chamber orchestra and played so expressively, was impressive!”
“We had some great chats afterwards about the relationship between synthesisers and acoustic instruments, their presentation on stage, and other aspects of this performance practice. A great learning experience for all.”