Left: Damien Ricketson and Thomas Talmacs (2004); Right: Lamorna Nightingale, Jason Noble, Claire Edwardes and James Cuddeford performing Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip (2011)

Ensemble Offspring first performed the monumental Talea by French composer Gérard Grisey in a concert called ‘Spectral Guises’ at the Paddington Uniting Church in 2002. The work featured again as part of our ‘Thirteen Colours’ tour to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide (2009/2010) and again in the ISCM World New Music Days (2010). Talea once again takes centre-stage in our upcoming tour to the Shanghai New Music Week (September) and is part of the ‘RETRO’ half of our birthday event FUTURE RETRO (October 25). The work is as close as EO gets to having a golden oldie. Why do we keep coming back to it? Because it’s simply some of the most exhilarating, engaging and virtuosic chamber music we’ve ever played.

Gerard Grisey, together with French compatriot Tristan Murail, are often cited as father figures of ‘Spectral music’: a school of composition that focuses on timbre as its primary generative element. Both composers have featured repeatedly in our programming including Murail’s Treize couleurs du soleil couchant and Garrigue as well as Grisey’s 40-minute masterpiece Vortex Temporum (which we actually wanted to program for RETRO, but couldn’t fit it in to our limited time frame).

Thirteen Colours 2009, performed at Sydney Conservatorium
Watch video Thirteen Colours of the Setting Sun (Part 2)

Ensemble Offspring does its best to keep abreast of interesting developments around the world and is proud to have brought a lot of international repertoire to Australian ears for the very first time. Although precise definitions of Spectralism and music that identifies with the term are somewhat elusive, the movement has undoubtedly been one of the most influential trends in classical music in recent decades and can be felt in many of the colourful works we’ve performed over the years. Other Australian premieres that have been highlights for me include: Claude Vivier’s Bouchara, a lush work characterised by rich microtonal harmonies derived from the technique of ring modulation; the entire Professor Bad Trip ‘lessons’ of Fausto Romitelli, an astonishing work that manages to capture the timbres of psychedelic rock without being derivative of it; Kaija Saariaho’s Cendres, which we performed only a couple of years after its world premiere; and Horatiu Radulescu’s wondrously detuned 5th String Quartet way back in 1996.

Spectral composition techniques can also be felt in the many Australian works we’ve commissioned. My former teacher, the recently deceased Bozidar Kos, was onto Spectralism as early as the 1980s, and the microtonal harmonic language of Michael Smetanin is also influenced by the movement, as can be heard in the work he wrote for us back in 2010, Swell.

Analyses of sound spectra and the application of this acoustic knowledge in deriving compositional strategies has fast become just one of the suite of techniques available to young composers today. Both our Hatchling composers display such knowledge and apply it to very different aesthetics in their new works for the FUTURE half of our 20th birthday celebration: colourful sculpted chamber sonorities in the case of Samuel Smith and, well, the overtones of a fluoro light bulb in the case of Dan Thorpe.

—Damien Ricketson

Review of Spectral Guises. Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2002. (pdf)

Conductor Roland Peelman, performed at Carriageworks 2011, Video Artist Sean Bacon

Other videos
Watch video Tristan Murail, Garrigue, performed at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House as part of Silva 2012

Watch video Bozidar Kos, Fatamorgana, performed at the Sydney Conservatorium, Music Workshop as part of Thirteen Colours 2009