Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl usually likes to control his own laptop in concert, but he is so confident in his three young Toronto interpreters that he won’t set foot on stage during the performance.
Essl, who creates and performs live, electronic musical interventions, is handing his laptop and tiny mixing board to Stephanie Chua. She, Elaine Lau and Joseph Ferretti, members of new music collective JunctQin, are set to perform a concert of Essl’s works at the Music Gallery on Friday night.
The highlight of Friday’s concert is the world premiere of a piece commissioned for the event: juncTions for piano (2 players) and live electronics. Chua, Lau and Ferretti, keyboard players all, will also perform pieces for music box, toy piano, kalimba (African thumb piano) and prepared piano — all channeled through laptop.
The real interest in this music comes from the interplay of acoustic and digital. Essl uses computer processing to highlight the invisible (and usually ignored) clouds of vibrations and sympathetic harmonics that provide the colour and depth of the sounds produced by acoustic instruments.
Essl was supposed to be on stage with JuntQin. But, when I popped in to the ArrayMusic studio in Liberty Village last night to get a taste of what’s in store on Friday, the composer (and composition professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna) said he felt proud that a week-long residency in Toronto would leave the legacy of an ensemble that can perform his music without his help.
Using a Macbook Pro laptop loaded with Essl’s keyboard and mixing cues, Chua becomes the master manipulator of what the microphones pick up from the acoustic instruments.
In juncTions, Lau sits at the piano keyboard, occasionally reaching into the instrument to stroke or pluck some strings. Ferretti stands in the piano’s curve, leaning under a raised lid with mallets, a drumstick, a guitarist’s tone bar and, in one instance, a length of nylon fishing line and a block of rosin (the stuff that makes the hair on a string player’s bow sticky).
Yes, there is an abstract, plinky-plonky quality to the resulting sound, but Essl has a knack for finding both shape and movement in the soundscapes he imagines on his handwritten scores.
I have to admit that I frequently get bored by electroacoustic music, but found myself fully absorbed during the two first run-thoughs of juncTions last night.
Seeing the interplay between Chua, Lau and Ferretti was like watching a fine chamber music trio, as they communicated with each other with their eyes.
Chua, who admitted to never having used a laptop in live performance before, agreed that it was just like learning a new instrument.
For more information and tickets for Friday’s performance, click here.
Here is Essl at work four years ago, manipulating the Aria from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, followed by a 60-second clip I took on my iPhone as the members of JunctQin played their commissioned piece all the way through for the very first time: