Nicole Lizée, from Montreal, has the world of classical music buzzing and in a relatively short career has already been commissioned San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, BBC Proms and twice by the Kronos Quartet.
Lizée fearlessly treads where most classical composers are reluctant to tread bringing pop music, MTV videos, turntablism, rave culture, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and 1960s psychedelia into the realm of classical music. Famously her piece for the revered Kronos Quartet, Death to Komische, has the players playing electronic devices and tiny ‘Stylophone’ toy instruments.
Lizée performed for first time in Australia with one of the most acclaimed contemporary ensembles Australia has produced, the Australian Art Orchestra, which commissioned a brand new work, 8-Bit Urbex, that pays homage to the way cities are represented in 1980s video games. The piece features a video component that put the audience back in front of the Atari 7800 and early Nintendo games while the Orchestra creates a nostalgic yet strikingly contemporary soundscape using traditional and electronic instruments along with turntables, old tape machines, and various Foley elements.
The program, Hymns to Pareidolia, also featured another video work that showcases Lizée’s utterly unique approach. Karappo Okesutura is based on the idea of a karaoke performance that goes wrong because of a glitching karaoke player. The singer (Gian Slater) holds on for dear life and manages to stay on a wild ride that mashes pop songs such as The Bangles’, Eternal Flame, Endless Love, and Devo’s, Whip It. This is fun but it’s also serious music that tackles the most unlikely themes with true deftness of touch.
This festival opening concert also premiered a newly commissioned piece by daring Australian composer, trumpeter and AAO artistic director, Peter Knight. Knight’s work, Diomira, creates a perfect foil for Lizée with a hypnotic minimal work that refracts and disintegrates as we listen. The instrumentation of the chamber jazz orchestra is expanded with the unexpected additions of turntables, a reel-to-reel tape machine (which replaces the drum kit) and laptop computer. The sounds of acoustic instruments and voices are interwoven with field recordings, and are filtered and augmented as Knight plays with our perceptions of what we hear and what we imagine we have heard.