Friday, June 12, 2015

Peter Sculthorpe - The Complete String Quartets with Didjeridu - Del Sol Quartet - Stephen Kent, Didjeridu - Sono Luminus (Dorian) 2014

Now THIS is a release that I was waiting with bated breath for; Peter Sculthorpe has been one of my favorite composers for many years now (I was hooked when I first heard his absolutely mesmerizing String Quartets on the original Tall Poppies discs...there's nothing quite like them) and this double-disc set is simply incredible, as I knew it would be. Truth be told I have only listened to the whole set a couple of times thus far, due to a general lack of (proper) time. Tonight I am happily remedying this, an event all it's own really :) I have always been fascinated by the Didjeridu (or Didjeridoo), and my first introduction to or "experience" with it's otherworldly deep, mysterious burbling was from an EP released in 1992 on the seminal electronic label Warp Records, by the brilliant composer and electronic musician known as Aphex Twin (Richard D James), among many other aliases. The first of the four tracks is entitled "Didjeridoo" and it's still entrancing and ahead of it's time today. Ironically, this now classic slice of relentless breakbeat/techno actually RE-produced, or rather replicated the sounds of the aboriginal instrument using a Roland TB-303 Rack-synth Bassline-pure madness and genius at the same time. That was my first outing. Later on, Aphex Twin performed the piece with actual didjeridu players. Incidentally, some of Aphex Twin's purely electronic music has been performed by the New York Philharmonic among others in transcriptions made by the man himself. Ok I know I'm getting off track here, but trust me even the mildly adventurous should get familiar with some of his work. Likely I will offer said-future-familiarity for everyone here at some point, so I will shut up now while the shuttin's good. Onwards...

Though respectful gestures to Indigenous Australian musical idioms are a defining element of his output, the issue of direct cultural appropriation of Indigenous musical materials by non-Indigenous composers like Sculthorpe can be a vexed issue. Although the Kronos Quartet had approached him in 1992 (I'm wondering for the first time just now whether or not Kronos had heard the Aphex Twin track, of that same year..) suggesting the idea of scoring a work for string quartet and didjeridu, he almost certainly never would have considered adding an actual Indigenous instrument to his scores, were it not that, in 2001 a young Indigenous musician asked him to. That year, William Barton, a 20-year-old didjeridu player belonging to the traditional Kalkadunga people of Queensland, gave the first public performance of the version of the String Quartet No. 12 recorded here-the first time any Sculthorpe work was heard with added didjeridu. Later that year, Barton gave the first performances of Sculthorpe orchestral works with added didjeridu, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and its then chief conductor, the young American Michael Christie, followed in 2003 by a disc of recordings. In 2004, Sculthorpe actually composed a part for Barton and the didjeridu in a major new original work, the "Requiem for Chorus, Didjeridu and Orchestra". Fittingly, this work was also a high-point in Sculthorpe's dedicated and ongoing personal attempt at a reconciliation of Australian Indigenous and settler cultures (and people), although Sculthorpe was careful to point out at the time that "reconciliation" was not his preferred word, "since we were never 'conciled' in the first place!". Since then, when commissioned to compose several new works without didjeridu, Sculthorpe has factored in the instrument's later addition, as in the String Quartet No. 16 (2006) and String Quartet No. 18 (2010) recorded here..

The didjeridu is Indigenous to the far north of Australia, where archaeological evidence suggests it has been used for at least 1000 years. Essentially it is a large wooden drone pipe, made out of termite-hollowed branches of large eucalyptus trees, most commonly 3 to 5 feet long. The outer and inner surfaces are further cut away until the tube is thin and produces a "light sounding" drone, which is then varied by being overblown. According to Indigenous tradition, the instrument dates from the creation "Dreamtime" . The Yolngu people call it 'yidaki', a name popularized by the Yolngu rock band "Yothu Yindi". The name didjeridu (also didjerry), though it sounds Indigenous-actually is probably an onomatopoetic settler invention, first recorded in print in the 1920s. 

Sculthorpe's added parts for didjeridu typically require two or more instruments, each with a fundamental drone of a fixed pitch. Where the didjeridu plays with the strings, the parts are precisely coordinated. However, apart from drone notes, it would be impractical, if not impossible to notate many of the more complex overblown didjeridu sounds conventionally. Many of these, derived from from traditional practice, are imitations of natural sounds (animal growls, bird calls) or dance movements (kangaroo hop). Some of these characteristic sounds Sculthorpe cues verbally, to be added especially between sections or movements of the string-quartet originals.       

Enjoy new sounds! 




Anonymous said...

Suuuuuuuuuuper gracias por estas joyas inéditas para arcos y cantos de wombats,estimado Tzadik,siempre es un deleite sublime visitar tu blog,abrazo sinfónico de Tapirman!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I like Sculthorpe and probably have just about everything that was released on CDs. I happen to have this as well, and it is a very nice record. And I was looking forward to this record as well. So thanks for sharing this on your blog!


Anonymous said...
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Scraps said...

I was just listening in the last two days to Sculthorpe's SQ 10 & 11.

Tzadik said...

Oh yes those are some of his finest quartets I think Scraps!


Anonymous said...

Hi. Thank you for this, i enjoy the album, specially the first one. Remind me a bit of Bartok (on the darker side) and Martinu (on the mellower). But i think it would had been great to hear didjeridoo playing a more important role, other than to bring harmonic spice, atmospheric accompaniment or pintoresque finale gestures.

Excuse my bad english. Greetings from Mexico.

Tzadik said...

Hola Emmanuel. Thank you for commenting-and btw your english is just fine!
The didjeridoo gets quite a bit of 'spotlight' here, in my opinion anyhow-there are
solo didjeridoo recordings out there, as well as with mixed instruments; maybe you
would enjoy those even more....