You know how dreams can have transitions where you seem to step through a portal from one world to another? Phil Treloar’s monumental Primal Communication is like that. Composed for strings (Conservatorium of Tasmania String Orchestra) and improvising quartet (Feeling to Thought: Treloar, percussion; Mark Simmonds, tenor; David Ades, alto; Steve Elphick, bass), it continually astounds with its oneiric sliding between these ensembles. To describe the two as simply being juxtaposed is to miss the inexorable flow of the piece, which is more like a river that passes through wildly differing countryside, but remains the same river.
This live performance was recorded and broadcast by the ABC in 1988, and now finds its first CD release. For this we should rejoice, as it is a pivotal work in combining composition and improvisation, and its compositional sophistication and thorough integration remain light years ahead of much that has been attempted since. Christian Wojtowicz directs the strings in realising their moving and demanding music, while the improvising is equally stunning, notably a jubilant alto solo and an apocalyptic tenor one.
Crowning the album is Treloar’s Directions Changing: a set of variations for Feeling to Thought and Pipeline Contemporary Music Project recorded live in 1989. The latter’s members, including Simone de Haan’s (trombone), Daryl Pratt (percussion) and Michael Kieran Harvey (piano), are hooked into the improvising here, as the core composed material is investigated afresh in each variation, as if seen through a kaleidoscope from a different angle. This, too – with more torrential playing from Simmonds – represents a landmark in the melding of composition and improvisation. A must.