York Theatre, January 13
Disruption! The title – already sounding like an explosive triplet – refers to the fire, plague, despots, social upheaval and climate change buffeting 2020, but it could also refer to the drums’ disruptive power, musically. What other instrument boasts such dynamic range and rhythmic impetus, or can tear such rents in the sonic fabric?
Despite the brilliance of drummers across a host of traditions, unaccompanied percussion remains off most people’s playlists. But that hasn’t stopped two of Australia’s finest practitioners, Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, releasing albums of exactly that. Barker is already a major innovator on the world stage, and Kim, a generation younger, is rapidly becoming so distinctive as to be an innovator in her own right.
Composer Jeremy Rose, having absorbed their solo work, conceived of a suite in which a sextet version of his Earshift Orchestra would frame the music of the two drummers. Given the extreme rhythmic complexity of some of their work, Rose deployed a host of compositional tools to avoid corralling Barker and Kim into spaces that might hamper their creativity. Sometimes the input of his own tenor saxophone or bass clarinet, Tom Avgenicos’s trumpet, Hilary Geddes’s guitar, Novak Manojlovic’s keyboards, Ben Carey’s modular synthesiser and Jacques Emery’s bass was as restrained as the underscoring of a play. Elsewhere the focus fell on a non-drumming improviser, and while all excelled, Rose’s bass clarinet and Geddes’s guitar enjoyed especially gripping moments in the foreground.
But the point was for the drums to rule, and rule they did. The days when Kim emulated Barker too closely are long gone, with their main commonalities now being breadth of palette and sense of drama. Baker saved his most primal statements for the finale, and these – as potent as they were – may, like other interludes, have had yet more impact with even less “framing”, and with greater clarity of sound out front.
Accompanying videos, although well-conceived, were ultimately distracting, and necessitated low stage lighting, when watching Barker and Kim more clearly would have been ample visual stimulation.