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In varietate Concordia

Paul Nolan

In the old -world elegance of Marrickville’s intimate Red Rattler Theatre, saxophonist Peter Farrar and recorder expert Alana Blackburn delivered cutting edge combinations of improvised and structured musical concepts.
In varietate Concordia
The latest New Music Network concert significantly demonstrated options available for contemporary wind composition and performance. In the old -world elegance of Marrickville’s intimate Red Rattler Theatre, saxophonist Peter Farrar and recorder expert Alana Blackburn delivered cutting edge combinations of improvised and structured musical concepts.

Peter Farrar’s interesting alto saxophone set opened the concert. Farrar’s modified instrument with either water bottle or water bottle plus plastic bag down the saxophone bell produced some diverse variations of vibration and timbre. His technical command enabled effortless runs to cascade. When sections of improvisation finally built to ecstatic levels they were the most exciting.

Farrar’s set was at times a disjointed offering, but within it were novel and inspired moments of improvisation. His inventive manipulation of the overtone series was pleasing to witness. Amidst tone colour effects from the plugged wind instrument was impressive puffed-cheek cyclical breathing, enabling Farrar to produce lengthy and creative moments of soundscape.

Likewise was the role of Alana Blackburn. Obviously a fine exponent of music for any recorder, she proved herself as a capable experimenter in contemporary wind technique. In four diverse works she produced an atmospheric collaboration with electronic media.

Her set of four pieces by Australian and European composers were all post-2000, including the world premiere of Anthony Leigh Dunstan’s Tic. Blackburn managed the demanding ‘nervous tic’ choreography and performance art requirements of this conceptual new work. Her musical gestures on the seldom seen sub contra bass recorder blended well with extra musical movements and the electronic echoes of sound material.

Et Døgn (2006-2009) by Steve Adam, and Roderick de Man’s Kage (2000) produced evocative results through the combination of recorder and computer. Et Døgn exploited a range of recorder types and the capabilities of electronic manipulation and imitation, especially to communicate birdsong and other sounds of nature. The influences behind Kage’s fixed recorded material juxtaposed traditional Japanese theatrical noises and freer moments of contemporary recorder techniques. This piece was very satisfying to listen to, with a clear theme to the sound sets. It was always an artistic and satisfying blend of sonic choices.

Perhaps the most progressive work in Blackburn’s set was the _derivations by Ben Carey. The sound technology programme employed enabled the audience to witness recorder and computer communicating with each other in imitation, conversation of fragments and development of ideas. The piece grew before us, and would never be exactly the same twice.

This New Music Network concert introduced its audience yet again to very new developments in musical concept and creation. The substantial programme was satisfying for both wind performance and electronic music fan alike. The electronic sound was well balanced for the venue and with the performer on stage. New musical activity for wind performance in local and international arenas was clearly introduced via the flexible technique of fine players. Some spellbindingly unique or novel sounds reverberated through the Red Rattler throughout the night.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

In varietate Concordia
Presented by the New Music Network
Peter Farrar (saxophone)
Alana Blackburn (recorders and electronics)
Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville
August 27

For details of the next New Music Network concert, visit

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Paul Nolan is a classically trained pianist. He studied at UNSW and graduated with a Bachelor of Music.