Electroluminescence @ Lyric’s Underground
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
The electric guitar must surely be the most versatile of instruments, passing easily from pop to jazz, from rock to experimental. Electroluminescence was a mammoth showcase of multimedia works for the electric guitar, curated and performed by Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald, and co-presented by Tura New Music and Fringe Festival. The scene was set from the beginning for this special event, as Fitzgerald stood alone in darkness onstage at Lyric’s Underground, surrounded by a sea of hardware and the faint glow of laptop screens.
The show opened with Until it Blazes by American composer Eve Beglarian. Awash with driving repetition and digital delay, this work was reminiscent of the bustling urban soundscape of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. It was paired beautifully with film by Cory Arcangel, a streetscape in pixelated abstraction. Together, these works were an effective introduction to the show’s digital idiom.
Next, a new commission from WA composer James Ledger, Overgrown Towers. This was perhaps the most outright display of Fitzgerald’s virtuosity. The sheer technicality of Ledger’s guitar writing – nostalgic for a bygone era of stadium rock – was exposed by comparatively subtle use of live electronics, however Fitzgerald didn’t bat an eyelid in an arresting performance. Tortured dissonance and crunchy pedal gave the work a restless quality, which could have been enhanced further with a more dynamic visual pairing. Sculptural photographs by Perth-based artist Lyle Branson contributed to the dystopian mood, however were too static for Ledger’s unsettled sound-world.
Akrasia by young West Australian Victor Arul was a highlight in the programme. A guitar laid flat was fed to live electronics performed by Arul himself. Wielding some unusual tools, including alligator clips, twine, and a bass bow, Fitzgerald coaxed an encyclopaedic array of sounds from the instrument. The first section was an exercise in restraint; with only glimpses of the full might of the electronic forces. This initial restraint intensified the end of the work, with a cataclysmic wall of sound that left the audience breathless. Arul’s mesmerising visuals, generated live, were masterfully integrated and inseparable from the sound.
Alison Isadora’s For Weik was a breath of fresh air in the programme. Wistful and melancholic, it was a welcome release of tension after the double bill of Ledger and Arul. Fitzgerald’s sensitive interpretation gave the audience space to peacefully contemplate the slideshow of photographs, again by Lyle Branson. The curvature of the Isadora’s melody was skilfully reflected in the curvature of Branson’s sculpture.
The penultimate offering was Svart Hvít Sky á Himni (translating to Black and White Clouds in the Sky) by Icelandic composer Gulli Björnsson. This work was perfectly titled; the sound and live visuals came together in a vivid rendering of the sublime. Before long, Björnsson’s heavy-handed programming had enveloped Fitzgerald in lush swathes of rhythm and texture. The sound of the guitar morphed beyond recognition into something monstrous.
The final piece, Jacob TV’s Resurrection Power, was unlike anything else in the programme. Chaotic jazz fusion accompanied samples of speech from a southern televangelist in a charged commentary on pop culture in modern America. In this work the composer leant heavily on irony and kitsch; the film component featured fonts reminiscent of 2000s PowerPoint word art. After a hefty programme of new experimental music, it was nice to end with a laugh.
Electroluminescence was nothing less than heroic in proportion. Every work was a premiere of some kind (either world or Australian), and an important contribution to the repertoire of audio-visual works for electric guitar. It is well-established that Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald is a virtuosic talent in the guitar world and it was pleasing to learn that he is an equally talented curator, with a keen ear for excellence in new music.
Photos by Melissa Fitzgerald and Lyle Branson