Commentary

Chris Williams’ sound-world is built from co-existing opposites. Movement and stillness hover in a delicate balance; stretches of harmonic stasis are animated by subterranean timbral shifts, a kind of seismic creep, beneath a fabric of interwoven small gestures. The overall effect is kaleidoscopic; sounds move like tiny points of light, shifting, reconfiguring, fracturing, nervously coalescing. In A Strange Communion and a frost making stillness, companion pieces for orchestra and chamber ensemble respectively, a rigid harmonic scaffolding is alternately exposed and obscured by this restless movement. In Altjiranga mitjina, for string ensemble, looped motives become melodic threads, stretched and layered to create what Williams describes as ‘an approximation of expressive timelessness’.

In of silence into silence, for voice and percussion, it is the co-existence of movement and stillness that, in Williams’ words, creates ‘something that is beyond the realm of the words and the music…the complex and exquisite confluence of both’.  Judith Wright’s unquiet dream is rendered as a hushed, austere soundscape, overlaid by a sense of eerie calm, but always lit by the ‘burning wires of nerves’. This dream-world is animated by carefully placed sonic agitators: strings of tumbling vibraphone semiquavers, jagged peaks in the vocal melodic contour, the barely audible stirring of dissipating percussion spectra. The vocal melody itself embodies this push-and-pull between calm and agitation, in its reluctance to come to a complete stop. Succumbing constantly to a fundamental urge to move, it is constantly travelling, nudged in different directions, eternally restless.

Williams’ sensitivity to text is also evident in the percussion quartet Il Pleut. This work was inspired by Apollinaire’s poem of the same title, the opening line of which is the subtitle of the third movement: ‘it’s raining women’s voices as if they had died, even in memory’.  With precision and restraint, Williams crafts a sound-world that is at once delicate and unsettling. Struck wine glasses and bowed flexatones form a chorus of metallic sighs; the choice and placement of timbres infuses the fragile texture with drama, while always remaining within touching distance of silence. The result, as in much of Williams’ work, is a carefully calibrated equilibrium of contrasting elements. This makes for absorbing music, whether the opposing forces interact harmoniously, or tersely co-exist.

 

Fiona Berry is a freelance writer and musicology graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she currently works in the library (having been employed there in various capacities for over the past five years). Her musical interests are diverse, but connected by a particular fascination with timbre.