Rubiks Collective achieves the impossible

Rubiks Collective: Hush ★★★★½
Melbourne Recital Centre, July 3

The question of how to attract audiences to the concert hall generally points to a rather lazy conclusion: pandering. The result is the widely available status quo of warhorse repertoire that, more often than not, merely aims to entertain gently.

Rubiks Collective, a group of Melbourne-based contemporary specialists, are bucking this over-cautious trend by proving that challenging an audience with the unknown is not only a worthwhile endeavour, but it can also produce a concert that easily out-thrills its more traditional counterparts.

L-R: Jacob Abela, Tamara Kohler, Gemma Kneale and Kaylie Melville of Rubiks Collective.

New-music-phobes often dismiss contemporary work as emotionally arid, rooted in sterile, soulless intellectualism. Hush proves the perfect rebuttal. Its central theme could hardly be more accessible: an exploration of the voice and breath, which are at once unanimously innate and central to how we express our individuality.

Each piece works towards this premise through a vivid palette of extended techniques, summoning sonorities from the hinterland that exists between notes.

At times, as in Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh's The Thin Air Between Skins and Annika Socolofsky's Don't Say a Word, this focused on the gossamer spectra at the edge of hearing, barely more than wrinkles in the air.

Erin Gee's Mouthpiece 28 and Amy-Beth Kirsten's World Under Glass shared a common yen for the vocal oddities beyond song and speech; smacking lips, whistles, guttural fry and percussive sighs.

A teasing fragment of a major new commission from American composer Dmitri Tymoczko offered another circuit-breaker to new music's aloof stereotype.

Guest fronted by rock-steady mezzo Lotte Betts-Dean, the world premiere of Ghosts showed emphatic emotional depth.

In such a complex sound-world, that's hard to do well; to reach such a level of shared empathy and control is damn near impossible.

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