Marina Rosenfeld's first big collaborative piece was when she was a student at the California Institute of the Arts, for women playing electric guitars with nail-polish bottles in the Sheer Frost Orchestra.
Eighteen years later, the New York composer's latest collaborative work, for teenagers and iPods, will have its free Australian premiere at the Midland Railway Workshops as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival.
The biennial festival, which opens next week, is now in its 10th year and one of Australia's most established new music festivals, renowned for its eclecticism and inclusivity. The program includes a healthy blend of local, interstate and international artists ranging from student composers performing hip-hop symphonies to sound installations and concerts profiling all-Australian music. Highlights include Melbourne ensemble Speak Percussion performing alongside Perth new music ensembles Decibel and Etica. The piano will get a 21st century workout with three of Australia's most virtuosic and daring pianists, Anthony Pateras, Ross Bolleter and Mark Gasser collaborating in a concert of extreme piano music. Melbourne sound artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth will set tongues wagging at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art as they exploit the voice as trickster and provocateur.
Woven across the 11-day festival will be the music of Rosenfeld, who is composer in residence and guest speaker at the conference. Rosenfeld is co-chair of the music/sound program at Bard College in New York and the breadth of her work makes her well suited to the festival.
"My father was a freelance cellist so I grew up as a backstage brat," Rosenfeld says. "Classical music is what I grew up into but my strongest influences come from film, painting and the 20th century in general."
Rosenfeld studied piano at Harvard before branching into composition and now performs mainly on turntable, using it as an improvising tool. She has performed with Sonic Youth and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and will be performing turntable sets at the PICA festival club.
Rosenfeld is interested in breaking down barriers in her compositions, which is how Teenage Lontano for teenage choir and iPods came about. The piece is a "cover version"of Gyorgy Ligeti's 1967 orchestral work Lontano.
"Ligeti's Lontano embodies some of the promise and the problems of the 60s. Politically it was about breaking down the boundaries and revisiting relationships after what went on in the 50s. But the orchestral language Ligeti used was so specialised that barriers were actually built into the piece. My challenge was how to make these sounds without the barriers," Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld's version, which translates the orchestral work into a choral work, was written in 2008 and has been performed throughout Europe and America. The singers function as both audience and performer, listening to pre-recorded cues on their iPods and simultaneously reproducing what they are hearing.
"Teenagers can do highly refined listening, they are able to hear music with one ear and engage in a social event with another," Rosenfeld said.
Rotating speakers placed above the singers will project electronic music on to the surfaces of the Railway Workshops resulting in ethereal clouds of electronic and acoustic sound.The 10th Totally Huge New Music Festival runs from September 15-25. Details: www.tura.com.au
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