Golden Fur – Three out of the box

December 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, December 20, 2008.


Young Melbourne trio Golden Fur are changing the shape of chamber music without forsaking its roots, writes Dan Rule.

FOR Judith Hamann, genre is neither intrinsic nor elemental — it’s imposed. “I never really experienced this concept of classical music being separate from popular music or experimental music,” she offers. “And I certainly don’t believe in it.

“When you go through a musical institution, you discover that suddenly there are all these walls up, and I found that incredibly frustrating. It’s kind of like if you are wearing a certain hat, you can’t try on others.”

The 25-year-old cellist’s part in new Melbourne chamber ensemble Golden Fur is one that transcends rigid musical discourses. The trio, who play their first major concert at Iwaki Auditorium tomorrow night, are happy to slip between worlds.

“I guess the thing that has always made sense to me is crossover,” continues Hamann, who is studying for a masters of music (performance) at VCA. “The walls don’t necessarily need to be up in the first place. If you’re just concentrating on the sounds and not the context of their creation, then the boundaries aren’t necessarily so clear.”

It’s this fluidity that seems to define the precocious trio — comprising Hamann on cello, voice and harp, instrumentalist and computer programmer Samuel Dunscombe on clarinets and electronics, and celebrated young composer and performer James Rushford on keyboards and viola. Billed as a new music project that “re-imagines chamber music in the realms of experimental music and the avant-garde”, the group’s approach to music is loose and agile, drawing elements from DIY and indie music.

But while the ensemble’s work departs from chamber music’s strict patois, it preserves its heredity. Golden Fur’s promotional sampler CD, for example, features three electrifying, highly abstracted improvisations, but also a pair of stunning, contemporary classical interpretations; the hauntingly beautiful pianissimo from Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ Das Buch and intermittent frenzy and calm of Olivier Messiaen’s Foullis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps.

“Our interest is in that real journey from taking these seemingly disparate things and synthesising them,” says 23-year-old Rushford, who is also working on a masters of music at VCA. “We want to see how much we can synthesise them and how much is already synthesised.”

The group formed in 2007, having met and worked together at VCA. But their binding connection was a desire to utilise their classical training outside of a chamber setting. Indeed, each member of the trio has made a name outside classical music. Rushford is recognised as one of the experimental scene’s rising talents, while Hamann and Dunscombe have each performed locally and internationally.

“I think being trained as musicians formally, it’s really hard to break down that sort of mentality of separating different kinds of genres,” says Rushford. “But the more we’ve worked outside of the classical world and the more we’ve worked on this project, the more we’ve come to recognise the similarities that arise.”

It’s a unique vision. While contemporary experimental music proposes an extension and reconfiguration of musical aesthetics and structure — a new language, if you will — Golden Fur’s raison d’etre rests in maintaining a connection as much as it does exploring new realms. Rushford eschews the 20-something cliche of outward rebellion against tradition. “We want this to talk to classical music lovers as well as all kinds of other music lovers, you know. We really want to bring the communities together.”

The trio’s Iwaki concert will include works by iconic American composer Morton Feldmann and German post-war composer Helmut Lachenmann. But they will include interpretations of visual scores by Dutch avant-gardist Jaap Blonk, Australian visual artists Robert Rooney and Marco Fusinato.

“They aren’t notated conventionally at all,” explains Hamann. “Like, the Rooney piece, he wasn’t musically trained at all, so it’s sort of musical directions that are constructed in a way that’s visually very beautiful. There’s no notation and no staves as such, but all these lines and connections.”

Fusinato, meanwhile, has created a 24-piece artwork that he will film the trio interpreting before going on to exhibit the individual works and the film in a gallery context. Dunscombe — who will perform using his classical clarinet, live sampling and electronic processing — phrases the group’s approach in terms of “unlearning”.

“A lot of the ways I love playing my clarinet involve things that I’ve been told by teachers to not do under any circumstances,” chuckles the 23-year-old. “But there are also countless ways you can draw on that classical training as well, as long as you don’t get too dogmatic about rules and so forth.

“You know, as a kid, all I wanted to be was a pop star — I was the biggest Prince fan you could imagine — but somehow I ended up playing the classical clarinet,” he laughs. “So maybe this project is sort of a way of dealing with that.”

Golden Fur plays tomorrow night at the Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, 8pm


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