Claire Chase is an American flutist on a creative mission, and I think she may have found a few converts to her cause here in Perth. Her performance presented by PICA and Tura New Music on Wednesday the 29th was part of her Density 2036 project, which sees the commission of new solo flute compositions over a span of 22 years, starting back in 2013. Density 2036 commemorates Edgard Varese‘s groundbreaking 1936 flute solo, Density 21.5, which Varese composed for the premiere of George Barrere’s platinum flute, which has a density of approximately 21.5g per cubic centimetre.
The pieces we heard on Wednesday night were selections from parts i, ii, and iii (2013-2015), beginning with two compositions by Felipe Lara, Meditation and Calligraphy (2014) for solo amplified bass flute, and Parabolas na Caverna (2014) for solo amplified flute. From the opening notes, it’s apparent we’re in for an uncommon, provocative, experimental performance.
Chase puts her whole body into her music, and the flute becomes a vast range of percussive and melodic instruments in her hands. She spits, vocalizes, aspirates, thumps and pops into the mic’d mouthpiece, creating a cacophony that jars and teases, surprises and delights. Chase seems determined to push the boundaries of the flute, reaching into uncharted territory. She is a pioneer.
She breaks the fourth wall and opens up an easy dialogue with the audience. She may play with fierce attack, but she speaks gently, humbly, about the works and her collaborators. She gives us an introduction to the next piece by Mario Diaz de Leon: Lucifer (2013) for flute and electronics. She describes her love for this piece because it makes her feel like she “gets to be a rock star.” Lucifer is a fast-paced “movement through a series of vision states.” It’s a fusion of lo-fi electronics and flying flute notes, evoking comparison with 70s B-movie and 80s sci-fi soundtracks, finishing in the most ear-tickling, brain-tickling, high-pitched electronic noodling I’ve ever heard.
Indeed it was a rock star moment for Chase, and the audience responded with cheers and hearty applause. Then Chase invited us on stage for the next piece, which has been staged in the round. Normally you’d have trouble finding audience volunteers in reticent, restrained Perth audiences, but not this night. They couldn’t be happier to get up and join in.
Jason Eckard’s The Silenced (2015) is called a monodrama for solo flutist, and it is inspired by people whose voices are muted, either for political or religious reasons. In a sense, we witness the inner monologue of a person who can’t say what’s on their mind, and the frustrations that stem from not being able to express themselves. Chase moves from side to side of the stage space, she sits, lays down, paces, undulates as she plays, under pools of light that follow her.
The next piece is based on a Rumi poem; Du Yun’s An Empty Garlic (2014) for bass flute and electronics is another ambitious piece that references a number of influences by the composer. Again, we hear the haunting qualities of the bass flute and Chase’s passion and intensity as a musician. She ends the evening with the inspiration for her quest, Varese’s Density 21.5.
Claire Chase is an electrifying, ambitious, courageous performer, and an evening spent in her company is an invigorating evening indeed.