Between the Keys: Ensemble Offspring

Dedicated to new music and new ideas in music performance, Ensemble Offspring has produced a recording of most unusual compositions, based around a new tuning system.

Ensemble Offspring

Ensemble Offspring

Various composers have collaborated with instrument makers to achieve their objectives in the creation of this new musical vocabulary. The CD booklet helps to explain, via a short historical glance, the difference between Equal Temperament, Just Temperament, and the newly devised Centaur tuning system, which is so important to this new music.


At times though, for the layman, one senses that a degree in applied mathematics or physics might not go astray, in order truly to grasp the numerical intricacies involved.

The greatest proponent of new tuning systems (and consequently the new invention of instruments to which these systems can be applied) is the American microtonal maverick composer and inventor, Harry Partch. Suffice it to say, Partch’s work in this area is enough for its own separate study, and I would recommend his “Genesis of a Music” (1947) should readers be more interested in discovering more deeply about this concept. This recording and performance endeavour, however, is Ensemble Offspring’s own tribute to that philosophy and output of Partch.

On the other hand, one can find appeal in simply listening to the recording as a collection of new music, some of which is inspired by non-Western ideas.

Mysteries by Arana Li utilises the clarinis (a type of new clarinet) and the tarhu (a spike-fiddle like the Middle Eastern Kamancheh) in what is an evocative and meditative dialogue between istruments.

Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion is appealing for its repetitive melodic and rhythmic cells.

Amanda Cole’s Hydra (three movement work), based on the Ancient Greek mythology, employs 4 clarinis to enable tunings of major, minor, phrygian and lydian modes to be used.The movements are based solely on the rhythmic and melodic adaption of 4 notes only.

Music and colour are often connected, and in Damien Ricketson’s Some Shade of Blue which uses tarhu and centaur vibraphone, allusions are drawn with the final movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and.

The pentatonic Akashic Torus by Kraig Grady further enhances one’s interest in eastern philosophy and the diverse patterns found in numbers.

Nuance and colour are the primary elements in Terumi Narushima’s Hidden Sidetracks, with its diverse use of many instruments, and extended performance techniques.

Such works are challenging indeed to our aural senses, but highlight the creativity of these unique performers and composers, as well as the myriad sonic possibilities that can be produced.

Ensemble Offspring is a group of innovative musicians, comprising amongst others, Claire Edwardes, Damien Ricketson, Bree van Reyk, Jason Noble, and Diana Springford, who are joined on this recording by Anna McMichael, Peter Biffin, Kraig Grady and Linsey Pollak. This recording has not been released by one of the major recording labels, but rather those wishing to purchase a copy (or individual tracks) can do so via the website

One: Claire Edwardes (Percussion)

Tall Poppies: TP223

A vast array of tonal colours and new ideas are apparent in the third CD from Australian percussionist, Claire Edwardes.

223.170x170-75This is a disc that not only contains established repertoire, but also new pieces specially composed for Edwardes. The undertaking, however, was to assemble music for only one percussion instrument, hence the CD title.

Starting with Xenakis’s Rebounds, a work written close to the composer’s death in 2001, and which Edwardes describes as “probably the most important composition for percussion solo to date”, contrasts of simplicity of rhythmic and tonal ideas with more complex statements abound.

Engaging vocalisation (a specific and quite fascinating text) with a hi-hat in Shlomowitz’s Hi Hat & Me aids the non-pitched element. Again using voice in the recitation of a simple 7th century poem (a prayer to Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth), Rzewski’s To the Earth utilizes unusually a set of four flower-pots as the percussive instrument (with differing pitches). Another piece which uses Edwardes not only as instrumentalist, but additionally as vocalist, is Sierra’s Bongo-O, which is a discovery of different tonal devices created by contrasting ways of producing the sound (fingers, sticks, voice).

Stuart Greenbaum’s Clockwork Lemon, for snare drum and hi-hat, explores rhythmic ratios, and is played with clockwork precision.

Interlocking rhythms between toy piano and wood blocks make Chooks! by Eric Griswold a distinctively quaint piece, whilst Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis exudes a complexity which is masked by the use of melodian, toy piano, music box, toy glockenspiel and bowed crotale.

Written for Edwardes whilst living in Amsterdam, Laurence Crane’s Solo for Claire Edwardes sees a pre-recorded part combined with live performance, and was given its debut at the Huddersfield Festival in the USA, in 2005.

The soundscape that is so integral to Javier Alvarez’s piece, Temazcal, can be quite confronting, as the sounds switch from speaker to speaker suddenly, creating unsettling surprises.

Displaying the brilliant solo work of Claire Edwardes, this recording is at times, mesmerising with its repetitive strains, but is also highly energetic and exciting, as well. The multitude of different colours and layers, along with the sometimes intricate, rhythmic challenges, makes this a disc of exceptional bravery by a performer, who brings to her work a creativity and uniqueness, that is so often not experienced.

Flash: Marimba Miniatures, Claire Edwardes, Tall Poppies TP215

Originally a pianist, Claire Edwardes is now one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed percussionists. On her second recording for the Tall Poppies label, Edwardes has compiled a selection of 33 short pieces, some from her days as a fine pianist (Bach, Schumann, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, Tchaikovsky, Bartok and Corea) and others are by Australian composers, some written especially for her by such composers as Elena Kats-Chernin, Stuart Greenbaum and Daniel Rojas.

JS Bach may seem an odd choice for the marimba, but the Lute Suite in E minor BWV 996 (Prelude, Allemande and Courante) has a clarity and expressive quality that is most appealing. Such choices also remind listeners of the performer’s origins and the way in which her musical understanding has been shaped.

Bartok’s Mikrokosmos (Nos 87, 113, 97), Shostakovich’s 6 Piano Pieces and Ballet Suite No 3 (Lyrical Waltz), Kabalevsky’s First Book for Pianists (3 pieces), Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young Op 39 (4 pieces) and Schumann’s A Little Study, Op 68 No 14 (from Album for the Young) all work very well for this medium. Some are wonderful explorations of rhythm, harmony or sheer delights in melody.

Children’s Songs (Nos 1, 6, 18), originally for piano, by the American jazz pianist Chick Corea are joyful additions exploring the range of the instrument and, in particular, its bass register.

Whilst transcriptions can be effective and very worthy in expanding an instrument’s appeal and breadth of repertoire, it is in the pieces written specially for the marimba that there is most to gain.

German composer Matthias Schmitt in three movements from his Sechs Miniaturen creates a hypnotic state with the use of repetition in the first Adagio, and a melancholic second Adagio which contrasts with a driven Presto.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s Violet’s Etude is energetic and tuneful, whilst Stuart Greenbaum’s April Revisited has a more reflective quality.

Pierrot the Clown by Andrea Keller is quirky and playful. Mirimba (sic) by Daniel Rojas is complex with its syncopated rhythm and references to Latin American music.

Using the upper register, Trance Ripples by Gerard Brophy has been inspired by African rhythms in this piece an individual addition to the performance is Ms Edwardes wearing of an African anklet rattle on her right arm, which adds another timbral effect.

Of course, no marimba performance is really complete without the iconic, joyous and virtuosic Marimba Dances (first movement) by Ross Edwards. This is a mainstay in the repertoire and Ms Edwardes’s performance here is fresh and filled with exuberance.

The high energy, pulsating drive and virtuosic sweeps in Matthew Hindson’s Flash make this a really engaging and standout piece.

Edwardes plays a 5-octave marimba and the disc was recorded at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. She is a most consummate performer who is able to bring flair and passion to all her performances.