In the digital liner notes, Connor D’Netto admits that the title of his new EP is “a little unwieldy”.

It’s a mouthful, certainly, but Small Round Strangely Furry With Spots Stripes and Other Patterns does align perfectly with the complexity of material within, four tracks covering diverse – yet gorgeously coherent – ground. 

Its name, drawn from EP’s first track, captures the moment when you can’t quite get to the heart of a concept you’re trying to describe to someone. Its melodic material is variations built from a theme that D’Netto and the performers never let slip.

“I wanted to play with the idea of variations without their theme. Maybe not discrete variations a lá [Elgar’s] Enigma Variations, but more like a piece that’s just the ‘development’ of a sonata, without the exposition,” D’Netto tells Limelight. “That was the challenge to myself, to write the themes of the piece and not use them.

Originally commissioned by the Melbourne-based trio Plexus and premiered in 2018, the version heard on the EP is performed by four of D’Netto’s friends from the Royal College of Music: clarinettist Jonathan Leeds, violinist Maja Horvat and pianist Joe Howson.

The track brandishes harmony beautifully, introducing clashing, non-diatonic notes slowly and thoughtfully, until it plunges off the tonal deep end as the instruments break further away from the theme. Despite being captured with just four microphones – thanks to the woeful discovery of wrong microphone cables on the day of recording – the recording quality is lovely and lush.

D’Netto has a standing reputation as one of Australia’s leading young classical contemporary composers. The second track on the EP also indicts him as a not-so-secret synth nerd. And Others is his first foray into the blending of the synthetic sound world alongside his compositions.

The explorations into modular synthesis began as a pandemic project, D’Netto explains.

“When things came to a halt in 2020 and I found myself with a lot of time at home with not much to do, I figured that was the best opportunity I’d get to dive into this world. The more I learned the more I knew I didn’t know, and that excites me.”

It wasn’t entirely unfamiliar territory, with D’Netto’s experience in the modular programming of Max/MSP, but the tactile experience of a physical instrument was a new boon. “With a modular system, you also have to contend with the uncertainty and unpredictability of analogue electronics,” D’Netto explains. “You can’t just play them – they play with you.”

D’Netto Emerged from lockdown armed with a new Moog Subharmonicon, a Make Noise 0-CTRL and a couple of other gadgets. He confesses a sentiment any gearhead would echo: “Things spiralled out of control from there!”

Originally intended as a remix of Small Round, And Others eventually found legs as a standalone work after D’Netto wrote it a piano part, performed here by his friend, pianist Samuel Mitchell.

“It went from being this strange remix to its own new thing; a piano part that at points floats on the bed of synth textures, and at other moments lets the synth come forward with the piano playing a more accompanying role, then, and at other points, a more playful counterpoint between the two.

Slowly folding modular processing into the mix, the synths became a “foundation to build on top of.”

The final two tracks on the album are remixes of the title track by Alicia Jane Turner and Alex Groves. While some composers might leave claw marks on the music they pass onto performers, D’Netto embraces the thrill.

“I always love that release of control and hearing how musicians can bring a work to life and make it their own, so the idea of taking that a step further and have artists really play with substance of your musical ideas themselves is pretty exciting. It certainly is a bigger leap, a greater level of control relinquished, but that’s the fun of it.”

The sizzling distortion and wailing instrumental tails of Turner’s remix makes the track feel impossibly large, while Groves’ adds a layer of sparkling, disorienting haze that grows to aggressive proportions before retreating. Creating even more distance from the original theme, both create utterly new frameworks from which to hear D’Netto work from – the same material, in three wildly different ways.

“It creates this whole other way of experiencing a work – getting to see how other artists interpret it, what elements they’re drawn to and choose to bring to the fore, and what new contexts they can see my musical ideas being in. And remixing is so normal everywhere else in music – so why not?”

Small Round Strangely Furry With Spots Stripes and Other Patterns is available now.

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