5 July 2011

Favourites from the NGC

Thanks to NASA for the Galileo pic of Europa

NGC is the New General Catalogue and it’s something I knew well in the past as an amateur astronomer. It was perhaps the first major modern astronomical catalogue and is so well known because it lists all the most notable deep sky objects (ie, outside our Solar System). So I was intrigued when Simon Milman led an experimental trio playing music inspired by the spheres the other night at our lovely and intimate venue, Smith’s Alternative Bookshop.

The band was called Io and comprised bass, trumpet and tenor. The lack of percussion suited the mobile and indeterminate sense of time that was a feature of this band. I saw the chart for one number, and it was essentially divided into parts by timed segments that featured one or another of the instruments improvising on timbre or pitch or harmony or rhythm or the like. The musos were playing conventional instruments and were informed by conventional techniques but the musical concerns were more the sound and the interactions demanding good listening. Simon sometimes hinted at grooves and I noticed one chord sequence and associated riff passage that recurred at the end of a tune but perhaps that was improvised. There were harmonies between the horns that spoke various malleable harmonies. There were non-traditional uses of instruments: Reuben’s trumpet was often breathy and tongued and just touching on forming notes; Thomas slapped the tenor pads for rhythmic presence and often played lines with a strangely quizzical pitch; Simon bowed frequently for a floating presence and even used a thumb-and-fingerpicking technique on double bass that had me flummoxed. But these were traditional instruments and traditional techniques and skills were underlying the performance. Reuben floored me with a few of his bop-like lines and I enjoyed Simon’s use of longer and unexpected intervals. This style obviously demands decent listening. One tune, Tennis, started with individual notes of improvised pitch bouncing between the three players, then pairs of notes bouncing, then sets of three then four then some sort of minor cacophony and a stepwise return to the single bouncing notes. Tennis was an apt title and it was the weekend of Wimbledon. In the end, Simon couldn’t get a decent pic of Io so we got Freckles on Europa, the open cluster NGC265 and the spiral galaxy NGC3370. Along with BBC which was reminiscent of documentary music and was probably the most clearly chordally-structured piece, and Australian Paint Drying Society. It’s not so much a fun time, but it’s musically satisfying: well-developed conventional skills informing experimental music in an intimate venue.

Io are Simon Milman (bass), Reuben Lewis (trumpet) and Thomas Fawcett (tenor sax).

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