29 January 2014

Canberra-Gothenburg connections

Casey mentioned that the band all had Canberra connections other than Johan. I wondered if being married to Casey was a Canberra connection (obviously it is!) but you can see Casey's point. Other than Johan, the band was locally trained. But they've toured in Europe and released a CD recorded live in Krakow and they are touring here and are about to go into the studio. I am impressed that such international collaborations happen, but they do and they are common enough.

This one is Australia/Sweden with the Moirs in Gothenburg. Some tone of Scandinavia comes through in Casey's voice. And what voice! Her control, invention, flexibility are breathtaking. There's immense movement, quietness and detail here, and all manner of vocal techniques are in use, breaths, tongue clicks, pops, shushs. Mostly wordlessly, soloistically, perhaps unison as melody with Reuben's trumpet, or bouncing off Aidan's drums. But this incarnation is structured around songs with words, all poetry written by Casey herself and put to music by Casey or Reuben or Luke or Johan. Words, of course, have shared meaning, so there were love songs and tragic songs and fun songs and more. But in her way, Casey melds and bends consonants and tones for musical effect, shushing a final s or tacking a final t, consistently in any one tune. These shaped words may be harder to catch, and the lines are rhythmically jagged, but there's seriousness in thought, here, not just in music. And what a responsive band this is. Casey gave some guidance, conducting some starts and stops, but these are independently capable musicians, each getting spots to highlight their parts. I mentioned the vocals/drums segment - a unique or very rare combination - and the unison trumpet/vocals, which was satisfying if not so rare. There was also a bass/vocals passage and frequent open spaces for individual instruments - piano, of course, but also bass and mixes of bass/trumpet and the like. Luke even donned a piano accordion for the final, jokey tune, and that fit neatly with the theme, musically folksy and ironic but with serious intent. The song was entitled No : "No there is nothing new in knowing nothing / like those who know nothing new". I can only agree. There are open, free feels here, bass noises and harmonics, free jazz and new techniques. There's tradition, too, as I caught hints of quotes from the repertoire, from experience rather than intent. Grooves to settle or dissolve; solo passages that are interrupted by frenzied fills; crescendoes that grow long and almost imperceptibly; then to fall or decay, ff to pp and perhaps breeze and quizzical, sparse piano chords. There was even an end with the guys chanting under Casey's much firmer voice. It's complex music, intriguing and rich with lots of openess and clean air. Canberra and Gothenburg can both probably lay claim to open space and clean air.

There's detail and complexity here and it places considerable demands on both performers and audience, but the room was entranced. Like travel, music like this broadens a stale mind. Obviously one for the arthouse and festivals, never the clubs. Svelia is the international collaboration of Casey Moir (vocals), Johan Moir (bass), Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Luke Sweeting (piano, piano accordion) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

28 January 2014

SoundOut2014/2 (Saturday afternoon)

It's the most glorious of sunny days and I wonder why I'm going inside to listen to music. This will be recognised later in the afternoon session with some music in the Art School garden, but in the meantime, it's into theatre dark.

The first performer is setting up a complex piece of kit as I arrive. Ross seems to keep adjusting it throughout the performance, because he doesn't really play this, the gear plays itself, but he moves and adjusts and mixes to allow and then manipulate the sounds. There's a loose spinning string forming sine-like curves when it doesn't hit an object in its path. Ross has placed various objects in its path and these seem to have pickups which transfer to a few little mixers and at least one foot pedal. The objects are a zither and various home-built timber panels with nail-like protrusions, and later a set of cow bells. It's a complex sound of percussion and drone, changing pitches with zither movements, various rings and springs and the like. Visually it's strange and aurally, too, but mesmeric. Home-made instruments making intriguing sounds.

The basses are back, this time in two separate outfits, and that's influenced the sessions I attended. Firstly Slawek with John alto and Dave guitar. Dave started with sparse notes, but it's Slawek who bores into this music and leads with prodigious energy. He's a big man with impressive mane. He rocks searching for inspiration before he so much as plays a note, then pizz, bow, thumps, slides, always forceful, unrelenting. Guitar goes through single notes, eBow, feedback and tenor through tonguing and flaps. Slawek stopped for the feedback, loud and simple, still rolling on his feet, then strong notes, heavy vibrato, 5th, 6th intervals, strong German bowing. This is powerful bass. I was not surprised when he told me of a background in punk. Unrelenting and overwhelmingly assertive bass.

Next was bassist Clayton playing a free jazz set with pianist Cor and drummer Evan. Evan is Evan Dorrian well known to the local modern jazz community. He's delved considerably into free and new musics for years, but a strong drummer in jazz and presumably other fields. Cor is from the Netherlands, but apparently now resident in Sydney. Clayton is ex-Sydney recently Berlin. More traditional, if you can say this of free jazz (I think you can). They warmed up, jokingly, with another fast swing although hardly a standard. Then into a delicious set of hard swing, recogisable but malleable harmonies (I found the chords refreshing) that moved in symmetrical steps, diminished or whole tone, piano played with the felt over the keys (strange, this), piano played by directly manipulating the hammers, deliriously free keyboard. Bass moved through swing and walks and tapping and bows to a fabulously effective section as a percussion instrument with drums (sticks placed between strings, other stick tapping, flapping first stick). Stunningly in confluence with Evan. And Evan, explosive, riding, following with body and eyes. These were stares through that percussion passage, and there was close contact here, although not with Cor whose piano was positioned so he couldn't easily glance. A fabulously effective free jazz set and my favourite for this SoundOut.

The three picked up instruments (Cor took a guitar; Evan one tom) and they moved with audience to the garden outside. Some playing with background birds, then a merge into Radio Celeste and her laptop and turntable created musical environment. Earthy sounds; seemingly of the garden we sat in. Pretty and involving and of nature, although perhaps less of a sunny day like that one.

So, that's what I heard of SoundOut 2014, other than one last appearance. I was listening to ABC FM after 11pm, listening to some fascinating modern classical recordings. The I recognised Julian Day's voice, then later SoundOut. He played two tracks from the Friday evening session, Psithurism Trio + (Richard, Rhys, John, Krista, Rosalind) then the trio set of Viv, Melanie and filmist Lousie. More in mid-Feb.

Ross Manning (string instrument) played the first set. Then a trio of Slawek Janicki (bass), John Porter (tenor) and Sean Baxter (guitar). Then another trio of Cor Fuhler (piano, guitar), Clayton Thomas (bass) and Evan Dorrian (drums). An end in the garden with Radio Celeste (radiophonics).

27 January 2014

SoundOut2014/1 (Friday night) continues...

Continues ...

I was particularly interested in the paired bassists, especially given one was playing my bass. Slawek and Clayton, both bass, with Cor piano and Sean drums. This was a more conventional format, and the masculine side of the night. Strong from the start, then into tortured, pressured, intense, manic playing. Piano was punctuated and with some harmony; the basses were bowed, pizzed, explored, tapped, loud and intense; the drums were sometimes rabid, never steady, all fills and explosions and space and just some quieter passages. I was interested in the tones and the aggression of it all while somewhat fretfull for what the instruments were enduring, respectful for the search for newness, aware of the excessiveness and volume of it all, dismissive of some of the techniques. (This was an early and wrong impression. I was pleasantly surprised by the bass chops I heard next day from both bassists. But as I've found before, manic intensity at this level drives out the staid traditions and correct techniques of many arts; often, but not always, with justification). If these guys were playing their own basses, I may have relaxed and warmed to it, but as it was, I didn't relax enough to enjoy in this performance. (BTW, the bass was perfectly OK, as promised).

It still perplexes me that new music is so often played on old instruments. Given the traditional instrumentation, I warm to a musician who displays impressive traditional technique or knowledge. I noticed this with bassist Clayton when he was warming up for the end-of-session jam with a very steady and nicely developed bass groove, and also with his traditionally-styled pizz and ostinatoes during that jam. The harmonies and feels may have been new, but the techniques and groove were of long established. The group development was more unitonal and textured and atmospheric, but here was a family or historical connection with other music. So too, Richard's baritone sax in this set, that picked up on the groove and permuted it. The first set had Richard on soprano sax and drum playing with clarinet, two altos and one tenor sax. The whole merged in my ears into a melange of tonguings and tones and drones, but in openings I could pick out some wonderful ostinato lines from Richard, fast, clear, nicely structured around a quick passage and a long note, with slow minimalist change. This was impressive chops and lovely, understated accompaniment. It was not always obvious and sometimes hidden in the mix, but impressive when it appears. So too, with bass clarinetist Krista in this session. She had classical tone, toyed with varying lengthy intervals that sat so intriguingly and gloriously, even contrapuntally, in this busy mix. The distinct tone helps. In another set, Kim's guitar was somewhat a crossover in technical matters. I felt it held its session together with sweet fingerpicking and regular strumming, although only sometimes of chords; othertimes it was open strings or harmonics, so undefined harmonies. But this worked, especially interspersed with a similar-sounding zither-like instrument. It worked also due to clarity of the instrumental mix. Richard on gourdaphone and Reuben on trumpet and these are distinct sounds. This is also where I appreciated the skilled techniques in much new music. I know Reuben as both a bopper and a more experimental musician. Here it was all breath and tongue and unformed notes and mutes. It's a technique requiring competence and training, although not traditional. Not surprisingly, it can take knowledge of the instrument and the form to understand its complexities. Knowing a crossover artist can help.

SoundOut is our local incarnation of this worldwide branch of new music. Not easy, always a test to these ears, but a worthy wakeup call to your own conservative tendencies. Looking forward to another session. ABC FM were recording, Julian Day was MC-ing. You can hear SO performances over coming weeks on Julian's New Music Up Late.

Psithurism Trio + played the first set, Richard Johnson (soprano sax), Rhys Butler (alto sax), John Porter (tenor sax), Krista Martynes (bass clarinet) and Rosalind Hall (alto sax). Second set was Slawek Janicki (double bass), Sean Baxter (drums), Cor Fuhler (piano) and Clayton Thomas (double bass). Last set was Kim Myhr (guitar), Reuben Lewis (trumpet) and Richard Johnson (gourdophone, drum, soprano sax). The end-of-night collective improvisation comprised Richard Johnson (baritone sax), Rhys Butler (alto sax), John Porter (tenor sax), Clayton Thomas (double bass), Cor Fuhler (guitar) and Reuben Lewis (trumpet).

26 January 2014

SoundOut2014/1 (Friday night)

SoundOut returns for 2014, its fifth incarnation, and it's as bewildering and sometimes as beautiful as ever. But you must close your eyes. In some ways this is a feast to view - for the occasional invented instrument or the uses that traditional instruments are put to - but it can be doggedly disrespectful of visuals. That's the scene it is. I remember going on stage at the Blues Club wearing shorts, one steaming Australian afternoon, and after some quips I'll never wear shorts on stage again. (These days I always wear a suit!) Yet there were shorts a plenty here. And a band that pretty much turned its back to audience for most of the performance. I could only chuckle at this act of performance insubordination. No gaga here.

The women had it for visual presence, of course. Especially that dark stage with two screens for video (read 8mm film) performance with voice and violin sitting in front facing each other. This was visual to match truly immersive and interesting sound. I was well taken with Viv's voice. It veered throughout vocal tones, tonguing, breath, vocalisations, precise intervals, slides, throat and Native American and the rest. Vibrant and beautifully formed sounds of immense variation. Well accompanied by Melanie on a violin that was legato or staccato bowed, mostly on one or few notes, lots of harmonics, some formed notes. Louise presented two screens of experimental film, mostly dark, images flipping about three times a second, mostly monotonal but with some reds and blood and just a fleeting blue; one or two images, of trees or outback, but mostly amorphous with damage-like overlays. This was a visual and aural treat.

The Overtone Ensemble was four blokes, sometime with backs to audience, but also strangely aware of their visuals. Their instruments were set in symmetrical V, open to the audience, their gloves were matched (stage left blue; stage right green). As with all this music, you need to close eyes and be open and attentive. This, too, deserved attention. They played with a loose structure, opening with drones created from bells and bowls, like those squeeks and rings you got from a wet finger on crystal glasses at Christmas dinners. Then to mallet hits on tuned, differently-lengthed horizontal aluminium pipes, then to handbells (20 metal bells with sprung clappers, five each for a deliriously beautiful sound) and finally to those vertical aluminium pipes that were played with rubber gloves stroking resined pipes (think ethereal, overtones and high frequencies, interference beats, crickets in the summer bush, presumably controlled by speed and tightness of the slide). Canberra is the site of one of two Australian carillons and this band was strangely similar in tonality at times. There was also some background from guitars with ebows (an elecromagnetic string vibrator), occasional bowed cymbals and the like. This was gentle structural change, delicate purity of tones and an ecstatic beauty in those bells. The presumed leader spoke of an interest in friction, magnetism and resonant systems. No surprise here.

Fourth set was Viv Corringham (voice), Melanie Herbert (violin) and Louise Curham (experimental film projections). Third set was the Overtone Ensemble (invented metal rod instruments) comprising Tim Catlin, Atticus Bastow, Dave Brown and Ceallaigh Norman. This post continues ...

23 January 2014

AYO2014/8 (Orch 4)

The final concert of the AYO National Music Camp for 2014. We can hope for 2016, providing the ANU comes good with its support. I hope they do. The quality of music continues. The Hopkins Chamber Orchestra under Geoffrey Lancaster opens again, this time with Beethoven Creatures of Prometheus excerpts. This is Beethoven so the changes are inevitable and clear but it's also a ballet, so this serves a different master and also serves a classical mythical theme of civilisation replacing ignorance. They played four movements, different in style, strings buzzing with rapid movement at mf volume, flutes and oboes and harp and a solo cello cadenza. Then the Alexander Orchestra under Richard Gill performed Rachmaninov Symphony no.2 in D minor. Apparently it's his first symphony, and Rachmaninov never granted it a number, just left it with the moniker Youth. A nice romantic work with a big end. After interval was the final work, Alexandre Bloch leading the Bishop Orchestra in Stravinsky's Petruschka. It's another ballet work. I'd expected demonstrative and it started that was, but passed through so many sections and emotions. By the end I felt I'd attended a theatrical work, telling a story through scenes and actions and repetitions. It's a murdered puppet's love story for a ballerina (mmm). Perhaps more a product of the era, but I heard Gershwin and West Side Story and some intriguing piano harmonics. The program notes talk of this and the Firebird featuring "two unrelated major chords, played simultaneously and separated by the interval of a tritone". For the jazzers, this is tritone substitution. The program notes also say it's "hitherto unknown before in Western music" and called the "Petrushka chord". Apparently another segment has two trumpets playing melody, one in C major, the other in B flat. Tritone substitution and sidestepping (although that's usually by a semitone). Jazz improv, anyone? Then a truly deserved standing ovation and the cutest of encores. Alexandre Bloch is also a cellist and composer. He put together a classical-themes-best-of medley called "On board the music camp" for this encore. About 6 or 8 renowned themes jointed together quite neatly. Megan recognised Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Then the melancholy joy of the end, at least for the participants. Congrats to AYO again. Magnificent and an eye-opener for what a week in time can do.

The Hopkins Chamber Orchestra under Geoffrey Lancaster performed Beethoven Creatures of Prometheus excerpts. The Alexander Orchestra under Richard Gill performed Rachmaninov Symphony no.2 in D minor. The Bishop Orchestra under Alexandre Bloch performed Stravinsky Petruschka.