31 January 2023

And now for music

I managed most of two sessions in addition to the Jon Rose workshop at SoundOut.  Just a touch on my impressions rather than a full list of players and collectives.  Suffice to say each performance was 20-30 mins, usually one or two numbers.  Numbers may start with agreed, even stated, intentions, usually outspoken, or perhaps just crescendo from soft noises.

Whistle Biter reintroduced me to the intensity of Hermione Johnson on prepared piano.  Or rather it reminded me of HJ as she'd attended a previous SO where I'd heard her 9 years before.  She prepares her pianos with chopsticks in the strings, and the sound is delicate and pretty, although her attacking, impulsive, vigourous style knocks them for six at times and somewhat hides the tone.  Hermione is all intense handfuls in right and left hand and occasional dropped (mostly left) arms on keyboard and then plucks under the piano lid.  Just stunning and committed, trained or not.  Her offsider, Dave Brown, was more sedate if still atonal and noise-y, so the result could be sparse, open or intense, with guitar effect hits, piano extravagance and repetition.  A nice pairing

We heard Hermione again the next day in a star trio led by Jon Rose and with bassist Clayton Thomas.  I heard communications, great chops, intent, interestingly plenty of eyes and ears open to each other, imagination, variation, it had it all.  Jon displaying years of technical exercises if not flaunting it, and similarly Clayton, mixing sounds and emotions with pizz lines, pulled strings, pizz below the bridge, strums, bows, drumstick in strings, the lot.  Just a stunning outing by this trio. 

Hermione Johnson (piano) played with Dave Brown (guitar) as Whistle Biter, and later with Jon Rose (violin) and Clayton Thomas (bass) at SoundOut.

30 January 2023


SoundOut 2023 was the 14th iteration on this festival and duly it was well praised.  It's challenging and it's small, to some degree an expected pairing.  This is experimental music.  It claims also free jazz, but my guess is that free jazz is more tonal/atonal, whereas experimental includes more noise, as in outside a formal musical system.  Not that it is totally out of systems.  Some players make noise perhaps on invented or even established instruments and maybe have no formal connection with classical or jazz or other instrumental forms.  But there are others with significant connections, training, chops, even interests, that inform to some degree.   And the small number in attendance is not so significant.  As much as anything, this is a meeting of like-interests, coming from Sydney or Melbourne or other Australia, or NZ or even UK or more.  The importance is the playing together, the discoveries, perhaps also the recordings as posterity.  For Richard publishes select recordings from these sessions (26 to date).

This SO comprised  four sessions (Fri eve, Sat arvo, Sat eve, Sun arvo) and two workshops (Fri arvo, Sat morn).  Each session mixes various combinations, perhaps regularly playing together, perhaps first time at this SO or perhaps returning after an earlier SO or other event.  It's not a big community, so these people often know each other.  As for the two workshops, they were particularly well-known proponents, Jon Rose and Peter Knight.  I got to Jon Rose.

Jon has a long history in music, having started early with violin, then through other instruments and eventually returning to violin.  There were classical scholarship offers and more at young age, but Jon was adventurous and quite daring, getting into inventing instruments, discovering sound capabilities and the like.  The workshop was a visit to a few of these instruments but there's a string of others on his website.  We heard of Jon's thinking, his trials, his concepts and experiences and heard some of the outcomes as recordings.  Fascinating if challenging.  Think 5 string trapezoidal violin with revolving double speaker or 19 string violin (or cello, for that matter) or hysperstring (as I understood, an interactive violin with a midi bow powering some software) or Aeolian double neck violin (wind powered with sail).  We also heard of tales of Violin, a town in the Czech Republic, and a history of a violin museum there established.    It was a challenging bit of thought and musical play and something to test the dada in us all.

Jon Rose (violin and various inventions) gave a workshop at SoundOut 2023.

  • SoundOut recordings at Bandcamp
  • Jon Rose website
  • 29 January 2023

    Congrats Mike

    It's always a blast to hear friends on the radio.  Normally I listen to BBC World Service late at night, but this was Sunday early morning and it's sports, so a scan of the stations.  Some interesting rap on Triple J and rap again and a wonderful jazz fusion thing on Double X, then a lovely take on a Handel oratorio on ABC Classic FM.  Now it's hard to identify music on stations at night.  I haven't been successful with Shazam from headphones and there are few DJs introducing tracks, but Classic FM has one and he announced Mike Dooley.  Then Mike's Epiphany performed by Ensemble Liaison.  All moving time signatures and effective repetition and four movements and a major quotation and very nicely played.  Lovely.  Congratulations, Mike.

    Not for the first time, I heard a Mike Dooley composition on ABC Classic FM.

    24 January 2023


    Then band no. 2, Greg Stott's Test Pilots.  Very different even if one tune harked to Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin and thus perhaps a hint at the Swamp jazz.  But no, this was different.  A mix of two generations, the senior partners up front and the rhythm section, a piano trio, behind.  Not that the front line took all.  The music was, in some ways, defined by the intense funky, loud and immensely driving grooves.  That is until a guitar took off with its own drive, meaning distortion, hot and loud and fast and indulgent.  Nothing like Greg at the National Press Club and so, so, so much fun.  I could drool over the sweeps, that signature of Canberra's own US guitar hero, Frank Gambale.  Greg was all over it.  And John, of course, always a master.  I found his solos more clear and easier to follow in this groove context.  I remember just how one simple rising arpeggio run followed by a scalar return took my breath away, as obvious a thing as it seems.  But the youngsters got their time in the headlights, too.  No slouches.  Jamie on Rhodes was a melodic but also rhythmically intense soloist, then I admired a spot where he sat out for variation and clarity.  That's mature.  And Haris, all rhythms and octaves on the chord notes surprised with a busily melodic final solo, and Peter, replacing Nic McBride no less, all concentration and sharp funky intensity, blew us out with several short filler solos then a final blow of concentration and momentum towards the end.  Greg led it all and introduced it all.  First up a medley in honour of recently deceased Jeff Beck, Mingus Goodbye porkpie hat leading into 'Cos we ended as lovers.  Those immense strained guitar tones boded well.  Then into three Greg originals, all grooves and complex melodic passages, Cipher, Alea iacta est (the tune in honour of Earnest Ranglin) and Blood nut.  Then Peter Gabriel Don't give up, for its play on timing, and Fuego, another Greg original and base for a final blow for all, a swinger with walking bass over rock drum line.  By this time I was chuckling with the daring and excitement of it all.  What a blast.

    Greg Stott's Test Pilots played at Smiths and comprised Greg Stott (guitar), John Mackey (tenor), Jamie Rea (Rhodes), Haris Hodzic (bass) and Peter Campion (drums).

    23 January 2023


    The name was a little odd and to some degree so was the music.  Richard suggested Swamp jazz for a style.  And this mix of guitars and violin made for memories of Mahavishnu from tone if not from style.  Two crisp guitars, again of quite different sound and style.  Lachlan was hard and sharp, uneffected, with short bends suggesting heavy strings.  Dylan played lighter, fingers gentle and delicate and with softer tone, perhaps reverb, or chorus given his Roland jazz chorus amp.  Then that unusual instrument for jazz or later styles, the violin.  That was spacious with reverb and tight and fast with chops.  We wondered why there's not more violin in modern musics.   It's a great tone and there are tons of well trained players if not necessarily players with understanding of the styles.  Certainly El has solo chops but also an awareness of the context and accompaniment.  Lovely.  Arpeggiated sequences and scalar flourishes and all manner of bowed effects were common, but also tenderness as in her lullaby composition.  As for the back line, as a bassist I much admire Chris, his aptness and ease along with fierce chops when that's called on and that insistent while soft tone, and Gus on drums was tight and expressive.   We heard several guitarist tunes, from John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny, and a few originals, demanding or relaxed, always played with respect and understanding.  And this is just the opening band for the night?  Looking good.

    Elastic Molasses comprised  Lachlan Coventry and Dylan Slater (guitars), Llewellyn Osborne (violin), Chris Pound (bass) and Gus Henderson (drums).  EM played at Smiths.

    22 January 2023


    Now this is an indulgence, but it might interest someone out there.  I've been playing with recording for some time now, stereo recording in the field of bands and small classical groups, then multitracks for my own recordings (mostly midi but some audio for vocals) and recently multitrack mix/mastering using stems from live shows.  Over time, you collect mics, in my case none too dear, but I wondered about the difference between my vocal mics.  Thus I recorded my voice at one time to four mics on four separate tracks: Rode NT1, MXL 2001, Audio Technica AT2020 (large diaphragm cardioid condensers) and for interest, Shure SM58 (cardioid dynamic).  The result?  The three condensers sounded surprisingly similar and the SM58 was obviously different.  Sound on Sound gives good reviews for all these mics, so they are all good (and good value).  I don't have the best ears or the best room acoustics and it was a pretty cursory test, but nonetheless an interesting result.

    21 January 2023


    Viewfinder is (for a few more days) an exhibition of photos from the collection of the National Library at the NLA.  It's subtitled photography from the 1970s to now, but I strangely found it a bit unrelatable.  I shouldn't given it is my era.  It's only ~150 pics but even so I was surprised that I recognised so few.  Perhaps because they were seldom (if ever?) by photojournalists. What do I remember?  A Tracey Moffat self portrait; a few of the environment and animals and the bush; Sylvania Waters (to suffer early from rising oceans?); Catholic and Anglican cemeteries; just a few pollies (Whitlam, Hawke and Howard); interestingly, some workers from when we had secondary industries (very casually dressed, somewhat pre-OH&S); something of youth cultures (hippies, sharpies and surfers); some old streets and buildings and the like.  I was totally dumbfounded once or twice.  The middle room at the underground dwelling at Kings Cross was something totally unknown to me; homelessness of the period, I guess.  A few pics.  You can see the exhibition online by working your way through the catalogue entries.

    Viewfinder : photography from the 1970s to now was an exhibition at the National Library of Australia.

  • Viewfinder checklist (links to catalogue entries and images)

  • 15 January 2023

    A busy room

    The Evans Room took me back to energetic, adventurous piano trio of well back.  They played Bud Powell and that was one indication, but also Ida Lupino and Mike Manieri and Blues in the closet was their feature tune to end with a few more meditative originals in between.  This was not one for too much rumination, although the playing was great and deserved the musician's ear for the chromatics and more, but the energy just drove it.  Nicely stuctured lines, frequently moving chromatically in single note runs or often in chords, plenty of chordal solos, or doubling the excitement level of single note lines to 16th notes, long runs of each, drums highlighting features while the band plays stops and starts.  Lovely stuff'; tons of energy and busy intent.  A few drum solos, spelling patterns and time and melody and frequent bass solos, on most tunes, more reticent at first, but extended into the thumb positions and then quicker with sequenced phrasings, neat, expressive, nicely done.  It's no surprise that Jack has been accepted to pursue Honours bass, was it at Melbourne's VCA or Con.  This is very much the driving piano trio style with chops and plenty of swing.  A good fun outing.

    Evans Room comprised Adam Davidson (piano), Jack Smythe (bass) and Hugh Magri-Bull (drums) and played at Smiths Alternative.

    14 January 2023


    The exhibition is called Feared and Revered and it's subtitled Feminine power through the ages.  It's also a joint project of the British Museum  and our NMA and thus has a string of ancient works that we tend not to see here, back to 2,800BCE.  Nothing that I noticed of our own items back to 60,000 years ago, although there were some modern takes on that history.   I tend to drool over the classical items, Egypt, Greece, Rome, predictable and Euro-centric as it is.  I am Euro extraction, after all.  There were various items from India, China, Africa and more and these were similarly awe-inspiring, but somewhat newer to me and perhaps us.  Not that I had the impression that any of these works were the real biggies that you see in London, but impressive none-the-less.  I'm on hols so just glancing through the captions, but I was somewhat befuddled, too, by the overall theme.  Feminine power and "its profound influence through the ages".  I can obviously see the reproductive power, but "ferocious, beautiful, creative, hell-bent" sounds like real power, not lack of, and that seems to poorly fit the arguments of contemporary feminism.  The Virgin Mary may be a reproductive power but is this social power in its own right?  The Kylie dress was fun but an insight on feminism?  One modern work amused me, a square stone block basically with a big hole located near the prehistoric female figures.  And the statues flashing vulvas from Irish and English churches?  New to me but female power?  Alternatively, a modern colourful print implying all comes from reproduction seemed immensely satisfying and feminist.  But these are just thoughts as I perused none too seriously on the day.  But I loved some of the works, a beautiful ivory (?) mediaeval Madonna and child and a Roman Venus.  Worth the visit and much more application than I could give it on this lazy January day.

    Feared and Revered:  Feminine power through the ages is on display at the National Museum of Australia.

    09 January 2023

    Out, Level 10

    Perhaps a first, a start with solo vocals with Australian bush vocalisations, then drums, soft with mallets and percussion, sticks drawn over skins.  Then vocals changing to grunts and animal sounds.  I remember Ren Walters now, as guitar sounds, drums getting busier, more intense, still mallets, percussion more varied cymbals struck, moody with alto stabs of square intervals, then into flourishes, and bowed cymbal drones, relaxing now, gongs, light cymbals, quieter, still, repeating notes at intervals, sax more pensive, then drums turning to sticks, sharper still, busy, all drums if damped with cloths, guitar sitting back, listening, then all listen on and off, that voice, rabid again with tones of ... what?  Dunno, but busy.  Guitar hints at staccato scales, then slow chords, flattened extensions.  Then open space with those consistent, insistent drums, cymbals edged, suddenly all dirty, simple, loud, slow, that guitar again.  And so it goes on.  Experimental.  Free.  Not always atonal but often enough, but there's ears here, space, animation, variation, quiet or delirium, then that voice again.  And so it continues.  Thinking, glad I didn't bring Megan to this one!  First set was a single improv, then a second set with a break and a shortie.  Interestingly, comprehensible vocals appeared toward the end "I said to Joy / what is your name / since where today / Joy answered me / my name is death delayed / so I made her stay".  Heavy with meaning not just music.  I was overwhelmed by some of the playing.  Drums were overwhelmingly delicate despite intensity (long practice!) and voice was all over with tones and pitch and alacrity (a passage of Japan-like tones in odd scalar 8th note runs floored me) and sax was tenor and alto and soprano and I think sopranino and I loved how standard voicings and intervals and phrasings would appear, although complex and altered, amongst intense flourishes of colour and guitar was sparse then singled noted then colour chorded, only appearing more prominently with volume pedal towards then end (these are good listeners) and percussion added colour but also purpose, as Dur-é spoke to us of the Voice referendum to introduce set 2.  Not a show for the faint-hearted, but intense and authentic and personal.  Hard but enjoyed.

    GAIP (General Assembly of Interested Parties) were Dur-é Dara (percussion), Jenny Ruth Barnes (voice), Scott McConnachie (soprano, alto, tenor, sopranino), Ren Walters (guitar) with visiting (Berlin) expatriate Samuel Hall (drums, percussion).  They performed for the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative at Jazzlab.

    08 January 2023


    It wasn't particularly jazzy, just an afternoon pub gig across the road from Flinders Street Station in the Transport Public Bar, all modern and open with birds flying through louvres, but the band was seriously satisfying.  A trio of singer, guitar and percussion, advertised as jazz and playing some funky jazz takes on standards, but also a string of R&B/soul songs.  And they carried if off so well.  Georga (soft -g-) Byrne was the main singer and she was fluid and expressive and a lively, jovial host too (I was still awaiting the request Nutbush... when we had to leave). She was supported with occasional harmonies and a few solo vocal songs by percussionist Luke who otherwise played a digital cajon and shakers: effective percussion and a very decent and apt voice.  And new father Mikey Chan was on guitar.  Megan was wondering about the bass lines at one stage and I confidently said they were thumb picked, just to be a little dumbfounded later.  They were thumb-picked, but more complex than I'd imagined.  He dropped E and A strings one octave and played with Joe Pass influences.  The effectiveness of his chordal playing, sharp, punctuated, precise, defined the tunes with huge solidity so eight or so bars of solo sat unimpeded and easily grooving.  This was mightily solid grooves from such a combination.  And the tunes fitted, from Ain't no sunshine and Summertime and Dock of the bay, all funky and grooved, through Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder and Amy W's Valerie and some obscurities (at least for me) like The Weeknd.  Even Beautiful love got a funky take.  So, I liked this trio, great music, lively day, decent beers and some very funky grooves that had a few up dancing and my foot tapping.  BTW, apparently Mikey is musical director for soul singer Kaiit: a good rec.

    Georga Byrne (vocals) led her trio with Luke (percussion, vocals) and Mikey Chan (guitar) at the Transport Public Bar in Federation Square, Melbourne.

    07 January 2023

    Today, so it seems

    I remember passing the Maton factory then visiting a historical artist colony in Melbourne and roaming about the buildings and coming on a coffin in a chapel (creepy) then ... a room full of people and cameras for the making of a film.  It was perhaps the late-70s.  Good story and its etched in my brain.  So we were off to the Heidi Gallery and I thought it would be that place but no.  Heidi was the home of John and Sunday Reid and a centre for some artists of their era but nothing like the place I remembered.  That was stone (or mud brick?) Monsalvat, also out of Melbourne and somewhat in the same general vicinity, but not a weatherboard residence with no later modernist concrete structure.  And a lovely garden.  So how was Heidi Gallery?  Modernist.  There was an exhibition of works by English female colleague of Henry Moore and doing similar things, Barbara Hepworth.  Mostly stones with holes and perhaps rafts of wires, but also at least one figure.  Then upstairs to paintings of Moira McKenna interspersed with Albert Tucker.  I mostly ignore the Untitled(s) from any artist (if they can't suggest their intent, why should I bother?) but there were some with interesting themes.  AT with St Anthony tormented in the desert and MMcK with a pair of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and another set in the same location, and yet another with the same upswept-hair woman reappearing.  Then another space with living artists.  One which stunned was a pair of gory photographs of bleeding skin, one cut for each Aboriginal death in custody.  Another featuring holes: cut into photos or burnt into paper or stamped into a big (1.5m?) silver-metal seed pod.  My guess it's a sibling of the huge holed ball outside the Art Gallery of South Australia (and the work promised for outside the NGA?).  These holey items were paired with a 1975 Paris Biennale event, filmed as Conical intersect (see YouTube) where a cone was cut into a C17th townhouse complex due for destruction for the building of the Pompidou Centre.  Then on through the gardens, to the house and some more works.  Thus contemporary arts at Heidi Modern Art Gallery.

    Barbara Hepworth and others were on display at the Heidi Gallery of Modern Art in Melbourne.

    PS.  Monsalvat was the location for a string of films/series including several in the late-70s.

    06 January 2023


    I am no fashion plate but I had a tailor father and I've come to admire good dress so we visited the National Gallery of Victoria for an exhibition of the work of Alexander McQueen and I was entranced. I enjoyed it immensely. He was obviously a madly talented person given he was head of a Paris fashion house two years after completing his training in England. Also openly gay and with mental health problems, short lived (died aged 41 in 2010), outspoken on politics, well read in history, inspired by diverse cultures, channelling classical through to modern arts. This was an interesting person and probably driven. We saw his works next to his inspirations in Greek and Roman statues, mediaeval religious paintings, Spanish and Indian prints, Scottish history, even disco events. All works inspired by and evidencing his wide and intriguing interests, and hugely varied. I was inspired and thrilled: one daggy male amongst many more informed dressers. I could have been embarrassed but rather I was intrigued and overwhelmed with the mix of skills and beauty and art, not to mention humour, of it all. I still hold a hangover hippy distrust of dress but it's mixed with awe and respect for the art so I remain a little confused. But I loved this exhibition and was in awe of his craft. Lovely stuff.

    Myth Magic Muse is an exhibition of the work of Alexander McQueen at the National Gallery of Victoria until 16 April.