15 February 2024

It's all music

There's a saying that it's all music and I concur and I've had a few examples here recently.  First up was SoundOut with its experimental music and free jazz.  Another was the first Wesley lunchtime gig of 2024, cellist William Jack.  He's trained at the Sydney Con and in Vienna and now resident in London, but a product of Adelaide so we see him on tour on a family visit.  But he'd not always been on cello; he started with guitar, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix and the like.  Mmm.  Common enough to move from rock to recognised but this program suggested he'd maintained the rage: Oasis Wonderwall and Dylan Don't think twice it's alright and a medley of a lovely Bach Sarabande merging into Lennon Imagine.  Well I never!  Sublime, ridiculous?  You know what, it went down a treat with the audience at Wesley.  And there were some odd  techniques, too, like a prepared cello with clothes peg, but finally that pick on cello on lap like guitar was beyond the pale.  But it worked a treat.  I enjoyed the lyrics of Dylan sung with a decent, not classical but committed, voice and Wonderwall is so catchy and the Bach was glorious and deep to sink into.  Funnily, I'd looked down for some reason later in the concert and he'd been talking of guitar as a formative influence and I looked up and the cello was on his lap and he started up with picked strums and some decent soloing.  It was a surprise but a pleasant one.  William plays a range of musics, just happening to carry a cello, just happening to play a mostly classical venue, but he'd also played BBC Radio 3 and the Kerryville Folk Festival in Texas and had an offer for our own National Folk Festival but couldn't do this one.  Hope to see him in future because he would be a hit, like he was at Wesley one Wednesday lunchtime.  Fascinating and capable with some pointed Dylan lyrics.

William Jack (cello, vocals) performed solo at Wesley Music Centre.

11 February 2024

Sober on Bacchanalia

There are a string of musical communities in Canberra and I've touched on just a few in these pages but it can be eye-opening to visit others.  I remember playing with the Cashews and how overwhelmed I was, and that was a group I'd heard of but not heard.  So the opportunity to visit the organisers of one community was revelatory.  Shortis and Simpson were running one of their Under the Influence sessions where they explore the lives and activities of, this time, Nigel and Beth, beloved hosts at Smiths Alternative.  So we visited family and country roots, studies (science and art), influences and a history of their exploits as musicians and local musical promoters, through the Canberra Musicians Club and McGregor Hall and the Backyard Bacchanalia and now Smiths Alternative.  In fact, along the way we also learnt of S&S's pathways, some shared with B&N and even soundman Bevan.  I've touched on both their communities at times, but being somewhat single minded missed out on the Bacchanalia and more.  But what I took from this session was awe at B&N's work over time and Nigel's perceptive, often humourous songwriting and Beth's lovely voice and quite magical harmonies.  How's this for a telling line: "Love is better left to experts /.../ Love is better served at breakfast".   I was not the only one to draw breath at this one.  Interestingly, we also touched on the history of S&S, especially in relation or in crossovers with B&N, and even with Bevan.  Interesting to see them all come together in this most inviting and varied and bohemian space that is Smiths Alternative for this visit to the lives of Nigel and Beth.

Moya Simpson and John Shortis ran a musical interview session with Nigel McRae and Beth Tully at Smiths.

08 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 6

I was mostly busy on Sunday but couldn't miss the first performance which was my final: two basses and guitar, Clayton Thomas, Helen Svoboda and Jean-Sebastian Mariage.  I've been mightily impressed and often intrigued by the playing of all these three over this festival.  They were in the smaller room, having starting early so they were playing when audience entered.  Lots of sustained floating drones, I thought around A given harmonics and open strings, contrasting harmonics harmonies, some interesting atonal melody note plays from Clayton and Jean-Sebastian, bowing from all including guitar, and some bass pizz and an end on a relative quietude and high bass harmonics.  Quite a lovely engrossing performance, unusual with those dissonant pizz lines which are somewhat a revelation after the consistent harmonies of bass harmonics.  So an end for SoundOut 2024.  This one had more relevance and meaning for me, perhaps because I got to perform, somewhat because the act of performance and preparation taught something of the approach and style.  I also better understood the nature of experimental vs free jazz.  And there were some really impressive musicians.  I will single out some favourites but this is not exhaustive and just from those I heard: Clayton Thomas, Helen Svoboda, Novak Milojlovic, Guylaine Cosseron, Maria Moles, Jean-Sebastian Mariage, Laurence Pike but, as I said, a personal list.  Congrats to all and especially to Richard Johnson who brought together the 15th instance of this fascinating, challenging and unusual gathering.  Given our political bent from Clayton, I'll add a few relevant pics from the Lyneham Shops.

Clayton Thomas (bass), Helen Svoboda (bass) and Jean-Sebastian Mariage (guitar) performed my final concert at SoundOut 2024.

07 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 5

Then the second half of Saturday session 2.  First up an interesting session perhaps led by Jim Denley.  Unlike others, this was a series of "tunes", each with a theme or approach, seemingly prepared to be led by one or other performer.  It had me wondering if this was a CD launch!  Performers were Elizabeth Jigalin, Helen Svoboda, Jean-Sebastien Mariage, Jim Denley and Laurence Pike.  Feels variously changed and were led by or centred on instruments and instrumental techniques.  Thus I noted: rippling piano with distorted guitar; pining feel with guitar and brushes; bowed guitar with bass harmonics and unison vocals; busy frantic distorted guitar and slammed piano; rubber mallet on bass with damped guitar notes; harmonics, guitar e-bow, mallets on cymbals, bowed bass, sparse piano, flute vibrato, build to finale.  Fascinating, unexpected and well received.  Next was mainly electronics with projections performed by Hannah de Feyter, Danny Wild (Lowflung), Yichen Wang and Nicci Hayes.  Hannah had a viola but mostly played effects and presumably loops in the effects chain.  Danny played a complex looking suitcase of a synth and Yichen a tiny but surprisingly powerful (and costly) Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth.  The whole was electronica, groove and metallics with some effective projections behind.  Nice.  Then the Clayton Thomas Large Ensemble.  Rules, structure and guidance were discussed in another post.  Clayton introduced it as a political action as any group activity is (interesting thought) and highlighted the horror of Gaza and related and committed the performance to this stand.  It was an intelligent, thoughtful, quite radical and informed presentation.  Much admiration for that.  Then we played.  I stood centre with basses right and left wing, behind Miro so I was particularly well placed to luxuriate in a glorious tone and subtle melody.  This moved into our community improvs with rules and ultimately to a drone from Helen, a piano solo from Novak (again a stunner) against a growing crescendo of moving all-in drone until it dwarfed the piano and Clayton signalled a stop.  The whole was ~30-minutes as these sets are.  The solos from Miro and Novak were stunning, I felt the improv segment was better in practice but still OK, the crescendo was a stunner and very loud at the end.  The audience was small but the reception was strong.  So a success.  Much enjoyed.

Performers for set 4 were Elizabeth Jigalin (piano), Helen Svoboda (bass), Jean-Sebastien Mariage (guitar), Jim Denley (winds) and Laurence Pike (drums).  For set 5 were Hannah de Feyter (viola), Danny Wild (Lowflung) (synth), Yichen Wang (synth) and Nicci Hayes (projections).  Set 6 was the Large Ensemble led by Clayton Thomas (bass) and featuring Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Helen Svoboda (bass) and Novak Minojlovic (piano).

06 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 4

I feel more informed in this SoundOut festival and maybe understand it better.  I peruse the program and realise (I think I'm correct) that day 1 has the performers playing in their normal combinations and later session mix and match for more new combinations.  And like people who have played together for a time, you see the comfort of the known and the challenge of the new.  All interesting.  I often find I prefer the known, but I respect and the new.  Next session for me was Saturday session 2.  First up was Ellen Kirkwood, Guylaine Cosseron, Maria Moles, Mark Cauvin and Richard Johnson. This started with voice and voice remained a major lead throughout.  Guylaine is seriously expressive and capable with her voice, so numerous sounds, vowels, groans, whistles even multi-pitch harmonised, running through highs, climaxes, recoveries.  Then nice ears for harmonies from bass and sax, even with surprisingly similar solo concepts, occasional percussion then trumpet tones later on and a final note that sounded of air raid sirens.  Whoah.  Next up was Bonnie Stewart, Guillaume Gargaud, Novak Manojlovic, Rhys Butler and sit-in vocals form Tony Osborne.  An immediate start from piano and vocals, leading to guitar with even country twangs.  Then waves of intensity, sudden explosions, with perhaps percussion or gentle alto or vox in between, rolling strings from piano and damped guitar plucks through extensive solos.  Another discovery?  That this music is more about dynamics than harmony let alone melody or even rhythm.   Then Jodie Rottle, Josephine Macken, Jamie Lambert and Peter Farrer.  Opening with a bell, then more mild, meditative, pensive, flautic (is there such a word?) with flutes of various sizes from Jodie and Josephine, bell-like guitar and bowed and even some violin from Jamie and alto and percussion from Peter.

Peformers for set 1 were Ellen Kirkwood (trumpet), Guylaine Cosseron (voice), Maria Moles (drums), Mark Cauvin (bass) and Richard Johnson (tenor).  For set 2 were Bonnie Stewart (drums), Guillaume Gargaud (guitar), Novak Manojlovic (piano), Rhys Butler (alto) and Tony Osborne (vocals).  For set 3 were Jodie Rottle (flute), Josephine Macken (flute), Jamie Lambert (guitar) and Peter Farrer (alto).

05 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 3

Next was a morning workshop featuring two bassists.  How could I not attend?  We were in the smaller performance room, bare walls and very alive, with about 20 attendees.  First part was Helen Svoboda with Maria Moles.  They first performed, then discussed their approach, how they outline their performances and guide their improvisations, how they interpret an image or theme as parameters.  Parameters was from writings of Anthony Braxton, possibly otherwise expressed as expression and relevant to the theme you wish to play, so a rolling landscape may be interpreted as long, gentle notes and Jackson Pollock would be short or staccato.  And how players perform together conceptually and musically.  I particularly enjoyed the conversation and broader aspects of musicianship and their personal journeys, like, how Helen records lots of her practice and releases an albums each year (three so far on Spotify) or how Maria also plays pop/indie and how it's all relevant.  And the group finally played together with some guidance on parameters.  This was particularly relevant because Clayton Thomas took the second half of the session to prepare us to perform later as the Large Ensemble.  He introduced a series of rules to guide our performance which were later to become a little more complex with the addition of several of the performing players for performance that night.  Some rules were: only play in space; play short notes; look up and be aware of others' playing; long notes allowed when you respond to other/s; whenever you introduce a new phrase/note, play your previous notes/phrases first, thus 1, 1, 1-2... A later prep session would expand to include a structure: Miro introduces, all play the rules above, Helen starts quiet drone, Novak solos over drone as the ensemble crescendos very, very slowly to overwhelm piano then stop on signal.  Thus is experimental music.  I understand it better now.

A workshop was in two parts with Helen Svoboda (bass) and Maria Moles (drums) then Clayton Thomas (bass, large ensemble leader).

04 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 2

There were three more acts during the SoundOut Friday night session.  First was a very quirky outing with three performers playing occasional trumpet and flute but mostly various kids' toys.  All rattles and noises and shakers and whistles.  Backing this was a multimedia-cum-live drawing session projected behind.   The falling conga line of penguins was perhaps the peak of this experience, but an artistically quirky good time was had by all, performers and audience.  BTW, the mini amps were Marshall and Orange, although the sound was nothing like dirty rock.  Amusing.  performers were Elizabeth Jigallin, Ellen Kirkwood, Jodie Rottle and Nicci Haynes.  Then Kairos, another French international duo, this time combining electronics and oft-times nicely dirty Les Paul guitar.  Dotty punchy synth lines from a table of keyboards and one particularly strange controller, bowed guitar, some seriously nice phrasings, impressive sounds although I wondered where it was going or went.  Performers were Jean-Sebastian Mariage and Gwennaëlle Roulleau.  Then the final act, a quartet called Believe.  This was straight free jazz, fabulously articulate and expressive and informed with top skills, madly busy from the first notes but moving through a series of sections.  The performers were Clayton Thomas, Laurence Pike, Novak Manojkovic and Peter Farrer.  All great musos, but I have to single out Novak.  He's a pianist and piano is the whole orchestra in a box, but he could play it all.  I was blown out, by him and all.  And I don't always warm to free jazz.  It needs informed chops and some structure and immense listening and a love of dissonance, but then it can be exhilarating.  This was.

The quirky penguins outing was Elizabeth Jigallin (toys), Ellen Kirkwood (toys sometimes trumpet), Jodie Rottle (toys sometimes flute, piccolo) and Nicci Haynes (drawings, projections).  Kairos comprised  Jean-Sebastian Mariage (guitar) and Gwennaëlle Roulleau (electronics).  Believe comprised Clayton Thomas (bass), Laurence Pike (drums), Novak Manojkovic (piano) and Peter Farrer (alto, percussion).

03 February 2024

SoundOut 2024 / 1

Richard Johnson's SoundOut festival is back for its 15th incarnation.  It's presumably well known in these pages as an experimental and free jazz festival featuring Canberrans, Australians and a spattering of internationals.  And for that matter, sadly, just a spattering of audience.  This is not the most popular musical style: eclectic and authentic, yes, but popularity limited.  I won't get too all, but I do expect to get to one workshop and two or three concert sessions.  First up was Session 1 Friday evening.  I came in as Biomorph were performing.  This is the veritable core group of Richard Johnson and Rhys Butler playing tenor and alto saxes.  I heard flickering, moody, floating, whale calls, tonguing and horn staccatos and a closeness that comes with time playing together.  Then French internationals Animal Duo comprising Diemo Schwartz (electronics) and Guylaine Cosseron (vocals).  Sounds of cymbals, explosives, unexpected dynamics and more from synth and vocals that sounded of wind, grunts, animal noises and gutted with taped vocal chords.  Variously swelling, settling, floating, menacing.  Third up was a favourite for me, especially given I play bass.  Panghalina comprises an odd combination of bass plus two drummers, each playing another instrument, vocals or synth.   It comprised Helen Svoboda (bass, vocals), Bonnie Stewart (drums, vocals) and Maria Moles (drums, synth).  This sounded more ordered to my ears, but still mightily improvised.  They told me later of SoundOut being an opportunity return to improv roots given they are otherwise touring an album and playing those tunes which were originally productions of improv and remain improvisatory but with some structure.  I noted how "this has structure, thus some expectations amongst improv with huge intensity and high wordless vocals".  They later talked of parameters, being standard modes of expression (short note, long notes, staccato, etc) also a pictorial sense, as in long notes as landscape and short notes for Jackson Pollock.  Tech also took a role: Maria's synth but also TC Helicon over Helen's voice and a Boss RC505II to sample and loop Bonnie's voice, but more importantly, their voices found natural, improvised notes and merged through gentleness and harmonies.  Some structure over improv: how I like it.

Biomorph comprised Richard Johnson (tenor) and Rhys Butler (alto).  Animal Duo comprised Diemo Schwartz (electronics) and Guylaine Cosseron (vocals).  Panghalina comprised Helen Svoboda (bass, vocals), Bonnie Stewart (drums, vocals) and Maria Moles (drums, synth).