A large audience has gathered in the oratory of a disused convent in Abbotsford, Melbourne. Their tone is genuflective not for spiritual concerns but sonic ones. The first Inland Concert for the year (curated by Alexander Garsden and Rohan Drape and co-presented with Liquid Architecture) has established itself as a hard-listening concern over the last three years. The series of occasional informal gatherings of a handful of exploratory solo or chamber acts typically blurs the lines which once existed between ensemble repertoire, chance collaborations and extended technique. This concert suitably concentrates these concerns and interests into an engaging evening.
Alexander Garsden's True Strength - a duo with Ida Duelund-Hansen - opens the evening with a suite of para-atonal guitar miniatures. Garsden is a reserved virtuoso on the classical acoustic guitar, and his skills with True Strength are directed toward dense, single chord fingerpicked clouds, sometimes carrying Duelund-Hansen's artful double bass and voice, other times merging with her acoustic guitar chords to create ringing chimes of nylon. Their joint shimmering stasis evokes harp and koto images. Some pieces straddle a Celtic- Nordic axis of new folk harmonic complexity, but the best moments were swirling chordal pools devoid of cultural baggage and full of harmonic complexity.
The duo of crys cole and Oren Ambarchi presented a conceptually oriented collaborative performance. Single notes doled out by Ambarchi on acoustic guitar are gradually digitised and processed by cole amid four hissing iPhones playing steamy sub-tropical cicada song. However. the minimalist tension was far from engaging, the results thin, tinny and unsubstantial.
Following a brief interval, Joe Talia and James Rushford delivered a particularly fulsome improvisation. Rushford's lush Messiaen-like synth pad chords and warbling finger-walking merged with Talia's deft gestural incisions of realitime signal manipulation through his reel-to—reel tape deck. Previous work of this duo has tended to place somewhat forced gestural operations upon what seems like a deliberate restraining of their instrumental skills. But tonight's performance exuded a relaxed grandeur with its evocation of lugubrious orchestration in the style of Bernard Herrmann's soundtracks and Vangelis's Blade Runner score fed through a Mogadon matrix.
The final performance occurred in darkness. Seated somewhere in the space. Okkyung Lee did what she does best: she starts, continues and eventually stops. Clearly championing sonic journey over cerebral destination, her cello becomes its own self-generating machine of sonic energy. Two things become apparent during this. The first is the rich muscular tone of her cello, simply miked and played through the small but quality PA system. It fills the space with its characteristic throb, attenuated by Lee who, one eventually realises, had been sitting in the centre rear of the audience, facing the PA speakers so as to interact With the aural reflecting skin of her performance. Gesture is subsumed in her playing: not once is there a showy disconnected line or fancy trill left to hang in the air. Like a tightrope walker, she continually balances her frame by nursing, rocking, scraping and rowing with the body of the cello. None of this was visible in the darkness: one could hear it, though, in the looping repetition of algorithmic arcs and fingered pressure points which produced squeaks, squalls, screams and sighs.
For those like myself who are often numbed by the firebrand expressionism of improv music's pyrotechnical humanism, this Inland concert series again presented an alternative to such height scaling, choosing to remain with its ear close to the ground. There, the vibrations speak with a quiet difference.
Liquid Architecture/Inland: Nothing but disaster follows from applause
By Matthew Lorenzon
As tiny festivals of sonic exploration, interdisciplinarity, and improvisation, the Liquid Architecture and Inland concert series are natural partners. For one of the year’s first concerts they teamed up to bring the world’s foremost experimental cellist Okkyung Lee, to Melbourne. The concert’s title suited the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration. “Nothing but disaster follows from applause” is a quotation from the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard, who consistently criticised nationalism and religious hypocrisy in post-war Austria. While there is some uncertainty as to whether populism will develop into fascism under Trump, the election of a climate change denier to the White House all but seals the fate of our natural environment. Far from relaxing or soul-cleansing, the ecological theme that ran through “Nothing but disaster” was a “dark ecology” tinged with the melancholy knowledge of our contribution to the destruction of our own ecosystem.
Alexander Garsden and Ida Duelund-Hansen are better known to Partial Durations readers as a post-spectralist composer and a Scandinavian avant-garde chanteuse. These musical personalities find a magical synthesis in the folk-revival duo True Strength. Switching between Danish and English, Duelund-Hansen’s light and pure voice sings of waves, tussocks of grass, and terraced hillsides over Garsden’s floating acoustic guitar harmonies. Duelund-Hansen’s double bass part journeys along in melodic counterpoint. The overall sound is reminiscent of Alela Diane and Ryan Francesconi’s album Cold Moon, albeit denser and with a greater rate of textural change. True Strength’s songs are series of reflective tableaux, but they never let you linger too long. You can and should hear True Strength on Spotify (though don’t mistake them with the christian metal band), or live in Hobart and Melbourne over the next week.
Having last heard Oren Ambarchi perform a richly-textured noise set through a hulking battery of amplifiers at the Aurora Festival in 2011, I brought my earplugs to the Abbotsford Convent. These turned out to be completely unnecessary, as Crys Cole and Ambarchi’s principal source of amplification were networked smartphones. Cole used an iPad to send nocturnal field recordings to the phones spaced around the hall. Croaking frogs and chirping insects wafted through the room while Ambarchi repeated a single note on an acoustic guitar. Throughout the set, Cole’s sound design shifted into man-made analogues, including what sounded like rustling paper and vocal whispers. I found this set no less affecting than a full-body immersion in noise. Who can innocently listen to the sounds of nature any more? Every environmental sound is now an indictment of our custodianship of it. Once the purview of dollar-bin relaxation tape manufacturers, recording a cicada is now a radical act.
The synthesiser and tape collaborations of James Rushford and Joe Talia have long stretched the limits of the audible, but their whisper-soft set for “Nothing but disaster” gained a new poignancy from the ecological preludes of True Strength and Cole and Ambarchi. Among the Lynchesque synth drones I heard distant wolf-howls and crickets, all suffused in an electromagnetic, static glow.
Okkyung Lee’s set heralded from the other side of the world and the opposite end of the dynamic range. Playing behind the audience and in complete darkness, Lee let us know what an efficient noise machine the cello is. Growling, grinding, and never still, Lee savaged her instrument in new and remarkably dexterous ways, though this was only evident to me when I craned my neck to catch the shadow of her bow arm. We’ve all heard a cello getting murdered, but it would have been good to see how Lee does it. For the most part her technique was lost on the audience.
Liquid Architecture and Inland are the products of an adventurous and discerning experimental music community with the ability—more or less unique in the contemporary music community—to attract audiences from other art forms. Such curatorial vision has the power to develop powerful artistic responses to the social and environmental disasters of our age (take your pick).
Liquid Architecture and Inland
Nothing but disaster follows from applause
The Abbotsford Convent
20 January 2017
True Strength, Crys Cole and Oren Ambarchi, James Rushford and Joe Talia, Okkyung Lee
3MBS Concert Review: Okkyung Lee
The Oratory, Abbotsford Convent - 16 January 2017
By Mirren Strahan
March 6, 2017
In the cavernous, intimate space of the oratory within the Abbotsford convent, Inland and Liquid Architecture have presented a whirlpool of soundscapes for the audience to enjoy. Many listeners had their eyes closed throughout the performance; truly a concert you ought to close your eyes to and escape within. The audience was set in a semi-circle, encompassing the performers, with exception of Okkyung Lee’s surprise location in the darkness at the back of the audience.
The first act, True Strength, a duet of guitar, double bass and doubling on vocals, evoked me to a coastal landscape from the sweetness of the vocals and calm fluidity of the accompanying guitar. Their performance was beautiful and strangely nostalgic, familiar and homely. After, the style transformed to much more of a soundscape style, Oren Ambarchi and Chrys Cole, placing the audience amidst an Australian summer night of cicadas and frogs from iPhone recordings, placed throughout the hall. James Rushford and Joe Talia performed an electronic drone, exploring between the consonance and dissonance of notes, feeling very turbulent yet slow. Complimented, visually by their slow gestures and movement amongst the use of a tape and electronic pad. Their performance had a cool effect of making the hall feel dense with the pulsations of sound.
Lastly, Okkyung Lee. “Where is she?” said my friend and I in unison. Lights are off and Okkyung places herself at the back of the audience, which was an exciting invitation to her improvisatory whirlpool and sensory overload. Sometimes I felt like I could feel her gestures and movements on the cello for myself. At some points within the piece, the erratic circular and busy movement evoked spirals and shapes, until ascending into a shrill note that sounded like tintinnabulation or high pitch radio waves. Okkyung’s performance was incredible. Her improvisation was erratic and beautiful, highly engaging as sometimes, convinced the audience that she was being accompanied by a big bass drum ensemble, it wasn’t a cello at all, maybe it is a cello, oh no, that sounds like a cello… wait… A moment, her coarse sound, was highly evocative of a didgeridoo. Another moment when she was both percussive, with plenty of bass and grunt at the same time, initiated your inner primitivism.
Her performance, as well as the entire concert, was quite a sensory overload. Okkyung’s performance felt very personal. From other Inland concerts I’ve been to, listening to other improvisations, I’ve found that a performer’s improvisation is a nice insight for the listener, into a performer’s personality, experience and life. For instance, Okkyung’s performance was very percussive with cultural hues and intent on creating a soundscape, rather than a particular melody. I am always left happy and satisfied after each Inland and Liquid Architecture concert I’ve been to. There are always new sounds to experience and new compositional techniques to learn.
Alexander Garsden walks quietly behind a wide arc of four large gongs, each suspended in front of a transducer mike affixed to their rear faces. He adjusts things slightly as his mixer channels their sympathetic frequencies. Messages To Erich I & II (2015-6) is the opening piece for this evening of membranous sonic events. You can call it music if you want. I certainly do.
The resonant riches of gongs have long been appreciated both within and outside the academy as an aural portal into the dense verticality of tone (over, sub, upper, hyper, psycho etc). The ringing gong, cymbal or bell -- each notably circumscribed by celestial circularity -- is like Narcissus' pool in terms of its attractiveness. Yet unlike narcissistic drive, listening to these enriching tones has long granted listeners consciousness of the fathomless depth of the sonic. Their distinctive harmonic drone and its transmogrification from one pitch constellation to a range of shared resonating shapes holds the power to extinguish human centricity.
The Inland concert series is clearly committed to this appreciation of the sono-musical excitation of sound. Garsden's piece is a perfect hors-d'oeuvre for the evening's tacit remit: to foreground the experiential through compositional, performative and improvisational strategies. True to the surfeit of sensation which inevitably arises from this approach to welcoming sound as extant rather than extracted, my mind cruised through a semiotic pathway, recalling how the histories of analogue and digital synthesis pursued sympathetic resonance as an enlightened plateau which returned artificial electronics to naturalised sonics. Some moments of Messages sounded wholly electronic.
A counterpoint to this piece was Rohan Drape's sumptuous dive into the microtonal mist unleashed by live processing of his digital keyboard. He mimicked grand organ tones in order to transform them into dense clouds of partials and harmonic transitions of originating diatonic notes. Titled which, unlike the heliotrope, turn timidly away from the sun (2016), the work, performed in darkness, commenced and finished like an hallucinated interruption to the evening. It presented more than an exploratory excursion down the well-worn safety-roped pathways of alt tunings. The listening experience hinged on the simultaneity of conflicting tunings, granting the slippery ear both an indoctrinated framework and its programmatic alteration. This powered the piece beyond pure sonic sensation.
If Drape's piece hovered at the membranous aural periphery between the diatonic and the microtonic, Jim Denley's masterful improvisation actualised and physicalised this epidermis. Performing on a bass flute modified with a thin membrane affixed to its end, Denley deftly shifted the instrument to his right so that the membrane touched three thin rods spinning furiously, courtesy of a modified power tool. We should all by now know of the predictable sonic occurrences of these devices rigged this way, but in the hands of some performers and their configurations, the result remains transfixing.
Denley notably displayed a range of extended techniques which shaped his performance through an agitated dialogue with his instrument's fundamental architecsonics and its transformation via the vibrational induction of rods spitting onto excitable membrane. Whenever I hear such performance of wind-based instruments, I can never not forget the legacy of the shakuhachi -- particularly that instrument's unique ideological grappling with materialism, physicality and its near-mystical transduction of human breath into a resonating energy source. More importantly, the fact that noise -- or rather, the overload of frequency specificity -- is entirely embraced by the most traditional strictures of shakuhachi performance highlights the narrow binaries with which even Western-based experimental practices make their claims as being somehow 'beyond music.'
Denley's performance circumnavigates this critical shortcoming which I feel plagues so much exploratory music. How? By exciting possible semantic tangents. His rhythms grounded the improvisation, as he articulated both the determinants of his physicality (height, posture, arm-reach, breathing cycle) as well as their transcendence (shifting body weight, circular breathing, proximity sensitivity). Once he turned on the power tool and commenced breathing, the effect was like a Rube Goldberg event predicated on causal balance. The aural result was a series of passages which formed envelopes of sound, each carrying miniature algorithms of his performative situation and moment. Listening to the tubular flanging of the vibrating membrane and its frenetic aural speckling resembling spectral equalisation, I was reminded of urinating into a stainless steel toilet -- sadly a pleasure disappearing from our contemporary soundscape. This is no mere vulgar assertion on my part: an enriching sonic experience in concert can propel the listener into the most unexpected locations and moments. If sound is to be truly regarded as something greater than the listener, this is where the open ear can end up.
Threaded through the evening's pieces was a suite of interactions between Anthony Pateras on piano and Anthony Burr on bass clarinet and sine waves. Two compositions by Burr presented his rigorous articulation of how breathing, listening, intoning and toning can generate a choral dialectic for a composer-performer of his calibre. A fixed tonal chord of maybe two or even three sine tones droned from his laptop. Now, we have heard sine wave tones many times before. I wrote a potted history of the sine wave tone last year as a chapter in the book Abstract Video Art (University of California Press), so it's hard to make small comment about it.
Burr's pieces -- Life seen by life (2016) and Word And Also Its Echo (2016) -- made me think of many things. The first is the weird occurrence of hearing sine waves in a church. Who would have thought such a sonic thing would ever happen? Yet this very juncture between the 'acousacred' and the 'sinospritual' frames the semiotic substantia of how experimental music thankfully will always exist beyond prescription. Second, the uniqueness of experiencing these sine waves.
Treated as orthodoxy, Burr's compositions are inevitably aligned with the activated listening required by and for Alvin Lucier's excitable frequencies and Pauline Oliveros' excited spaces. But how dull to attach an exciting performance such as this to the historicist template of what now is a modus operandi of over a half-century's standing. Burr's compositions granted a specific experience which -- true to the Eastern perceptual philosophies which shaped certain early experimental practices -- were more about the space between events rather than the events themselves.
Even that reduces the sensation of the performance. I was amazed by my doubting the sine tones' fixity each time Burr stopped his channelled breaths and tense embouchure. Was the pitch higher now, or lower, or constant? The greatest depth of any sound lies in one doubting its presence, its identity, its characteristics. For when one doubts while listening, one knows that sound is greater than can ever be heard.
Burr's sonically invisible tones -- countered by Pateras' measured interjections of data-sets summarising the harmonic interaction between Burr's notes and the sine wave tone -- guided the audience around the sine wave tone. It was like being taken for a walk around a superstructure which patiently invited close inspection of its form and surface. These compositional techniques informed the evening's concluding improvisation, The Long Exhale (2014-16), which re-interpreted moments from the tracks on the gorgeous Immediata CD of the same name released this year.
As Pateras and Burr sounded their final lingering tones, the membranous returned to its infinite equilibrium, like the aerated skin of water in a glass. The Inland concert series evidences a wealth of talent dedicated not merely to being 'transgressive' or 'avant-garde' (terms as radical as Bruce Willis singing the blues), but to quietly conducting contemplative research and presenting fascinating results. Sound by nature, but music by name.
Inland 16.4: Through Savage Progress; All Saints Church, Melbourne, 18 July
RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016
© Philip Brophy
Inland 15.3: Your House is the Last Before the Infinite
August 27, 2015
by Matthew Lorenzon
The Inland concert series explores a musical interior. Like the blend of properties at the center of a colour graph, Inland explores the gradations between notated, improvised, and electroacoustic performances. Concert 15.3 at the Church of all Nations in Carlton explored a single, focussed point of this hinterland, that of static textures developed through layering live and captured sounds.
Samuel Dunscombe’s Unfinished Piece for 27 Clarinets is performed by only three clarinettists, in this case Dunscombe, Aviva Endean, and Michiko Ogawa. The electronic part quickly swells to an atmosphere of drones and squawks. The effect is like listening to a great crowd of people, with half-heard conversations and choruses arising and subsiding from the dense body of sound.
Rohan Drape is largely to blame for the perfectly balanced sound diffusion throughout the concert. In each piece, the electroacoustic part perfectly matched the live performers to the extent that, from my vantage point at the back of the church, they were difficult to distinguish. This was as true for instruments as it was for voices. The collaborative work Four suns and a whole sky on fire amplified and multiplied phonemes and words uttered by the soprano Jessica Aszodi before Drape and Garsden introduced a droning accompaniment.
Jeanette Little’s Barbaric Yawp for Uilleann Pipes was a highlight of the night and not just because it featured an instrument so little-heard in the contemporary music world. Once again, the focus was on the instrument’s polyphonic texture and Matthew Horsley carefully managed the piece’s microtonal pitch bends and shifting drones. The melody, when it arrives, is a bleating, squealing thing that resonated delightfully in the church with a little help from the sound design.
Judith Hamann’s untitled solo cello performance featured a series of expertly-diffused extended cello sounds, my favourite of which was bowed cello spike. The vibrations of the spike were so slow that they formed a rhythm of sussurating sounds accompanied by maritime creaks.
The stage faintly glowed beneath the cross of the Church of All Nations. The semicircle of speakers and microphones formed a sacred space, like prayer or a pulpit, within which the sounds of the performers were amplified. But no god was intended to hear these performances, nor does Inland espouse any particular cosmology. With the concert closely following the Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic and directly preceding the Ballarat Slow Music Festival, I wondered after the intentions of the audience members scattered around on the floor. Why do audiences so desperately want to doze? The society-wide will to relaxation is not just a symptom of our busy, technology-stuffed lifestyles, but of our increasing infantilisation as consumers who can’t be trusted to go to bed on time without the right app.
I recently photographed this ridiculous Qantas ad in an airport.
Needless to say, a world of entertainment is not much use while you are asleep, much less if you are trying to get to sleep on a full stomach. But Qantas wants you to consume even when you are full and asleep. There is nothing new in this. If the pinnacle of luxury is gorging oneself and falling asleep in front of a television, then a good portion of the population lives the dream on a regular basis. This ideal of luxury also informs contemporary music. Where falling asleep in a concert was once seen as a bad thing, the ambient sound artist Robert Rich has been presenting “sleep concerts” for several decades. In contemporary art music, it seems that every few months an audience is invited to lie on cushions or curl up in pods.
Trance, transcendence, non-knowledge, or inner experience have their place and exploring these states of mind may be extremely beneficial to one’s health and well-being, but can’t this happen outside of the concert hall? Old-fashioned though these Enlightenment ideals may be, society extricated itself from the comfort of religious dogma for compelling reasons. Even though the last couple of hundred years of technological advancement may well lead to the doom of Western Civilisation as we know it, we can’t crawl back inside the womb now. I am interested to see what composers will do next, once they get bored of the ersatz-sacred bubble.
I have written several times about David Toop‘s performance at the 2013 Totally Huge New Music Festival, where he brutally interrupted his soporific, crackling sound design with deafening strikes of a snare drum. While this is one of the most appropriate responses to a society falling asleep at the wheel, I must admit that I too lay down for Jessica Aszodi’s closing performance of Morton Feldman’s Three Voices, hoping to see the light.
Unfortunately I missed Aszodi’s performance of Three Voices at the 2013 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, so I was excited to hear Aszodi’s performance this year. Once again, the projection of Aszodi’s two prerecorded parts was perfectly matched to her live voice, so that one was sometimes at a loss to tell which part she was singing. A short check of the tempo and Aszodi was away, gliding effortlessly through the hour-long performance as though on a cloud. Or perhaps that was the audience, which was utterly transfixed for the duration of a performance that requires such obvious skill and precision. Aszodi’s easy command of such an exposed work made it an otherworldly experience.
Though I finally succumbed to lying on the floor and enjoying the mesmerising refraction of light through half-closed lids, I’m taking a twenty-minute nap before concerts from now on.
Inland 15.3: Your House is the Last Before the Infinite
Church of All Nations, Carlton
24 August 2015
Review: To Where Nothing Ever Shared
by REBECCA BUTTERWORTH
This was an exercise that went beyond music. It may have gone too far beyond to entertain but it was a performance worthy of note.
You need to start by reading this. Meanwhile, I'll start the review with a description of the scene of the concert. It was in a church. Churches generally have good acoustics. This one did: there was enough space above us to accommodate both our anthropomorphic ideas of the holy spirit and the size of the sound we were about to experience. The roof was wood-panelled; a side door remained open, the plastic butchers' flaps slapping gently in the wind while we waited for the show to start. The lights went down.
Have you read it yet? Do you understand pitch, and how it's about the molecules in the air vibrating and different speeds, caused by a vibrating object like vocal chords, or the sound board on a violin or guitar? Because that's what we're talking about here. Rohan Drape, Alexander Garsden and Anthony Pateras' To Where Nothing Ever Shared wasn't about entertainment so much as it was about science. So that explains why my plus one and I weren't entertained. We left irritated and stressed, and I yelled at him for trying to describe the concert as 'a whole that was less than the sum of its parts'. 'Just say what you mean!' I yelled. I realise now that I was reacting to the music.
Each musician presented one or two individual pieces, all showcasing the reverberation of sound, as much as the notes they hit. Drape's was written for computer, and input from a keyboard. It sounded like mice scuttling over a sound desk while the microphone was tested, with notes hanging in the air like the soundtrack to a relaxation massage. (I had heard this type of music in the form of film score; in this piece, the protagonist is contemplating their latest low point in a dystopian city nightscape.)
Next, Veltheim's violin squeaked like Rachmaninov playing Flight of the Bumblebees on a hard bar of soap. His finger work was spectacular, and by the end the broken hairs on his bow swayed back and forth like a fly fisherman's rod. (In this film, a heroine ran from a deranged serial killer.)
Joe Talia began his percussion piece low key, and then began what sounded like rearranging the saucepan drawer in a share house. Headphones on, Garsden waited for the resonance of his guitar to peak and dive as much as he payed attention to the notes he played. Pateras took up all the roof space with the sound of his piano until the wood panelling almost burst - then he took it up a notch. (His was a chase down a concrete stairwell in a thriller.)
Ever Shared was about sound, and an absence of traditional melody. But even as I felt bored or irritated, I started to think about the music. I noticed things. Like the sound of the actual piano keys, as opposed to the notes, being hit by Pateras' impossibly fast fingers, which grew in and of itself into a loud resonance. Or how Veltheim plucked and bounced his bow off the strings those woody sounds were incorporated into the music. As the program attested, the pieces were 'connected by a shared concern for working outwards from the acoustical realities of the ‘sounds themselves’. It was oddly relaxing.
I can't tell you precisely what the object was, because I don't understand it. These are incredibly talented and seasoned musicians, training and playing at the highest levels (for example, Veltheim has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), musikFabrik (Cologne) and Australian indigenous singer-songwriters' collective Black Arm Band). This is an exercise that went beyond music. It may have gone too far beyond to entertain, but it was a performance worthy of note.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
To Where Nothing Ever Shared
With Rohan Drape, Erkki Veltheim, Joe Talia, Alexander Garsden and Anthony Pateras.
Church of all Nations, Palmerston St, Carlton
28 April 2014\