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part 2: sydney scenes & sounds

gail priest: the now now; sound series


Chris Abrahams, Mike Majkowski, James Waples, Roil, the NOW now Chris Abrahams, Mike Majkowski, James Waples, Roil, the NOW now
IN PART TWO OF THIS SURVEY OF EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC AND SOUND HAPPENINGS IN SYDNEY, I TAKE IN TWO REGULAR EVENTS THAT SEEMINGLY SIT AT EITHER END OF THE CURATORIAL SPECTRUM: THE PURE SPONTANEOUS MUSIC PURSUITS OF THE NOW NOW SERIES, ONE OF THE LONGEST RUNNING GIGS; AND THE GLORIOUSLY HETEROGENEOUS SOUND SERIES WHICH STARTED IN 2010. WHILE THESE GIG SERIES HAVE QUITE DIFFERENT APPROACHES, THERE IS A STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNION BETWEEN THEM AND IT IS THIS CROSS-FERTILISATION THAT IS CURRENTLY MAKING THE SYDNEY SCENE ALL THE MORE VIBRANT.

the NOW now

The NOW now series is probably well known to readers but to recap, it was started by Clayton Thomas and Clare Cooper in 2001 under the moniker “If you like improvised music, we like you,” from which the first NOW now festival evolved in 2002. The unruly name persisted until the co-founders re-located to Berlin in 2007 and the festival and series became collectively run, both under the same title. The current curatorial team is Sam Pettigrew, Rishin Singh and Laura Altman.

The NOW now series has had many a home since it started at the now defunct Space 3 Gallery in Redfern. Currently events occur monthly and sometimes fortnightly (as they did originally) at Serial Space and a range of other places around the inner-city. Number 6 in the series took place in 402, one of the live-in warehouse spaces in Hibernian House, Surry Hills, featuring a baby grand piano. While occasionally the curation allows a slightly broader sweep of music styles, this evening offered a line-up of pure, unadulterated improv.

First up was Erebis (sitar and double bass) vs Reuben Lewis (trumpet) from Canberra. Lewis is conventionally clad while Erebis dresses up in yukata and plastic Elvis wig, but their music is not quite so flamboyant, offering a version of minimalist free jazz. On the whole they focus on rhythmic and harmonic exploration and only in their fourth piece does it feel like they are starting to approach newer territories by introducing unpredictable timbres.

Unpredictable timbres is what it’s all about for Dale Gorfinkel and Arek Gulbenkoglu from Melbourne. Gorfinkel has a serious sense of play placing objects on his vibraphone and exploiting their rattles and frictions. By casually coaxing materials into action he makes a complex multilayered soundscape with occasional haunting tones from the vibe keys. Gulbenkoglu is a perfect companion on snare drum and objects, using more minimal methods, yet adding just the right rattle of pine cone on snare, metallic ring of egg whisk on rim and tiny chopper effect of a small fan held close to microphone. Their battle of Styrofoam sounds was a particular highlight in a set that felt truly exploratory.

Ivan Lysiak offered a brief piece of guitar feedback. There’s a sense of egolessness as Lysiak lets the signal flow, manipulating its cycles with small changes of proximity between the guitar and the small amp placed on top of an ironing board. It’s not a nice sound, more a nasal whine than a deep, dark massaging drone, but it develops more textures the longer he plays. He goes where the sound goes and then he stops, turning off the amp and holding still, as we do for a breathless minute of ‘silence.’

Roil is Chris Abrahams on piano, Mike Majkowski on double bass and James Waples on drums. Abrahams’ repetitive melodic figures wind around Majkowksi’s angular bass lines, while Waples disperses timbral shimmers that draw it all together. With an instrumental line-up similar to The Necks in which Abrahams also plays, it’s hard not to listen for similarities, but instead of the slow build of the former this combination of characters suggests a journey across constantly shifting territories. One player finds a zone and the others look for ways to meet him there. After a while another wanders off again and the quest continues. This tangible sense of the musicians travelling into the unknown together illustrates the NOW now ethos at its best.

Matthew Syres, Joe Cummins, Dirk Kruithof, Forenzics, Sound Series #15, photo Lucien Alperstein Matthew Syres, Joe Cummins, Dirk Kruithof, Forenzics, Sound Series #15, photo Lucien Alperstein
sound series

Sound Series, curated by Romy Caen, held monthly at Hardware Gallery in Enmore, started in March 2010 and has quickly become a highlight of the alternative music scene. What is distinctive about Sound Series is its eclectism with four to six acts per night ranging from alternative rock/pop to electronica, improv and noise.

Sound Series 15 kicked off with Textile Audio, aka Eve Klein, an electronic composer and mezzo soprano. In the intimacy of the small gallery, her operatic performance is, as she describes it, a little in your face, but her sense of quiet assurance eases the awkward context a little. Klein has a fine voice and creates some intriguing electronic accompaniments, but for my taste (which I admit doesn’t run to opera), Textile Audio doesn’t disrupt the classical conventions quite enough, however many in the crowd were spellbound by her virtuosity.

Next up was Secrets, from New Zealand making some great bouncy pop beats, with almost catchy melodies delivered in a kind of slacker vocal style hidden deep in the reverby mix. With livelier vocals you could imagine these songs being pop hits—people were almost dancing—and Secrets’ performative presence, a mixture of nervousness and reckless abandon, is rather endearing.

Forenzics have been around since 2005 but I hadn’t heard them play. With Matthew Syres on guitar and way too many effects pedals, Dirk Kruithof on lead guitar, Joe Cummins on trumpet and Kaos pad and Alex Slater on drums they play loose yet utterly cohesive improv inflected with jazz, rock, drone and psychedelia. Joe Cummin’s trumpet loops and soaring melodies are a particular highlight creating a smoky, sensual atmosphere and the rhythmic interplay, pushing against the metre with loping rubatos, gives the sound an intriguing elasticity. It occurred to me that music is best when it picks you up and takes you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go, and Forenzics did just that.

The final set was by Sydney veterans Toydeath who, if you haven’t seen them play in the last 15 years, dress like creepy children’s TV show characters and create music purely from electronic toys ‘defiled’ with audio outputs so they can be amplified. A particular highlight is their cover of Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” featuring a hee-hawing donkey and the track with lead vocals by a scripture quoting Jesus doll (yes such a thing exists!). Back from a recent US tour, they presented a slick show that had the crowd on their feet.

I ask Romy Caen about her approach to curating these very successful nights and she answers, “There’s a broad community in Sydney which I think is loosely connected through the idea of experimentation but comprises really varied practices and genres. Instead of specifically seeking experimental performers Sound Series tends to dip into this pool of people.” These resulting ‘hybrid’ gigs often bring large and new audiences. Caen suggests that maybe this is because “Sound Series inhabits a strange realm between mainstream and underground events,” strongly influenced by the venue—a commercial gallery rather than a hard to find industrial space (and sometimes the drinks are free.) While this eclectism is not necessarily to the liking of some purists, Sound Series is doing a great job creating an exciting atmosphere around experimentation across a range of musical styles.

My final report on Sydney sounds and scenes will look at ¼ inch, psh.live plus more.


The NOW now, Series #6, Erebis vs Reuben Lewis, Dale Gorfinkel & Arek Gulbenkoglu, Ivan Lysiak, Roil, curators Sam Pettigrew, Rishin Singh, Laura Altman, 402 Hibernian House, July 26; www.thenownow.net; Sound Series #15, Textile Audio, Secrets, Forenzics, Toydeath, curator Romy Caen, Hardware Gallery, July 23, http://tiny.cc/aox79 Lucien Alperstein’s exhibition Water and Music featuring photos taken during previous Sound Series events was exhibited at Hardware Gallery July 5-23

RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. 48

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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