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the NOW now: present and accounted for

Gail Priest

the NOW now events have always charmed with their low key loungeroom feel, squeezed into the urban grunge venues of Space3, LanFranchi’s Memorial Discotheque and the Frequency Lab. Surprisingly the shift to @Newtown (the former Newtown RSL) did nothing to damage the intimacy and ambience; rather it added slickness and confidence to a festival that has grown in only 4 years to be one of the most significant and satisfying events of the Sydney (and national) sound and music scene.

the NOW now 2005 brought together 70 artists in 4 days of spontaneous music creation, using all manner of instruments. With 7 sets per night there were many moments of wonder but I will focus on Thursday January 20, as it offered a concentration of the highlights and some relatively new faces.

Opening the evening was Ubercube—Monica Brooks on accordion/laptop and Emily Morandini on glockenspiel/laptop. Playing single sustained notes, they sampled and processed the minimal live input to incrementally build up sustained drones. The tones separated and harmonics rubbed up against each other creating pulses and gentle undulations. The set was serene and controlled with the shifts happening almost imperceptibly, which is why the end felt rushed—the peak had only just been reached when the layers were too rapidly removed.

In dramatic contrast to the flow and space of Ubercube was Ben Byrne and Shannon O’Neill’s hyperactive aural agitations. They created a frantic set filling every moment with shredded sounds—squelches, lashings, tears, rips, rendings, blendings. O’Neill has been known to be passionate about issues plunderphonic, so it is was not surprising to find unidentifiable music samples adding a pop to the snap and crackle of their palette. Though it was clear that creating a solid barrage was the structural choice, I did find myself wondering: is there such as thing as too much texture?

International guest Audrey Chen (USA) works with cello and voice, frequently taking the voice into the aurally challenging and sometimes abject, while sawing, scratching and plucking at the cello. The most beguiling moments arose as the half-piped vocal explorations twined around the squeaks and scratches of the cello, so that neither source was identifiable. She concluded the piece by passionately kissing and nibbling her instrument undercutting any perceived seriousness in such extended explorations.

An addition to the 2005 event was a film component. Along with screenings in the tiny alcove misnamed “cinematheque” there were also live soundtracks presented to significant avant garde films (projected from 16mm prints) curated by Sally Golding. On this evening it was James Heighway on an ancient analogue sampler to Paul Sharits’ 1966 Ray Gun Virus, which consisted simply of shifting colours. Heighway’s stutters and chunks of brutally undecorative sound worked well with the stark abstraction of the vision. The previous evening’s exploration by Robbie Avenaim on percussion activated by vibrating devices responding to Duchamp’s infinite spirals in Anemic Cinema (1926) was particularly beautiful in its subtlety and sensitivity.

The highlight of the night, and the festival, was NOW now co-director Clare Cooper on the ancient Chinese guzheng and Chris Abrahams on (what some described as equally ancient) DX7 keyboard synthesizer. Perhaps inspired by Robin Fox and Anthony Pateras’ whirlwind tour in early 2004 (see RT61, ), Sydney artists have been gradually realising that the 20-30 minute escalating set is not the only structural possibility. Cooper and Abrahams chose to play 6 pieces focussing on different techniques and sonorities. The first was a frenzy of gesture—digits fidgeted over strings and keyboard making a solid wall of rattly texture, impossible to separate sleights of sound. The second piece involved metal rods suspended between the strings of the guzheng hit with a mallet producing sustained vibration—the pure ringing tones accompanied by crystalline additions from Abrahams. Moving through bowing, scratching and moments of bravely held silence, the duo created a set that was awe-inspiring in its precision, quiet confidence and beauty.

The quality of the evening was maintained by Anthony Pateras on prepared piano coaxing liquid bubbles, clatters and glassy tones out of the instrument, though it seemed he lost momentum in the final section, missing several possible natural endings. The sensitive collaboration of Lawrence Pike on drums and Adrian Klumpes on prepared piano on the opening night should also be mentioned as a highlight, with its minimal delicacy and broken arpeggios creating a mesmerising piece.

The final set featured Robbie Avenaim and Tony Buck on drums and Max Nagl (Austria) on saxophone. Developing slowly and tentatively as the 2 drummers negotiated their territory it eventually found its feet, building into an all out frenetic drum battle with Nagl’s sustained drones and split notes making for an exhilarating finale.

The NOW now has always run on collective enthusiasm, passion and obsession, and despite a lack of funding, directors Clare Cooper and Clayton Thomas were able to create a bigger, more tightly coordinated event in 2005 than ever before. Audience numbers were more than healthy with some nights attracting over 400 people. Part of this is due to the art school patronage of the scene at the moment, as well as a significant growth of general interest in sound/music culture. Hopefully this will be maintained and, more importantly events like the NOW now will be supported by meaningful funding to further develop the artform and its audience in the future.

the NOW now, curators Clayton Thomas, Clare Cooper; @Newtown, Sydney, Jan 19-22

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 42

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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