SoundOut 2011 @ The Street Theatre, Saturday-Sunday January 29-30

Column: Gig Reviews   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 1 February 11   |   Author: Dan Bigna   |   6 years, 4 months ago

City West heading up to the ANU is usually quiet on a weekend apart from students out for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. But The Street Theatre this past weekend was a hive of activity as free music improvisers from all over the world came together in the intimate space of Theatre 2 for a series of performances that were mostly first class, and unlike anything Canberra has experienced before.

However, in keeping with the peacefulness of the surrounding area quite a few of the performances throughout the festival kept sound levels to a minimum as various micro-tonal strategies were implemented and explored which left much to chance as should be the case when improvised music is involved.

However, when the noise levels picked up they really picked up. This was inevitably true of explosive Scandinavian sax/bass/drums trio The Thing who turned in a blistering set to a full house on Saturday night. Their rapid fire, high register attack summoned forth the ghost of Albert Ayler with scattered hints of post-bop towards the end, which in turn evoked the textured sound-colours of Ornette Coleman.

This set was a major highlight of the festival, but let’s return to the quiet micro-tonalities for a moment and an interesting thing that occurred during Chinese feedback artist Yan Jun’s set on Sunday evening. Jun had Sydney performer Monika Brooks accompanying him on accordion, yet she was content to sit in dreamy reverie and very, very lightly stroked the keys while Jun coaxed the tiniest of sounds from his electronics set-up that sometimes sounded like chirping crickets. I became almost hypnotised by Brooks’ non-movements and the great swathes of silence that defined the set.

Although not intended to have such an effect, I did at one point almost start laughing aloud as I noticed some people begin to squirm a little in the their seats particularly when the silence became profound, but for others this was an opportunity to become lost in thought which I did while clutching my beer and thinking about a girl. Then the inevitable happened – somebody’s mobile phone went off – and the everyday world entered a sanctified space. This should probably have happened at some point because no one wants to get too precious about these things, and when it comes to improvised music the surrounding environment should have some impact on the direction of the sounds.

So it goes that little hints of the everyday world entered the music when small discs placed onto a piano’s metal strings by Cor Fuhler transformed their sound to startling effect, paper cups generated crackling when interacting with electronics and whooshing sounds when placed into the saxophone bell by Rosalind Hall, balloons squeaked and wheezed when attached to a variety of instruments, metal cans droned with the aid of electronic devices, and all manner of percussive effects were generated on various drum configurations by masters of the craft. Each performance conjured new and exciting articulations of sound, and some were simply extraordinary.

The Magda Mayas/Tony Buck duo summoned forth a sonic whirlwind with prepared piano and percussion, a wind instrument ensemble on Saturday afternoon revealed the beauty of a group mind-meld as did the Spartak/Mike Majkowski/Michael Norris performance on Sunday afternoon where pitch, tonality and form achieved a beautiful harmony.

The festival wound up on Sunday evening with an all-out collective improvisation. This was a fitting conclusion to an event that had been well organised by director/performer Richard Johnson with attendees well looked after by Street Theatre staff, and which showcased highly talented musicians from diverse disciplines coming together to illuminate new possibilities through a free exchange of ideas and sounds.

Now, bring on SoundOut 2012.

Dan Bigna



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