Tag Archives: Joe Talia

Liquid Architecture/Inland: Nothing but disaster follows from applause

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Okkyung Lee performs in the audience. Photo by Keelan O’Hehir

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.

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Crys Cole and Oren Ambarchi play the mysterious tin box game. Photo by Keelan O’Hehir

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


Directly or Indirectly from a performer’s perspective

Callum G'Froerer at Directly or Indirectly no. 1. Photo by Ella Blackburn
Callum G’Froerer at Directly or Indirectly no. 1. Photo by Ella Blackburn

Do participants have a unique perspective on their fields? How might a frank assessment by a peer contrast with an “objective” work of music criticism? For this review as part of our “experiments in music journalism” series we invited experienced improviser and composer Simon Charles to give his considered opinion on the new concert series curated by James McLean and Callum G’Froerer, Directly or Indirectly.

Directly or Indirectly no. 1
Callum G’Froerer, Dave Brown, Joe Talia and James McLean
Conduit Arts
20 July
By Simon Charles

When approached to write this review I expressed an immediate reluctance, due to feeling uncomfortable about assuming the role of ‘reviewer’ and this being somehow different that of fellow artist. There is undoubtedly a benefit in articulating ideas about the motivation behind a work, and evaluating its effectiveness, as this discourse provides a groundwork through which broader stylistic narratives can start to emerge. Hopefully, the greater scrutiny these motivations are placed under can lead to more meaningful and lucid work. However, I can’t help feeling a certain disdain that the role of a reviewer can have such influence shaping broader musical values. I’ve shied away from it, because I would prefer to contribute to the conversation about musical value and emergent stylistic trends through my own musical practice.

However, I’ve obviously agreed to write this review, and in doing so I feel that it’s necessary for me to write this short disclaimer; that I know all the performers involved in this performance personally, and that I am giving my critical perspective through the lens of fellow musician, rather than ‘reviewer’ as such. It may seem a little harsh and direct, and it might seem to be lacking in the evocative, although ultimately inconsequential, detail typical of many reviews.

Directly or Indirectly is an initiative by James McLean and Callum G’Froerer that will hopefully become a regular forum for the presentation of experimental and improvised music. Their first event was held at Conduit Arts and featured solo improvisations by G’Froerer, McLean, Joe Talia and David Brown.

G’Froerer’s set on solo trumpet was characterised by a range of ‘extended’ techniques, revealing the performer’s vast experience in performing contemporary notated compositions. To his credit, G’Froerer managed to move beyond these common techniques, demonstrating an inventiveness and sense of exploration. The piece was successful as a series of episodes, intent on exploring the various sonic possibilities of the trumpet. However, there was room in this investigation to undergo even greater rigor, so that the work could convey a more unified statement. There is an obvious rigor in G’Froerer’s technical mastery of the instrument—he is capable of producing and incredibly beautiful sonorities. However, I craved a musical objective toward which this exploration could be orientated.

James McLean at Directly or Indirectly no. 1. Photo by Ella Blackburn
James McLean at Directly or Indirectly no. 1. Photo by Ella Blackburn

James McLean’s set for solo drum kit demonstrated absolute technical mastery. He plays with remarkable control over the timbre and resonance of his kit. He is also skilled as an improvisor in letting ideas emerge, controlling the rate at which they morph, and is decisive as to when they should end. Perhaps this is a personal quip, revealing my own frustrations in playing a musical instrument, however I felt that both G’Froerer’s and McLean’s improvisations revealed a preoccupation with the instrument, that comes at the expense of an artistic agenda to which both performer and audience can equally relate.

McLean’s solo set did demonstrate a keen awareness of structure and development, however there was a stage in the performance at which he seemed to return to material that was similar to ideas that had already been explored. As he returned to this material, it was possible to engage with the work on the level of its technical proficiency, however I craved a more adventurous sentiment to unite the work as a musical whole.

Joe Talia’s set was marked by an incredible attention to subtle glitches and clicks that were framed in such a way so as to draw the ear toward these essential parts of the work. There were moments when the work momentarily lost focus, however Talia was always able to steer the work back into interesting territory, displaying a remarkable talent for a kind of deep ‘retrospective’ listening—being able to successfully contextualise preceding ideas. His vocabulary or pallet of sounds was varied enough to provide contingencies that enabled work to move in different directions, whilst complimenting an overall ‘sound-world’ that unified the work.

Dave Brown’s set for solo guitar conveyed the performer’s unique and idiosyncratic ‘voice’ that reflects not only a personal understanding of musical style, but a perspective on some of the typifying stylistic traits of Australia’s underground, experimental scene. This voice never lost focus, which seemed to be the overall point toward which the performance was directed. Many of the ideas presented in Brown’s performance were interesting because they drew attention toward imperfections in sound (such as feedback, buzzing from the amplifiers, etc.) thus revealing the performer’s sensitivity to their immediacy and tactility. Rather than ideas being filtered through a preoccupation with a traditional conception of technique, Brown’s performance seemed more concerned with structure—that the work may ‘resonate‘ musically through a narrative of distinct and multi-layered passages.

The overall event demonstrated the unique and immense challenge of performing a lengthy solo improvised work. On reflection, it is entirely different to a context involving other players, as it lacks a sense of dialogue or conversation and there is no opportunity for the individual to ‘step out’ and re-enter the piece. It is a challenging format for both performers and audience. However it was clear that this was in no way underestimated, and that Directly or Indirectly, as an organisation, are committed to meaningful and challenging musical ventures.