Saturday, October 3, 2009

Live Reviews

Here are some reviews I wrote about Maximum Arousal shows in late 2007, early 2008 with publications/sites like The Wire, Signal to Noise and The Sound Projector in mind. The Mani Neumeier piece found a place on the Guru Guru site - thanks Mani. Just in case anyone who reads this is interested in publishing the pieces or using them in some other way, get in touch with me -


Legendary German drummer Mani Neumeier’s first Australian concert was organized under the aegis of Melbournian guitarist/sound artist Oren Ambarchi who has chosen Brendan Walls (second guitar) and Edmondo Ammendola (bass) to play behind the Guru Guru leader. The Toff show is divided into three parts: a dual percussion and voice set between Neumeier and his wife Etsuko Watanabe, a drum solo, and a band improv session with Ambarchi, Walls and Ammendola. Watanabe brings her own intriguing musical pedigree to the venture, being a former member of 70s Japanese psych free folk collective Maru Sankaku Shikaku.
   Sprightly and slight sexagenarians, Neumeier and Watanabe introduce themselves to their audience with a shy friendliness. They perform their percussion set as though it were a ritualistic blessing for the whole gig, sitting cross-legged and opening with a simple, affecting form of Oriental plainchant before tapping out busy cross-rhythms on coral shells. There is a lot of reaching across into each other’s performance space, a practice accentuated when they switch to small hand drums, their arms arcing through the air like taiko players restricted to tiny instruments. The joyous incantatory intimacy on display suggests Neumeier has finally found in his partner the ‘Woman Drum’ he first eulogized on Guru Guru’s eponymous fourth album in 1973.
   Neumeier then moves behind his drum kit for an extended polyrhythmic exploration. His formative influences as a free jazz drummer in the 1960s with the Irene Schweizer Trio and Alex von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra are discernable within the rock energy on display. The exquisite dynamic control in the execution of complex kit-spanning cyclical patterns at low volumes brings to mind Chico Hamilton while the exuberant forte attack and sensitivity to the harmonic and tonal qualities of tom toms is comparable to Max Roach.
   If his famous krautrock power trio comes to mind when Ambarchi and co enter the stage, then the version that plays tonight is a Guru Guru for the noise/sound art generation. The cosmic psychobilly anthems and ur-stoner rock of yore have been abstracted via the alchemical reductionism of the Ambarchi/Walls/Ammendola guitar axis into a burnished sonic alloy equal parts Big Black’s ominous amp hum afterglow, the La Monte Young- avant metal drone connection and the concentrated force of Keiji Haino’s mystical psych rock emanations. Such parallels, however, can only give some slight pointers for identifying a unique sound.
   Ambarchi and Walls share the same open tuning through which they fabricate reverbed laminae of sympathetic resonance encrusted with distortion, ring modulation and wah-wah to form a buzzing, raga-less tamboura drone. Ammendola’s bass is an amorphous, subliminal rumble of low tones. This ambient setting provides Neumeier with a substantial amount of musical space in which to operate – a different working situation to Acid Mothers Guru Guru in which the energy of his own playing is often matched by the spiraling banshee scree of Makoto Kawabata’s teeming guitar lines. He goes with the freedom cautiously at first, employing a variety of rattles, cymbals and small gongs to add textural counterweight to the electrical pressure systems swirling around him.
Before long he’s in full swing, deciding perhaps that attack is the best form of defence, or playing the Electric Miles wise old captain role - providing guidance through sheer musical authority to the wild avant garde youngsters. There is one truly thrilling passage in this group’s extended set redolent of those moments of almost psychic genius scattered like jewels throughout kosmiche history: a huge collective increase in volume and intensity from out of nowhere engulfs the room like an uberklang tsunami.
 Eventually Ambarchi decides he’s done with the texturist role and steps forward for a psych rock solo redolent of his hero Keiji Haino, but also the malefic microtonality of White Light, White Heat-era Lou Reed or, most fittingly in the context, the stratospheric screams of Ax Genrich. As though in recognition of the spirit of an old colleague, Neumeier throws some rockabilly rebel yells into his microphone, at last conjuring the Guru Guru of old.



This split 12” launch by Melbourne groups Hi God People and Zond occurs under the aegis of Maximum Arousal, a weekly program of experimental musical events curated by Oren Ambarchi. As with any such platform, the acts provoke a range of responses from divertissement to epiphany.
Kynan Lawler generates clusters of microrhythms with a contact-miked cymbal, a laptop’s low drone and amplifier vibrations. Electroacoustic improv practice like this has been going on since Stockhausen’s Microphonie I: a more labyrinthine signal processing chain might have given the act greater impact. Mutual Loathing (AKA Michael Lenin) has an intriguing take on the drum solo as neurotic performance art; slithery extended technique gives way to whimpers, defiant whoops and thuds as Lenin ensconces himself within the kick drum.
   The Hi God People transmit a more polished interface between humour and raw methodologies. This indeterminate collective of Melbourne musicians have been mining since the late 1990s a seam of surreal prehistoric improv laced with space rock that has parallels with New Weird America. Their stage presentation mixes the anonymous Dada semiotics of The Residents, the cargo cult costumery of Sun City Girls and the space ritual of Sun Ra. The intergender ensemble assembled for this performance is hived off into separate vocal groups: Situationist slogan chants are mixed with atonal wailing as though three barbershop quartets were all performing their own versions of Stimmung. The introduction of ecstatic drumming propels the vocals into a kind of hyperventilating voodoo doo-wop, the lines “come out of the ocean like a prehistoric birth” interspersed with shrieking harmonicas and orgasmic sighs somewhere between Yoko Ono and Kate Pierson in tone. On the plateau of a sustained crescendo, the slogans mutate into animalistic sounds: dogs bark, apes jabber, birds scream.
   Sound rock act Zond begin playing over Hi God People’s eerie wordless intonations as they drift into the audience in a trail of kiddies’ fluorescent tubes, toilet paper and eucalyptus branches. Like an Australian version of Sonic Youth, this one girl/three guy rock group lays down shimmering feedback overtones that gradually coalesce into punkish songs. Bass lines reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’ throb underneath ‘Interstellar Overdrive’/MBV-shaded descending chord detonations. In a pummeling onslaught of feedback Zond comes to resemble a time-traveling Jesus and Mary Chain with its roots more in Bardo Pond or Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ than 60s surf pop. Eventually even this distinction is lost in a white out interlaced with undulating pitch shift sweeps and rotor blade delay rhythms.



The first support act for Chris Corsano’s solo percussion set seems to have been chosen to provide variety rather than to form part of a strictly complementary programme. Duke Miserables is the bedroom acid-folk project of Romy Hoffman, leader of hiphop outfit Macromantics. Her delicate minor-key tunes for acoustic guitar and delay accumulation weave a weblike canon effect that at times recalls Solid Air-era John Martyn's space folk approach, Popol Vuh pastoralism or the multi-tracked mandolin counterpoint of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’. Despite an unfortunate tendency towards standard two-chord angst when Hoffman turns off the sampler, there‘s an appealing Joanna Newsom-like whimsy in her modal nursery rhymes: ‘keep your head down/gargle with the salt water/that you evolved from’.
   The Japanese laptop duo Psychedelic Desert live up to their name with vast, echo-saturated expanses of sound: mountainous drone oscillations peak on the verge of feedback and temple bells drift through phase envelope valleys. Eerie, embryonic melodies rise above the droning miasma; deep moaning plainchant (live), flute tones and disjunctive percussion shards in a similar vein to the Fourth World ambient passages of their Pharmafabrik release Keshiki. The echo vortices of this set reach a crescendo of disembodied choral harmonies striated with atonal tension.
   Psychedelic Desert’s sustained intensity provides an appropriate entry point to Corsano’s mind-boggling solo percussion set, a tour de force of polyrhythmic/sonic invention. Studying his playing outside of collaborations with the likes of Paul Flaherty, Evan Parker and Vampire Belt or the miniatures of The Young Cricketer is a most revelatory entertainment. The trademark perpetual motion is on display: incessantly evolving Sunny Murray/Rashied Ali-style rolls broken up with gamelan-toned bell strokes form a turbulent undercurrent for extreme feedback overtones. With the introduction of metapercussive elements it’s obvious there’s something more substantial going on here than a talented musician throwing in some weird gizmos to spice up a drum solo. A genuine, if sometimes humorous, compositional sense is at play, whether he’s summoning Ayler-like high pitched multiphonics/didgeridoo drones from a plastic tube, alloy song from bowed cymbal in the manner of Neu!’s ‘Sonderangebot’ or double bowing the snare’s shell to produce wailing glissandi that suggest microtonal vaguely Korean bluegrass harmonies emanating from a Harry Partch viola adaptation.
More than just one of the most exciting drummers of his generation, he’s a Stomu Yamashta for the noise generation - a percussionist/composer in the process of developing a unique language.


Friday, October 2, 2009


MAKE IT UP CLUB - Episode #1 features a sample of the 40 minute free form improvisational set by SEAN BAXTER (drumkit), RORY BROWN (double bass), JEFF HENDERSON (baritone saxophone), MIKE MAJKOWSKI (double bass), ANGUS TARNAWSKY (drumkit), & KRIS WANDERS (tenor saxophone). An intense journey. Watch as we try & keep up with the musicians.

An awesome display of Fire Music at its most incandescent, channeling the spirits of Coltrane, Ayler and Brotzmann in full meltdown mode. A fine example of the kind of improvisatory pyrotechnics that regularly emanate from this decade-plus old Melbourne avant-garde institution.

Second Stutter video - Slesu and Videotape

CURSE OV DIALECT mc's, RACELESS and VULK MAKEDONSKI perform 20 mins of improvised madness as SLESU & VIDEOTAPE at HORSE BAZAAR's weekly experimental night, 'STUTTER'. In our 2nd episode of STUTTER we serve up a condensed slice of the duo's antics as they freestyle mind bending incantations over an array of eclectic beats and samples. 

Classic Curse sampladelia (harking back at times to their more aggressive earlier work) that features everything from weird polka/disco mash-ups to nonsensical extrapolations on Laibach's Industrial-style Neue Slowenische Kunst rants. All topped off with a slice of Sicilianistic doo wop that would have warmed the cockles of Frank Zappa's heart.