Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Live review: MIUC August 17th - KIM SALMON & DAVID BROWN

David Brown (left), Kim Salmon (right) at Make It Up Club, August 17th, 2010

Kim Salmon and David Brown reprised their appearance at the Overground component of the Melbourne Jazz Festival for this Make It Up Club set (they've since performed at Stutter and as part of Salmon's month-long residency over November at The Old Bar). The term 'punk legend' gets bandied around with indecent ubiquity, but it's hard to avoid it when discussing Kim Salmon in the context of the Australian music scene of the 1980s/90s. His groups The Scientists and The Surrealists anticipated (arguably bettered) Grunge and he was part of the original line-up of the Beasts of Bourbon with Tex Perkins that cut the epochal album The Axeman's Jazz in 1984. While The Saints' Chris Bailey or Ed Keupper may have enjoyed greater mainstream visibility, it is Salmon who most deserves to be considered Australia's equivalent to John Lydon. He certainly shares the PiL leader's experimental teenage passions (Can/Bitches Brew/Beefheart/Sun Ra) and you can hear elements of those influences in such exemplary locked groove psych as 'Human Jukebox'. The Scientists' 'Set It on Fire' and Beasts of Bourbon's 'Save Me a Place in the Graveyard' are mesmeric engines of simmering aggression built on the juxtaposition of fractal riffage and cruising freakbeat. The title track of the Beasts' 1990 release Black Milk unfolds with all the pagan blues momentum of a late 60s Dr John voodoo rock session. Salmon continued the experimental side of his career with this set which he began with slide guitar and wah-wah, alternating tonal clusters with sonic roots in the blues amidst flavours of Dieter Moebius in dada guitar mode or early Kraftwerk 'Ananas Symphonie'-style Hawaiian exotica weirdness.

As anyone remotely familiar with the Melbourne experimental scene will know, there are two David Browns. One is the astringent electric master of sustain and distortion and missing link between Robert Fripp at his gnarliest and the unfettered explorations of Derek Bailey; the one who, in a duet for Stutter with Cat Hope last year, submerged the interior of Horse Bazaar in a double bass lavastream of sonic viscosity, air waves roiling with microtones and overtones in subatomic conflict/resolution. And there's the (relatively) quieter, deep listening one of the prepared guitar who performs on this occasion. His instrument of choice is a hollowbody, festooned with various metal appendages, some struck and allowed to resonate, producing a range of buzzing, rattling timbres. Brown's prepared guitar is a beguiling sound world unto itself, his playing an exercise in disciplined command over a deceptively restricted sound palette as demonstrated on the releases Wakool and Mimosa. For this set, his textural sensitivity blends in and leavens Salmon's methodology which, in this era of digital sampling and Ableton Live processing, could be described as art brut concrète.

Salmon has two dictaphones hanging around his neck and he uses them as primitive time machines in the experimental vein of William Burroughs, Ian Sommerville and Brion Gysin, generating and overlapping temporal striations to which Brown adds real time counterpoint. The two-chord Hawaiian blues theme is played back into the microphone, a trebly, distorted simulacra used as accompaniment for more low-end bluesy lines. Various feedback sonorities, dirty and fractured, begin to intersect. Another dictaphone in ultra slow playback mode is added to a sustained whine from the hollowbody, Brown manipulating it by placing a finger on a resonating string.

Strategies utilising electromagnetic interference gradually dominate the performance: Salmon unplugs his guitar and uses his thumb to create rhythmic manipulations of the cord signal; Brown drops chains onto the guitar's face and moves metal held close to the body, generating dive bombing variations in tone that suggest hydroacoustic Doppler effect and conjure sonar pulses sucked into chasms. Brown then sets to rubbing an agitator over the guitar body, a whirring milk frother that strikes the strings and resonators at oblique angles, coaxing shifting metallic timbres. Towards the end of the set he summons distressed whale song by gently stroking the guitar with rubber mallets while Salmon's slowed down dictaphone recordings of deconstructed blues descend into a soundscape pitched between ethereality and electric mud. This is process music at its most enjoyably unhinged, where final destination is irrelevant and the accumulation of detail in drifting simultaneity all.


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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Live Review: TUCCERI/FEBBRAIO/ELLIS - MIUC August 17th

Dan Tucceri (far left) and Julian Febbraio (far right) being introduced by Make It Up Club host Sean Baxter (centre)

Dan Tucceri plays through a Marshall amp, the brand name of which has been detourned with masking tape so it reads 'arshole' - a winning touch from the outset and one that sums up his whole eclectic approach which owes a good deal to the Mr Bungle school of psychopastiche. He begins playing guitar with violin bow over a rumbling drum intro, drawing on a tradition of extended rock technique that stretches from Jimmy Page (via The Creation's Eddie Phillips) to Makoto Kawabata.

Julian Febbraio's blast drumming over a series of crashing, portentous keyboard chords from Tucceri and Leonard Ellis suggests a collision of the neo-prog high drama of Mars Volta and Acid Mothers Temple in their black metal phase, eventually resolving into a version of Fushitshusa's 'Pathetique 1'. This piece seems to be a particular touchstone for the local experimental scene; Tucceri says he was introduced to it by Oren Ambarchi who has had a longheld fascination with Keiji Haino. (Ambarchi seemed to be drawing inspiration from its well of mystical modality, measured cadence and transcendent disconsolation for an excoriating Melbourne avant-power trio performance with Rob Mayson and Matt 'Skitz' Sanders at Stutter last year).

The Tucceri/Febbraio/Ellis axis follow their alternately ascending/descending series of power chord shock waves into the rumbling timbreland of Sunn O))). There's a tendency for some artists working in that stylistic nexus comprising noise, dark ambient and black metal to associate the Sunn O))) brand with a certain static approach that you could call the pursuit of transcendent states through extended duration or power drone coasting, depending on taste and level of patience, but various elements give Tucceri's outfit some welcome textural marbling. The addition of Shane van den Akker on metal vokills and some excursions into Acid Mothers Temple outer space radio signal territory via Leonard Ellis' synths shows this outfit open to borrowing from various modes but not slavishly following their particular teleologies. That rich blend of ambient doom metal and avant-rock psychedelia that Sunn O))) and Boris created for their collaborative effort Altar is perhaps a good point of comparison.

Julian Febbraio (far left), Leonard Ellis (centre) and Shane van den Akker (hair visible only, far right)

There is a quieter solo guitar passage made up of spiky, dissonant phrasing that gives the ears a chance to recover while still keeping things on edge and over which the spirit of Haino again seems to hover, but this time the beshaded one's more ambient side (the ruminative 'Where Shall Released Time Go Next?' from Purple Trap's decided... already the motionless heart of tranquility, tangling the prayer called "i" comes to mind). When the black metal power trip returns, Tuccero decides to push the performance angle into the hellfire zone and summon the Industrial avatars of Faust, Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Department with a bit of grinding action, bringing the set to a spectacular conclusion.

This group is utilising some piquant elements in a non-idiomatic way, but seem to be still in pursuit of a sound that's more individually coherent. While the postmodern mixology of Mr Bungle is an often obvious influence, they don't have that group's live capacity for instantaneous Zornian/Zappaian genre-crossing and that's a good thing; the slower, more porous stylistic transitions suggest a liminality from which true originality can still emerge. Given this group's youth and energy, that seems a more likely proposition than not.


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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Live review: MIUC August 17th - QUE NGUYEN


Que Nguyen is a sound designer, co-founder of the Within Earshot collective, composer and performer with an interest in the use of voice within stereo/surround composition and live performance. Her Make It Up Club set begins with a slow, doomy machine pulse a la Coil, a buoy bell tolling on some distant sea, synthesised helicopter rotor blades whirring in and out. The appearance of these latter sounds acts automatically as cinematic madeleine for filmgoers of a certain age, but overall this piece isn't any Apocalypse Now-style assault on the subject of the Vietnam War. There does appear to be an element of biographical sound montage in the piece, perhaps recounting a recent visit or a sonic description of her parents' former life in their home country in the form of an audio verite parade. The set consists of a shifting cinematic montage of sampled sounds, alternately proceeding in a linear fashion or by laminal intersection: festival and street sounds, cymbals, drums, cock crows, gongs, child singing groups, laughter, traffic. Nguyen sings scraps of folk song over the sound elements, her cadences possessing an almost American Indian quality at times (though perhaps that is more due to the cultural default setting of Western ears trying to identify mysterious folk forms - thanks to Daryl Rabel for passing on this theory). As various patterns and motifs emerge out of the samples, those whirring blades, whatever their sonic significance, often reappear to dissect everything else. While a strong programmatic aspect is suggested, a thematic thread connecting the vocals and soundscape isn't palpable in the midst of the performance; possible interpretations - a desire for immersion in ancestral connectivity, say - come to mind more after the event. That minor quibble aside, Que has an appealing singing voice and genuine skill in audio collage construction. The individual components of this set were appealing enough overall to warrant further investigation into this young artist's oeuvre which can only deepen with maturity.


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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Live venue survey/reviews - Stutter, Maximum Arousal, Make It Up Club

Three programs are currently at the heart of Melbourne's vibrant live experimental music scene: Stutter at Horse Bazaar, Make It Up Club at Bar Open, Fitzroy and Maximum Arousal at The Toff in Town. The artists who run them - Annalee Koernig, Sean Baxter and Oren Ambarchi - forge valiantly ahead in the face of the Hydra-headed pressures of the commercial world and the problematic administration of Victoria's liquor licensing laws to regularly provide programs of consistent aesthetic merit and diversity. Stutter and Make It Up Club are both weekly events, the latter in operation since 1997. A more sporadic affair now than when it started in 2007, Maximum Arousal still provides a vital conduit for connecting Melbourne with the international experimental music scene, playing host to such luminaries as Damo Suzuki, Mani Neumeier and Eugene Chadbourne.


The occasion for this night of diverse experimental sounds is the launch of the Anonymeye CD The Disambiguation of Anonymeye with support from Blankface Distortion and The Bznzz.

Contrary to the brutalist noise connotations of their name, Blankface Distortion are a neo-prog septet who deal in a soundtrack-friendly form of ambient post-rock with instrumentation consisting of guitar, pedals, computer, percussion, sax and electronics.'Melodramatic popular song' is how they describe their sound on their My Space page, listing Italo-Disco and early Ministry as their main influences, but what comes more readily to mind is some liminal nexus of instrumental dream pop and space rock improv, somewhere between Sigur Ros and Bardo Pond. The three pieces they played on this night all rose on a gentle gradient of intensity, starting from two chord string synth patterns or oscillating sequenced loops, overlaid with softly blown melancholic sax, pointillist dabs of echo guitar, minimal drumming and samples fragmented through laptop processing (a spectral bell tree resonated through their first number in a manner recalling China-era Vangelis or Joy Division's 'Atmosphere'). There were some passages of densely textured ensemble playing, scythed by distortion and snarls of volume swelled phaser, where only the saxophone was clearly identifiable. Their last number most readily suggested one path of origin for Euro-Techno and pop Electronica in Sky label-era Michael Rother or Robert Schroeder's IC albums (Floating Music). Opening with billowing sonic clouds dissipated with a steam piston rhythm and finally fading out with glistening gamelan toned electric piano, it was an apt culmination for a pleasant if not particularly groundbreaking set.

Sydney's Th Bznzz are just that, a bass and drums duo with serious chops laying down intense, agitated math rock expressed in a syntax of asymmetric funk interplay and militaristic polymetric motifs, pauses and explosive skronk interjections. If there are individual pieces in their set it isn't apparent - all seems to merge into one polyrhythmic stream whose intensity brings to mind not so much the noise elements of experimental bass-drums duos like Lightning Bolt, more the muscularity of King Crimson's classic Wetton/Bruford rhythm section on some counterfactual historical cusp, mutating into an avant-disco built on warped propulsion. Bassist Josh Ahearn's astonishingly agile finger technique is able to perfectly match Alon Ilsar's drumming stroke for stroke. There are quieter passages where Ahearn's chordal arpeggios meet Ilsar's extended techniques such as rubbing cymbals to create ringing shrieks. In the more intense sections, funky octave-spanning intervallic leaps and explosive thumb pops alternate with plucked harmonics. The music is often mind boggling, turning exquisitely on a dime while winding itself into ever more feverish gyres. You're constantly wondering how they are able to remember or count this stuff, especially as they don't ever seem to even look at each other for the occasional cue. A dense mosaic of interlocking motivic cells fashioned from non-Euclidian geometries.

Anonymeye (aka Brisbane laptop musician and folk guitarist Andrew Tuttle) starts off his short but sweet set with looped harmonica and guitar, layering bucolic lines that are patterned and phased with echo. The introduction of swirling electronics brings about an aesthetic deterritorialisation of heavy industry and pastoral landscape, gradually faded out until there is only live guitar. Single lead notes alternated with bass pedal tone summon the spirit of John Fahey with a rippling cascade of bluegrass flavours.

His second piece moves from a suggested dialectic of nostalgia and progress further into pure electronic abstraction, building a drone pulsar out of guitar harmonics. Arpeggio loops are added, a motif shimmering in vibrato, amid waves of buzzing electronics. Swirling fragments of drone are set spinning in hard-panned echo and then gradually restitched to radiate warmly.



The realm of guitar abstraction is also a favoured mode of expression for Maximum Arousal curator Oren Ambarchi and Marco Fusinato, the artist who opens this evening's program. Fusinato begins his set with a random succession of static bursts and constrained squeals that suddenly erupt into sustained blasts of roaring feedback, broken up with syntactical pauses. Despite the centrality of signal processing in his methodology, this is a highly tactile music, the guitar held close to the body and rubbed while tabletop FX units and mixer are manipulated to produce textures of deep, crackling booms coupled with high pitched scree. The guitar strings are mostly dampened, but occasionally struck open when Fusinato is going for a particularly dramatic gesture. Expressive twists and detours gradually develop into a overwhelming sound wave churned up by hurricane feedback, gleaming ribbons of guitar string harmony braided through the roaring sound mass. At its best, this is a magical matrix music, emerging supernaturally through the nexus of circuits, both electronic and neural, comprising guitar, mixer, FX units and artist.

The Menstruation Sisters deal in a whole other zone of energies, most of them primal, viscous and filled with blind purpose, like the earliest amoebic proteins struggling through aeons of natural selection to form the first semblances of sentient life. They reach for something new by first stripping music making back to primordial first principles: Stephen O'Malley, colleague of Sisters drummer Oren Ambarchi in Sunn O))) and Gravetemple, has spoken of wanting to create music that replicates the surreality of a primeval consciousness and its tempting to hear similar objectives in the Sisters sound. But Ambarchi and fellow Sisters Brendan Walls and Nick Kamvissis (aka Rizili) create something altogether more rough hewn than the glacial electronics, Spectralist leanings, black metal texturalist refinement and elegantly menacing negative spaces of Black One and Monoliths and Dimensions. Their first piece opens with bass and guitar feedback drones building up to a roar before Nick Kamvissis begins striking a tonal cluster, bristling with static. There's a kind of oozing coalescence to this free rock that recalls UFO-era Guru Guru (i.e. the opening of 'Girl Call'), but without that trio's tendency to eventually break out into rock riffs and jazzy interplay. The busiest playing from a technical standpoint is Oren Ambarchi's drumming - cymbal rolls intercepted by hi-hat snap - while Kamvissis continues striking the same non-chord like the tolling of an irregular bell. Brendan Walls on bass sways to catch every nuance of feedback from his amp. NK starts singing along with a primitive guitar motif while the drumming becomes more intense. At its best, this is true O-mind rock that would do the Psychedelic Stooges proud, an extension of the kind of No Wave deconstructionism that Phlegm, Kamvissis and Ambarchi's 1990s experimental punk band with Robbie Avenaim, only occasionally essayed from amongst their gonzoid postmodernist palette. Kamvissis gets a little free form and then returns to the same Neanderthalic refrain - then it's over.

Their second number is an even more severe study in atechnique and asynchrony, strumming and drumming in glorious disconnect. It's impossible to tell if this number has been poorly rehearsed or it's meant to be that way. Kamvissis' atonal drone guitar is disharmonised with droning, atonal singing. Walls meanwhile strums the same single note. Nothing quite matches up in this loose, non-groove; Oren's 4/4 pattern is the most together thing while the others seem to be playing in a more textural fashion, but overall this set sounds less inspired than a previous performance at this venue in 2008. See below, a document of that event by ArchiveAlive

A tricky balancing act is required with music built on a disregard for traditional notions of technique, but where some vestige of the contours and dynamics of song structure is still present. On this occasion the group mind seemed a little short on the necessary ectoplasm required for these raggedy assemblages to really cook. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of pleasures to be found: an aggressive, surf punk-styled number features Kamvissis wailing in a creepy vibrato that recalls Neil Hegarty on 'Yin Jim versus the Vomit People' from Royal Trux's splatter psych masterpiece Twin Infinitives; another song is made from detuned bass and guitar warbling on the sludgy beat, incantatory and hypnotic; the next number has the guitars detuned even further into a microtonal morass that provides the backing for Kamvissis' brain-damaged shaman intonations. Finally a drum beat comes into it, Ambarchi providing a solid funky backbeat and occasional encouraging yelps for single note bass and vocal mantras. They close with a number in a 'LA Blues'/The Dead C vein, 'Footprint' and here something closer to true energy music emerges in a rolling dynamic of ecstatic wailing and drum blitz, voices and feedback united in lunar serenade. Oren's grunt, a kind of solar plexus impact fashioned as ultra-rock gesture, signals the end of the set.

The headlining Hair Stylistics set begins with crackle and looped whistles and hoots, a horde of ciccadas and owls playing call and response in a forest of static bursts. Micromanaged manipulations merge into looped fragments, vocalese patterns intersected by fluctuating wavelengths. This is rich, deeply textured noise, teeming with alien life and reminiscent of a 2008 performance at this venue by the Fluxus artist Yasunao Tone. But whereas the invigorating, immersive environment conjured by Tone's damaged CD montages at times suggested the kind of biomechanoid ontological horror depicted in Shinya Tsukamoto's film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (i.e. being trapped in its fetishist character's nightmarish fantasy of a metal world), Masaya Nakahara's noise cosmos is an altogether more cartoonish and light-hearted place to be, even if it does operate with similar power dynamics. Piercing whistles and trickling liquid patterns metamorphose into slicing rays of static, sawtooth waves and chirruping, skull-piercing tones. Popcorn rattling, insectoid whistling, shuddering bass tones collapsing against each other across the stereo field.

A high pitched whine agitates alpha waves on which blocks of feedback and oscillating squiggles erect the kind of monstrous architectures that emerge holographically in the original noise manifesto, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Warring interference waves then tear these structures down to be drowned in noise tsunamis. Nakahara starts screaming into the microphone, conjuring a similar bacchanalian ecstatic mode to that in which Hijokaidan operates, though eventually he cannot even be heard over the constantly mutating stream of roaring noise emanating from his tabletop effects spread. Cracked hallways formed by reverb, flecked with rivulets of static, lead to a wind tunnel symphony where the lower tones coalesce into a hallucinogenic chorus. Sentient squiggles hover in a wave field like dancing cobras or angelic voices.



Noise also plays a big part in the MIUC program, but so too does jazz, contemporary classical and free forms of improvisation; current curator Sean Baxter and original founders Ren Walters and Will Guthrie are all strongly linked to those scenes.

The Skepper/Harrison/Lewis/O'Hagen quartet open proceedings with their post-Electric Milesian avant-jazz. Chris Skepper's trumpet tone is faint air blowing to begin with over Andrew Harrison's distorted, pitch bended electric piano. Chris Lewis enters with extended percussion technique: resonant mallet-stroked cymbal like Tibetan bells, bending the tone by pushing down on the cymbal's cone. John O'Hagen lays down rapid flurries of contrabass riffing. Skepper's trumpet playing certainly resembles Miles Davis in various senses: the combination of distortion processing and lambent plainchant-inspired lines and in rapid, vertically contoured arpeggio runs; mercurial eddies of digital keyboard from Harrison suggest Herbie Hancock in his fertile post-Bitches Brew, pre-Headhunters phase. Chris Lewis isn't laying down any solid Al Foster backbeats, though; he's in constant motion, rapidly switching between conventional and extended techniques, playing all around the kit. There are constantly shifting groupings of call and response with tight conversational interplay particularly emerging between drummer, keyboardist and trumpeter. A mad, off-kilter swing passage led by Skepper has a piano solo that recalls Mike Garson channelling Cecil Taylor on David Bowie's 'Aladdin Sane', all cocktail hour block chords and scurrying atonalities. Then everyone starts getting more textural: the trumpet returns with low, sinister, distorted lines; much exploration of cymbal grain and arco contrabass; Harrison switches from skeletal, wah-wah bended e-piano lines to discordant synth strings for an ominous passage. Then muted trumpet over an aggressively smeared amplified bass line and exploratory drums (fluid patterns of rolls, tom tom & cymbal over steady hi-hat). A Monk-ish trumpet line sets the angular crazed swing mood off again which slowly winds down and dissipates. The quartet's second number sets the stylistic polarities of the first into even greater juxtapositional contrast, featuring swinging trumpet over a rolling, dissonant sea of lurching bass, rambling drums and jagged, tone cluster piano. The music proceeds to further describe and negotiate waves of propulsive interplay until finally crashing on its own shore.

Buggatronic is the duo of Daniel Beuss (percussion) and James Hullick (electronics). Beuss taps and then vigorously shakes a metal cylinder to generate echo patterns that turn into regular techno beats, these machine pulsations overlaid with toe curling distortion blasts: a siren tone pierces textured sonic fog in which some details are distant, others in your face. Elements of techno regularity drift in and out of the set, providing rhythmic hooks to leaven the pure noise element, which is insistently fierce in volume. Beuss shakes the cylinder over his mixers like a shaman. Subsonic tones rattling the speakers, piercing whistles falling into the shrieking void like screaming James Dickey air hostesses plummeting Earthwards or an octopus army of chainsaw-wielding bagpipe players on the march. The phantasmagoria eventually settles into a manipulated and patterned dronescape. Beuss plays a small metal box with springs in it: internal boings processed into a musique concrete of shimmers and explosive roars, gradually reduced to a whining tone with rotation, throwing out sparkles of ring modulated sound. Hullick drapes a golden shaker and metallic spheres over a stick and walks off the stage, shaking the apparatus ritualistically. Eventually, all details are subsumed into a pulsating matrix of feedback and overtones with perceptible features: a high pitched skipping tone; low end roar breathing in and out; other dimensional rustling and scrapings.

Pausa II featuring Ollie Bown on laptop, Brigid Burke on bass clarinet and Adrian Sherriff on Zendrum and trombone is a new media performance group with backgrounds in, according to the Australian Music Centre site, "contemporary classical, free improvisation, noise music, plunderphonics, algorithmic composition, non western influences and breakbeats" ( They came together through a common interest in "developing live works that reflect the role of the computer in instrumental improvisational contexts." This is a trio whose ambition for cultural synthesis bears favourable comparison with John Zorn or Jan Balke and his Magnetic North Orchestra.

They open with tumbling, hurtling interplay between Sherriff on Zendrum, played tabla-style with fingers and thumbs and Burke laying down skittish lines and growling multiphonics. Later she switches to kazoo to create duck calls that are then processed by Bown into molten streams like cellular log drums. Burke weaves a mixture of richly overblown and gently tongued lines around processed smears of piano string tones and samples of straightahead rock or jazz drumming reconfigured algorithmically into angular and mutable patterns. This multiform improvisational conversation between real time performance and cybernetic matrix casts off endless shades of invention: tendrils of disembodied piano tone mixed with weird clarinet overtones like didgeridoo; intangible, reverbed tones somewhere between guitar, harp and cimbalon; swirling low end sustained emanations and skittish thumb piano/marimba tone from Sherriff's Zendrum; disembodied laptop voices, ring modulated and timestretched, interplay with clarinet and mbira. Sherriff switches to trombone for some extended technique display, fluttering at the edges of tone, intermingled with Burke's high pitched clarinet bleats. Then a trio of Sherriff on shakuhachi, Burke on kazoo and Bown generating avian chirps; disembodied timpani strokes herald a passage of alien gagaku morphing into Barronesque science fiction soundtrack. Laptop percussion/birds/electronic pulsations move about in irregular Brownian motion until a Zendrum figure, initially off-kilter and distorted, enters and mutates gradually into a hypertense, synthetic funk. This sets the groundwork for the set's culminating passage, a thing of coruscating, levitational beauty. Spectral, plangent harmonies from the laptop float around the rhythm while Burke plays call and response with the desolate tones, adding her own elongated phrasing and skeletal melody. This form of shimmering ambient luxuriance over pulsating, shifting Zendrum figures is one particularly appealing direction for this talented trio, but by no means the only one suggested by their abundant range of improvisational strategies.


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Saturday, August 7, 2010


Great news for Joy Division fans. Peter Hook is touring Australia performing his original band's protean debut album Unknown Pleasures (see press release below). Many people still associate Joy Division primarily with their hit single, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', a song that has become a pop standard approaching the exalted status of The Beatles or Frank Sinatra's greatest ballads, but their other work is of equal cultural significance. Their albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer are two of the crowning glories of the English post-punk scene and what 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is to the realm of pop music, 'Disorder' and 'Twenty Four Hours' are to rock - simultaneously archetypal and transcendent.

Inspired to form by a 1976 Sex Pistols gig in their native Manchester, Joy Division's sound was initially steeped in British and American punk and its antecedents (Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Pere Ubu, the noirish side of David Bowie, some of Hawkwind's sci-fi menace and Lemmy's driving basslines, a little of Black Sabbath's Ur-doom/black metal power atmospherics). The group and their producer Martin Hannett also drew inspiration from Northern Soul, dub reggae and the European avant-garde. Hannett's celebrated work is often compared to and seen as the next evolutionary stage of Phil Spector's wall of sound technique, but there are also links to the innovative genius of Lee Perry and Krautrock's finest producers. The luminous spatiality Conny Plank gave to some of the major releases by Neu!, Kraftwerk and Guru Guru is key, as is the psychoacoustic vorticality of Holger Czukay's mixes on the classic early Can albums. Joy Division's single 'Transmission' presents a sublime hybrid of the Spector and Czukay production sensibilities. The Gothic reverbscapes through which Dieter Dierks irradiated the sounds of early Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Walter Wegmueller and the Cosmic Jokers suggest at times a similarly psychogeographic sonic evocation of Cologne as Hannett, according to contemporary residents and critics like Paul Morley, created for Manchester in Unknown Pleasures (see Grant Gee's fine 2006 documentary).

Hannett's sonic alchemy served to illuminate the shadows cast by Joy Division's songs, Cyclopean structures of deceptive simplicity. Isolate Peter Hook's bass and Bernard Sumner's guitar lines in 'Disorder' and there doesn't seem to be anything more basic and straightforward. Put them together with the bleak impetus of Stephen Morris' drums and they pierce the affective core of your psyche in a way comparable to Miles Davis at his most incisive. The essence of Joy Division's genius was not any typical musical definition of sophistication, virtuosity or formalist innovation, but rather an emotional intelligence; a musical channelling of emotion minus the obstruction of any extraneous filigree.

Coupled with Ian Curtis' lyrics, this is music that penetrates some strange region of the subconscious where despair and hope seem to intermingle. Consider the lyrics of 'Disorder': just what is the "spirit, new sensation" Curtis keeps referring to? Given the context of the music and the soundscape in which it is enclosed, it could represent a symptom of malaise, the harbinger of imminent and complete societal collapse, or a genuine spiritual renewal. And perhaps it is both. Curtis' main literary influences were J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs, initially as filtered through David Bowie's fascination with the cut-up method and apocalypticism as psychological lens. The truest parallel may well be with Peter Hammill, another strange and visionary British songwriter, also an influence on Bowie, who combines science fiction dystopianism, surreal, cinematic imagery and urgent inquiry into the soul's more alluring and treacherous geometry.

I'm usually not a big believer in musicians reviving past glories - they're too often a recipe for embarrassment or boredom. But in this case, the body of work is too significant to ignore. As led by one of the finest bass guitarists to emerge from the punk scene, these concerts should be essential for long term fans as well as those who appreciate the experimental edges of contemporary acts like Radiohead, Arcade Fire and The Horrors.




Due to overwhelming demand, two more dates have been added to the Unknown Pleasures: A Joy Division Celebration with Peter Hook and Friends Australian tour this September.

Tuesday September 28. Her Majesty's Theatre. Adelaide.


Thursday September 30. Astor theatre. Perth.

Tickets for the new shows go on sale next Friday August 13 through Red Ant Touring and Ticketek.

Tickets for the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane shows are selling fast.

Australian Tour September 2010

Proudly Supported by MAX

Friday September 24. Melbourne. Palais Theatre

Proudly supported by Triple R

Tickets from


Saturday September 25. Sydney. Enmore Theatre

Tickets from and Ticketek 132 849 or


Monday September 27. Brisbane. Tivoli Theatre

Tickets from and Ticketek 132 849 or


Tuesday September 28. Adelaide. Her Majesty's Theatre Tickets from and Ticketek 132 849 or


Thursday September 30. Perth. Astor theatre

Tickets from and Ticketek 132 849 or


To commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Joy Divisions’ seminal debut album
Unknown Pleasures, founding member Peter Hook and Friends will perform the album in its entirety in Australia for the first time. The epic show will include live performances of all of the songs from the album including She’s Lost Control, New Dawn Fades and Disorder. Audiences will also be treated to performances of other early Joy Division tracks, as well as the classic non-album singles Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Before Dennis Hopper's appearance in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, Chef, the patrol boat crew member played by Frederick Forrest, receives a letter from the US with a newspaper clipping about Charles Manson. It's a great example of movie foreshadowing because when the crew finally arrive at Colonel Kurtz's Cambodian compound, Hopper's character of The Photojournalist, in a barbed symbolic sense, embodies some of the qualities of Manson, both in appearance and in rambling discourse. As the film's sole representative of the hippie movement back home that opposes the war, The Photojournalist evokes some of the walking libertarian/fascist contradiction of the acid guru mass murderer from Ohio (the home state of Captain Willard, the film's assassin protagonist played by Martin Sheen). However much he rails in disgust over the US administration's blatant lies in justifying its pursuit of the war (as seen in one of the deleted scenes available in the limited three disc special edition DVD), there's no doubting how much Hopper's character admires the "poet-warrior" renegade Kurtz's single-minded and ruthless approach to achieving the same end ("He can be terrible. He can be mean. And he can be right... There's only love and hate. You either love someone or you hate them").

Then Marlon Brando's Kurtz throws a book at him in a moment of pique and he scuttles off in a childish huff as though removing himself from a party scene turned bummer trip ("And with a whimper, I'm splittin', Jack"). Hopper's appearance as court jester brings an apposite absurdism to the film's journey towards the psychopathic godlike figure of Kurtz as national Id run riot.

The laser beam glare of Hopper's pale blue eyes often seemed to be oscillating between poles of feverish fanaticism and a capricious moral vacuity, nowhere more so than in the role of The Photojournalist. Peter Fonda apparently described Hopper as a "little fascist freak" during the making of Easy Rider. In both his fictional and real-life personas, Hopper represents all the nervous energy, the social/cultural dissatisfaction and the quest for freedom and self-determination that fuelled the sixties counterculture, but also all the contradictory, self-destructive elements that doomed the hippie movement's half-formed utopian desires to failure. It's good intentions had great outcomes like ending a needless and wastefully destructive war, as well as advancing the causes of various civil rights agendas; it's libidinal outpouring spiralled into a druggy, occult twilight and the sociopathic nightmares of the Manson Family and Altamont. It wasn't Hopper's role as actor/character creator to resolve these contradictions, but to embody them. Likewise, Coppola's role in making the film, contrary to popular opinion, was not to create an anti-war statement, rather a meditation on power as a universal condition; a cinematic embodiment of a dialectical conflict between freedom and power within a collective unconscious, precipitating the American war's prosecution and producing the seeds for the eventual withdrawal.

It is typical of Hopper's bravery that he often chose characters that were not immediately appealing or outright unappealing and made them his own; he made them, if not always sympathetic, then definitely compelling and believable. His style was a refinement and sublimation of Method technique that was comparable to Brando at his best and certainly represented an advancement on his personal hero James Dean. The character of Billy in Easy Rider is probably one of the least likeable in that film, but Hopper's performance is never less than engaging. Whereas Captain America (Peter Fonda) clings to a kind of cannabis-clouded idealism, Billy has no real objectives following the pair's drug deal other than the pursuit of a shallow hedonism: you sense that of the two characters, Hopper's has that mindset closest to the delusional short termism of the true criminal. The actor further penetrated and also poignantly humanised the criminal psyche for his performance in the titular role in Philippe Mora's Mad Dog Morgan (1976), one of the great films from Australia's cinematic revival of the 1970s. On recent viewing, this period movie about the famous Irish outlaw and Australian folk legend is still an impressive achievement, juxtaposing stark depictions of human brutality with extraordinary visual lyricism - an aesthetic unrivalled in Australian cinema until the arrival of John Hillcoat's The Proposition (2005) and Jonathan auf der Heide's Van Diemen's Land (2009).

You wonder how much of his own personal demons Hopper exorcised through the character of Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Did directors choose him for these kinds of roles because of his reputation as hell raiser and drug-fuelled trainwreck and therefore the best man for the part? Did Hopper seek them out because he saw aspects of himself reflected in screenplays that represented not only paying gigs but opportunities for psychic purgation? Then again, it would be disrespectful to the departed to indulge too much in psychological speculation - certainly, the calm, measured, likable persona in later interviews suggested someone who had found some degree of peace with himself and the outside world.

In addition to his acting talent, there's no doubting the scale of Hopper's contribution as filmmaker to American culture. Easy Rider, of course, was the film that helped kickstart the New Hollywood, America's great cinematic renaissance whose apotheosis was Apocalypse Now, the film that, appropriately enough, marked his return from the wilderness. Then there's The Last Movie, the 1971 epic, still sadly unavailable on DVD, whose commercial failure precipitated his banishment to that wilderness, but whose reputation continues to be elevated over the years into a cult sphere inhabitated only by the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Samuel Fuller.

Hopper died aged 74 on Saturday, May 29, 2010 - by any standard, a unique talent who will be sorely missed.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Recommended video - 'Rush to Relax' by Eddy Current Suppression Ring

Just had to discuss a great video by Melbourne band Eddy Current Suppression Ring called 'Rush to Relax'. Musically, this is balls out garage rock in that thrillingly scrappy and primal Saints/The Fall/Captain Beefheart-inspired tradition that flows amongst the finer practitioners within the post-punk revival, combined with a Devo/The Monks edginess in band presentation (mongoloid dance styles, bathrobes and face masks conveying a kind of blank, Nixon-era domesticated alienation). Good enough in itself. But the inspiring simplicity of the video and the sheer audacity of the extended song coda/movie epilogue that comprises its second half is something else unique and admirable in light of the thrill-a-millisecond/ADHD-oriented approach prevalent in the music video field. It shifts the standard low-budget pop clip into a abstract and timeless zone closer to world art cinema; i.e. the 'pillow shots' of Yasujiro Ozu, Michelangelo Antonioni's use of cinematic space and extended shots of deserted urban/semi-rural/industrial environments to convey alienation (The Eclipse, The Red Desert) or the nature meditations of Werner Herzog's early black and white films and documentaries (Signs of Life). This is not to suggest it's overly arty, though - the Super 8 home video approach of filmmakers Chris Middlebrook, Johann Rashid and John Huntley is far too humorous and down-to-earth for that, yet beautifully surreal and atmospheric all the same. Just a first class effort and inspiring to think of the sort of work being done in our own backyard geographically speaking.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stutter Episode Three: ROBBIE AVENAIM

Vile Vortices Productions' third episode of STUTTER features esteemed percussionist, electroacoustic artist and What is Music? festival curator Robbie Avenaim. This video captures highlights from a performance at Horse Bazaar from 1st July 2009 featuring some of Avenaim's inventions. Drawing on some of the oneiric moods of his latest release Rhythmic Movement Disorder, this extended improvisation is an aural feast of meditative sine tones, aleatoric automata, vibraphonic agitations, Cagean theatrics and some stunningly executed solo statements.

Third Maximum Arousal clip - AUS/COKIYU/CUUSHE

Our third clip for Maximum Arousal features Japanese pop electronica artists Aus, Cokiyu, Cuushe and Yugi Tanaka performing at The Toff on their first Australian tour. The song is 'Vertigo', a haunting variety of dream pop written by Aus. Reminiscent of Bjork and the Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti collaboration for Twin Peaks, Cokiyu's beautiful torch rendition floats on the twin currents of ambient laptop glitch and Tanaka's tight, funky drumming. Filmed 15th, September, 2009.