Saturday, July 23, 2011



Marco Fusinato isn’t so much a guitar ‘player’ as he is a conduit for the instrument’s traversal along the path toward amplification. There is less of an inclination to elicit sound in a manner determined by sheer physicality as there is a tendency to let the guitar feedback upon itself in a constantly regenerative cycle with Fusinato stepping in only to disfigure the resulting vibrations. In contrast to the feedback bludgeoning typically associated with the headliners, this set amounted to a demonstration by Fusinato of the guitar as a medium through which he articulates and channels an amalgam of sounds characterised in equal measures by an alien quality as it they are by a quotidian familiarity.
The set evoked the feeling of being surrounded by the static murmuring of a thousand television sets interspersed by almost reverent blocks of silence; this sonic impression was accentuated by the cerulean hues of a subtle lighting arrangement reminiscent of television static in a darkened room.

The O’Malley/Ambachi guitar duo was originally meant to be accompanied by respected extreme metal drummer Matt ‘Skitz’ Sanders as a reprisal of their series of gigs performed under the ‘Gravetemple’ moniker in 2008. Illness ultimately prevented Skitz’s involvement in this particular performance and he was replaced by Melbourne drummer Brad Smith, a participant in a number of grindcore and noise projects. It was interesting to see how O’Malley and Ambarchi would adapt their musicianship to Smith’s autodidactic and vaguely jazz infused approach to grindcore drumming (much in a similar vein to fellow Melbourne drummer Sean Baxter). Indeed, while Smith is of far less renown than the aforementioned guitarists, his role as a drummer granted him the unique opportunity to significantly influence the aesthetic direction of the largely improvised performance.

Contrary to expectations, O’Malley and Ambarchi opted to commence with clean, reverb laden and sparsely phrased guitar motifs which invoked a measured approach on Smith’s part. Ambarchi diverged from this rather startlingly mellow pastiche of sounds with some effects laden nuances; in response, O’Malley eventually directed the piece toward something more typical of the heavy metal idiom. The culmination of the cymbal phrasing which had persisted throughout the set in a pulsating and wholly atavistic battering of the toms blended well with this divergence. 

It was at this point that the gig took an impromptu turn with the failure of O’Malley’s amplifier, in response to which he delivered a guitar lesson with relish and legerdemain. Having resolved this issue, the three musicians embarked on the second half of the set which was more characteristic of the Sunn O))) aesthetic. While sonically satisfying for the most part, it was at this point that the interplay between the three musicians did not come across as coherently as it could have. 

The repetitious and minimalistic nature of Ambarchi and O’Malley’s guitar playing is such that it significantly limits the scope within which other participants can adapt their playing. Such repetition tends to invite equally repetitious playing admirable for the mental and physical exertion involved. On the other hand, the more imaginative or technically proficient player is often wont to employ a variety of technical skills as a means of complementing this repetition in a climactic fashion. Smith opted for the latter and while his efforts were respectable, it seemed at times that he was at a loss as to where exactly to direct his efforts. Rather than there being any obvious missed cues or false starts, there seemed a distinct lack of awareness and sensitivity to Smith’s subtleties on the part of both O’Malley and Ambarchi. In spite of this lack of engagement, he sought to explore the parameters of his own musicianship, alternating through a variety of drum patterns, fills, blast beats and cymbal rushes.

Smith’s efforts were not in vain, however, as his approach to the music was realised toward the latter stages of the set in an uninhibited and frenetic battering of the drum kit as O’Malley and Ambarchi gradually allowed the chord progressions they had thus far played in unison to climatically disintegrate towards a free form exploration of the guitar which could well have served as a tip of the hat to Fusinato. 

With any Ambarchi/O’Malley live performance, cripplingly dense guitar tones, irresponsibly loud explorations into the most nadir recesses of the ‘metal’ aesthetic and the occasional smoke machine are a certainty. Yet, the uncertainty and caprice associated with improvised music rendered this performance not as cataclysmically memorable as the Pentemple or Gravetemple gigs which long preceded and inspired it. Still, the gig had its merits. The first half of the set exhibited within these musicians a musicality less dependent on the quality of speaker cabinets than a genuinely harmonised conjuring of atmospheric call-and-response interludes. Brad Smith's efforts demonstrated his imaginative grasp of the drums to far exceed his relatively young years and indicate a promising career ahead within the avant garde idiom.

Words & Photos: (C) Tony Batsen  (2011)