New Sounds Review

On August 1st I had the pleasure of going along to the Adelaide Uni Electronic Music Unit for an evening of New Sounds.

First a bit of journalistic disclosure. Tickets at the door were $15. I handed over a $20 note and they didn’t have $5 to give me in change. Instead they gave me $10 and said that if they got a $5 note they’d come and find me and I could give them the money back. By the end of the night I still had the $10 in my pocket which means I still owe them $5. So this review needs to be read in the knowledge that I got in cheap and might be trying to pay them back $5 worth of good opinions. However I’ll try to be up front about this and note when I’m paying them back.

There were four artists playing. Tristan Louth-Robins, Tarab, Christian Haines and Simon Whetham. Louth-Robins and Haines are local Adelaide artists, Tarab is from Melbourne and Whetham is from the UK.

(Did you notice I included the links to their websites there? A small favour, but surely worth 50c of the $5)

Tristan Louth-Robins played first – a piece called Goyder’s Line – for sawtooth waves, vocoder and “extended effects”.

This was gentle, still music with a throbbing texture that ebbed and flowed, slowly developing and changing. It seemed to be music more about textures than about events, but Louth-Robins seemed to pull off something of a magic trick – you realized at the end that it had become something completely different from what it was at the start and it happened under your nose and you didn’t know how. The throbbing pulses that were playing off each other gradually disappeared and left purer extended tones before the piece ended.

Louth-Robins is curator of the Fleurieu sound map and a sense of place seems important to his work. (Another link – 25c) So I wonder about that title – Goyder’s Line. Is it reading too much into it to suggest that this music also reflected a place?

Goyder’s Line, by the way, is more correctly Goyder’s Line of Rainfall and is named after George Goyder, Surveyor General in South Australia from 1861 to 1893.

In just two months in 1863 Goyder drew up a line across South Australia extending from Ceduna across to Pinaroo north of which the rainfall was too low for crops.

Goyder was a fascinating man and you can read about him here and here. (And that little lesson on South Australian Colonial History is surely worth $1)

Oh, and Tristan Louth-Robin’s Youtube Channel can be found here. (A plug worth 50c? I think so.)

Next up – Tarab. He began by place a small stand on the floor in the centre of the room in the middle of the seating. On the stand he placed a tin can and some sand. Both were wired up to his equipment. Now he didn’t explain all this, but the stand certainly had a speaker in it and I’m guessing that the can had a microphone inside feeding back into the mixer.

The piece began with crackling staticy sounds that eventually came from three sources – left speaker, right speaker and from the floor in the middle of the seating. What I take to be the rattling of the can was mixed in making a meditative, quiet soundscape that allowed for concentrated listening. I could have listened to it for a lot longer, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

Instead there came the sort of clanging crash that you get when someone drops a tray full of plates and glasses in a quiet restaurant. I have to admit looking around to see just who had dropped stuff. But of course it was a part of the music as it went into an extended section of presumably found or field recorded sounds.

Interestingly the sounds that Tarab used were not the sounds that might have been expected. It was as if Tarab had taken all the bits that a lesser artist might have cut out and deleted  – the clicks, pops, wind noise, jets flying over head, footsteps – and then presented them as if they were the most important sounds available.(“lesser artist” – see that compliment? 25c worth surely!) As a result I found myself listening to this stuff that might normally be the detritus of field recording with new ears. It was nice work – but I wish I could have heard that first section for longer.

Tarab, I am told is an term in Arabic Music is a term without an exact equivalent in the western world. It’s used to refer to the emotional response to music. (Ethnomusicology – you’ll thank me later, but for now? 80c)

Now I’m not sure exactly how far we were intended to respond emotionally to Tarab’s music – often electronic new sounds tends towards the head rather than the heart  and often the response electronic music is grave head nodding rather than an emotional one –  but it would be interesting to hear Tarab’s thoughts on what sort of response he hopes for.

(Thoughtful reflection – 75c seems fair)

Th last time I saw Christian Haines perform he had a large bank of mixers feeding into each other to produce his no-input sounds . This time her had pared his setup back to what looked like only two mixers and a cross fader plus one or two other bits and pieces I couldn’t identify. From this simple setup he called up an array of howls and shrieks and stuttering wails that were noise at its purest.

There is, lets face it, something magnificent about this sort of noise. Haines’s seemed very much in control and really didn’t put a finger wrong.

And the thing is that Haine’s performance was exactly that – a performance.

Because let’s be honest – electronic music performances often consist of one or two people with their heads bent over a bank of equipment staring intently at a range of mysterious knobs and screens. Exactly what they’re doing is far from clear and exactly what’s happening to produce the sounds we’re hearing is a complete puzzle. Part of the pleasure of a performance with a violin or an oboe or a piano is watching the fingers and seeing the instrument and understanding what’s going on.

And Haines gave us something of that – his hands flicking over the mixers and sliders and really playing them like an instrument. It was  pretty authoritative.

Finally we had  Simon Whetham from Bristol.

He began by suggesting to us that we listen to his set with our eyes closed and told us that one audience member at a previous performance had open his eyes and spoiled the magic.

Now the last time I was at a show where the performers told the audience to close their eyes and let the magic happen was in the mid seventies at a Flinders Uni Radical Feminist Agitprop performance and everyone had pigs blood (or reasonable facsimile) thrown at them. They were, I seem to remember, trying to “reclaim menstruation”. So since then I’ve been a bit wary and kept my eyes open I’m afraid.

(By the way, these memories of my student days are priceless, but for you $1)

But since I kept my eyes open I know what Whetham was up to.

Low level sounds that gradually lulled you  into a meditative state that only to be interrupted – at one point quite violently interrupted – by harsher, louder noises. And all the while there were spatial games going on with sounds coming from different parts of the room, sounds coming out of bins, sound sources being carried about the room, being held high over people’s heads, in between audience members. There was something ritualistic about Whetham taking his shoes off and then silently moving around the room with a bell.

The silence at the end of his performance suggested an audience resurfacing from somewhere deeper before applauding.

(By the wat, did you see how I diddn’t actually give the trick away? 25c thanks!)

We need to hear these new sounds and EMU is to be thanked for making it possible to do so. More power to them and I hope they do it again soon.

Oh and by the way. I added up the money and now you owe me 30c.