Concertgoing: At the edge

Maybe I'm the eternal optimist but of all the people that I read the following blurb to last Friday, I was the only one not to be dubious.

At the Edge is a new concert series exploring hybrid forms of music and visual performance. This event is the first of two for the year and features exciting and various new media music and electro acoustic composition performances. This concert showcases the talent and diversity of soloists and ensembles within the ANU School of Music and the Centre for New Media Arts.

Now I will admit that I was aware of the possibility that this could well consist of a handful of half naked performers painted blue standing in a circle singing the word "poop" for the better part of an hour in front of projected video of paint drying while some feral banged away mindlessly on a djembe but given that this is Canberra (and the ANU) and interesting things are tucked away all over the place in this town, decided to give it a go. (Just don't get me started on my issues with ferals/hippies/crusties playing drums).

As it turned out, it was great. (Ok, the first half was great and if it wasn't for the fact that I was starving and crying out for a drink I would have stuck around, honest)

The performance was held in the Band Room at the School of Music and entry was by gold coin donation - attendance was sparse and Buj wondered if we might be the only people there not in the performers immediate family.

The programme began with a piece called Piano Phase, which consisted of a man (Gary France) playing midi percussion pads behind a screen on which was a projection of a man (Gary also) playing midi percussion pads.

The two "performers" begin in sync playing a repeating pattern (which isn't drumlike but a keyboard sounding melody) but gradually one of them speeds up their tempo to move an eighth-note in front of them. (I actually thought that there was a third layer of sound - two percussion tracks and a looping keyboard melody - but according to what I have read, there isn't).

Might I just add at this point that the old axiom "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" feels painfully true at this juncture

Fortunately, I just found an example of Piano Phase - check it out here. (This version seems a little faster than the one I heard but you should get the gist)

This rolls over and over for what felt like about twenty minutes (though who knows how long) with slight shifts in the tune every so often keeping it from being completely maddening. In fact, it was beautifully hypnotic and while I was listening my mind wandered all over the place, all the while tuning into the music to see where it might go next.

The repetitive nature of the piece made me wonder if it was a response to the information age and the way that we are so bombarded with information that it needs to be repeated endlessly to have any chance to get through. This also reminded me of a lot of contemporary electronic music and the nature of samples and repetition there.

On further reading though, I learnt that this piece was actually composed in 1967 by Steven Reich, so there you have it.

Next up were Shoeb Ahmad and Evan Dorrian, with a simple drums, electric guitar and laptop/effects box setup. They played two pieces which brought together random seeming but still somehow patterned drum beats, building "riffs" from the guitar (as well as randomish notes) and beeps, bleeps and other sounds from the laptop. The first track came to remind me a little of early Sonic Youth noiserock experiments and the second was a little more laid back but equally engaging.

(Did I mention the whole dancing about architecture thing?)

All in all, a great way to get out and hear something different and be carried away for a while. Further evidence that while there may not seem to be a lot going on in Canberra, the little city that could, when you get out and scratch beneath the surface, there are all manner of treats.

(Oh and the crowd grew to pretty well fill the hall as time passed)