Musical poetry for the reef

13 October 2020

The Selfless Orchestra have come together for a cause, but they want you to navigate your own way through. Ara Jansen dives in to find about their paean to the Great Barrier Reef.

Music has always had the power to heal and change. In the case of Perth’s Selfless Orchestra, they have created a love letter to the Great Barrier Reef which not only marvels at this natural wonder, but calls on us to understand how precious it is.

Their debut album, Great Barrier, weaves orchestral strings, distorted guitars, haunting flutes, experimental percussion, whale song and more with the goal of helping audiences find an emotional connection.  

Selfless Orchestra will launch the album in an immersive audio-visual show at The Naval Store in Fremantle. It will be the group’s final full performance of Great Barrier, after featuring at Fringe World Festival earlier this year.

A post-rock ensemble, Selfless Orchestra’s founding members Steven Alyian (Injured Ninja, Usurper of Modern Medicine, Doublethink Prism), Ray Grenfell (Last Quokka), Madeline Antoine and Jerome Turle (The Weapon Is Sound) recruited players from the Perth Symphony Orchestra alongside musicians from the punk and metal scenes – including legendary Perth metal act Karnivool.

The musicians will play on the floor and in the round amongst the audience, while collected footage of the reef is screened around them. Songwriter and producer Steven Alyian says after a background in more traditional pop groups, he wanted to find a different way to engage with an audience.

“We’ve all grown complacent with music in pubs and clubs and it’s primarily fuelled by the sale of alcohol. We’re performing music beyond that style of entertainment to move people to genuinely and actively engage with it. I feel like we have become scared or shy or too safe. People just yelling out political slogans don’t resonate, which is why we decided to not have any lyrics or slogans attached to this. We see this as poetic not political. We don’t tell people how to feel, so they can make up their own mind through what we present.”

The Sefless Orchestra perform Great Barrier earlier this year at Fringe World. Photo supplied

A united front of artists, musicians, filmmakers and performers, the Selfless Orchestra aims to educate and inspire audiences about social issues and environmental justice through poetical musical performance, with part proceeds from each show donated towards community causes.

“The Selfless Orchestra comes together to work on particular causes, raising money and awareness for social, political and environmental issues,” says Alyian. “This time, we’re exploring the complex relationship with the Great Barrier Reef, including the coral and Adani’s Carmichael coal mine.”

That’s why part proceeds from general admission tickets on the night will be donated to the Reef Restoration Foundation and Frontline Action on Coal (FLAC).

Alyian suggests that coming from a poetic, creative place can hit people in the heart and get to the core of the matter as opposed to trying to polarise opinion to galvanise action.

“The album and its performance takes people on a journey without telling them how to think or feel. They can be entertained or they can dig deeper and have the chance to see how they want to approach something. It offers people layers.”

“By turning up you are part of the orchestra and giving your energy to the night. While the audience isn’t playing music, the orchestra is actually everyone there. By being together, you eliminate any power play between the band and the audience. We are not all-powerful or dominating the audience. Also being so close to a guitar being played, there’s a type of energy in that.”

The orchestra just one of Alyian’s many creative pursuits, hence why the album has been a couple of years in the making.

“I’ve got a lot of different projects on and most of the artists and creatives which are working together are also quite active in the political and environmental arena, so it takes a bit of time,” he says. “While this is our debut album, it’s also the last time we perform it as the orchestra moves onto a new project and cause.”

The launch is also an opportunity for the group to premiere some new songs from the next project and cause. Exactly what that is, the songwriter is keeping under wraps, but Alyian will say he’s recently spent some time in Leonora and Wiluna learning about local land rights, uranium mining and cultural identity, all of which have inspired him.

While he understands it’s hard to ever be truly neutral when dealing in subjects like the environment, the songwriter hopes Great Barrier will invoke an emotional response in people by telling a story. Those who attend the launch have already acted simply by being there. Then it’s up to the audience as to what they take away and what further action they might take.    

On the night, Selfless will be joined by special guests Dead Jerk, Filth Goddess and Elsewhere/Rebecca. The album will be released on limited edition vinyl through Stock Records.

The Great Barrier album launch is on October 24 at The Naval Store in Fremantle.

Pictured top: The members of the Selfless Orchestra come together to educate and inspire audiences about social issues and environmental justice. Photo A.J. Coultier

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

Past Articles

  • A decade of making their own rules

    Perth Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and Ara Jansen takes a look at how this fearless ensemble have changed the landscape of classical music in Western Australia.

  • Framing life from a Noongar perspective

    An exhibition of photographs by one of Australia’s earliest known First Nations photographers, Mavis Phillips (nee Walley), provides a rare Noongar perspective on mid-century life in the Wheatbelt, reports Ara Jansen.

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