Exploring the periphery of musical narrative

12 April 2021

Audible Edge Festival of Sound is underway and Eduardo Cossio reviews ‘Serf Punk’, a concert that explores representation and meaning – and its absence.

‘Serf Punk’, Audible Edge Festival of Sound ·
The Bird, 9 March 2021

Audible Edge Festival is back with a program that offers audiences the chance to explore sound in myriad ways, from installation work and dance collaborations, to film screenings. “Serf Punk” took place at The Bird and featured local and visiting artists for a night of “hellish, sparkly and bodily” music.

Psychopomps is the project of Olivia O’Donnell and Strawberry Pete, both members of garage rock outfit The Feast of Snakes. Their set was noise with capital ‘N’: non-performative and nihilistic. A pummelling to the senses that deprived audiences of any agency. The duo started unannounced and remained hidden beneath a table covered with black cloth. Only at times did jagged rhythms and melodies emerge like the flotsam of a wreck. Through sensory overload and moments of reprieve, Psychopomps hinted at extreme states of mind with unrelenting brutality. 

If Psychopomps rejected meaning, James Rushford probed at the threshold of sense-making wherein musical narratives are hinted at. The Melbourne artist has built an impressive career of solo releases and international collaborations that include composer Klaus Lang, electroacoustic musician Kassel Jaeger and the idiosyncratic sound-artist Graham Lambkin. Rushford’s work traverses experimental composition and electroacoustic improvisation. His set at The Bird was an example of the latter. 

a man in a collared shirt leans over a mixing desk, lit by a blue spotlight
Melbourne sound artist James Rushford conjures up a world of veiled forms. Photo by Josh Wells

Sundry devices were laid on a table – a mixer, a synth keyboard, controllers – all entangled with patch cords. Table-top performances can sometimes be overly clinical or unengaging but this was not the case with Rushford whose pianistic-like gestures were well attuned to the trajectory of the sounds. Fast-paced glitches and sustained timbres blossomed into vertiginous configurations, yet the overall textures remained diaphanous. At times he muttered into a small microphone that transformed his voice to febrile growls and harsh plosives. The scurrying materials were grounded by ominous synth pads reminiscent of movie soundtracks from the eighties. With skilful technique Rushford conjured up surreal worlds of latent meanings and veiled forms.

Continuing the “sparkly” theme of the night was Seacrest Gardens, a project by Lana Rothnie and Ian Apau Walker. For their debut performance they sought to recreate “a 90’s library scene… with high quality metallic (medi evil inspired) electronic sounds”. Musicians Jeremy Segal and Josiah Padmanabhan were brought along to realise the concept. The group set up in front of a projection showing an office space complete with computer monitors, stacks of paper, and filing cabinets. The low-resolution image read like a meme on 90s culture, however, it was clear the musicians had more ambitious concerns.

Clad in medieval attire, Lana Rothnie led the ensemble behind two keyboards. Her vocals were in fine form as she channelled Kate Bush with quirky, hiccupping sighs and screams. To one side Josiah Padmanabhan created washes of sound by strumming on an autoharp. Later, he would switch to electric guitar and match Rothnie’s keyboard improvisations with uncanny precision. 

The group moved through a series of self-contained vignettes, each featuring strong contributions from the members. Jeremy Segal stood in front of a monitor programming lines of code on MAX/MSP. The code’s orderly array on the LCD screen was another nod to the 90’s library concept.

But perhaps the most intriguing member was Ian Apau Walker, a relatively newcomer to the local music scene. Donning a bucket hat and a checkered jacket, he was a foil to Rothnie’s vocal gymnastics. Apau’s voice was child-like, almost prosaic as he read and sang from a notebook. There was a freewheeling spirit to his contributions as he played simple lines on a variety of instruments – recorder, melodica, a violin – that added whimsicality to the group’s performance. Seacrest Gardens’ playful experimentation was captivating from start to finish.

“Serf Punk” seemed like an appropriate title for a program where representation and meaning, or lack of thereof, abounded. The concert’s strength was the high calibre of the music and the willingness of local acts to play under different guises.

Audible Edge Festival continues until 18 April.

Pictured top: Lana Rothnie heads Seacrest Gardens’ debut performance at The Bird. Photo by Josh Wells.

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Author —
Eduardo Cossio

Eduardo Cossio is a musician active in the Perth experimental music scene. He is a presenter on Difficult Listening (RTRFM), his music reviews appear on Realtime Arts and Cool Perth Nights and he runs Outcome Unknown, a concert series of exploratory music. At the playground he would try and get some percussive sounds happening.

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