From abstract acid house to pointillist landscapes

20 April 2021

Two mixed bill experimental music and sound programs intrigue Jonathan W. Marshall at this year’s Audible Edge festival.

Audible Edge Festival: ‘Every Which Way’, various artists
Old Customs House, Fremantle, 8 April 2021 ·

Audible Edge Festival: ‘Come What May’, various artists ·
The Rechabite, 16 April 2021 ·

Local label Tone List is now the go-to organisation for Perth experimental music, with a range that includes free improvisation, electronics, DIY noise and even a smattering of post-serialist Western Art Music. Audible Edge, an annual festival of music and sound, is a highlight of Tone List’s offerings.

With a focus on emerging artists, the acts in this year’s Audible Edge Festival didn’t always fire. Nonetheless, the 2021 line-up may be one of the strongest to date, if two of its five-act mixed bill programs – “Every Which Way” at Old Customs House, and “Come What May” at The Rechabite – are anything to go by.

A highlight of “Every Which Way”, Ashes of Burnt Sage was a set of incendiary, ecstatic drumming madness convened by Sage “Pbbbt” Harlow. Sage Pbbbt is a multidisciplinary practitioner inspired by shamanic musics and practices from the Eurasian steppes, which she recasts into black and death metal motifs. Ashes of Burnt Sage is a structured improvisation in which performers are tasked with drumming in a manner which eschews any regular beat or melody, yet which is intense and all encompassing.

Ably supported by Lenny Jacobs, Oz Kesik, Noémie Huttner-Koros, Audible Edge impresario Josten Myburgh and Vanessa Stasiw, as well as Annika Moses (co-curator of Audible Edge) and Be Gosper on vocals/screaming, the Ashes collective produced a beautiful din. Particularly notable was how diverse chaotic structures and uneven beats nevertheless coalesced into a surprisingly regular pulse which shifted every three minutes or so—very danceable, at least for those like me who dance to drill funk by DAT Politics or Venetian Snares.

Ashes of Burnt Sage followed on from an exactingly crafted new music work by Simon Charles which featured drums (Lenny Jacobs), amplified mandolin (Jameson Feakes) and double bass (Djuna Lee) supported by Charles’s gorgeous immersive electronic and sampled sounds tones.

Charles co-authored the wonderful music theatre short Siren Call, featured in STRUT Dance and Tura New Music’s 2020 “Situ-8” program. His latest composition Tracks in Salt and Lineament is similar in the sense that it highlights almost free-standing sonic events and objects within a shifting, pointillist realm.

Inspired by a West Australian salt lake, there is a sense of space between sound elements which nevertheless gently shimmer and shake in a kind of horizon that is distributed across a surround sound speaker system. Field recordings of birds and flies (or possibly bees) provide an insistent ground against which plucks and tremolos of the stringed instruments are set. It’s a haunting yet reassuringly delicate and beautiful work which balances electroacoustics and live performance well.

Presented just over a week later, the “Come What May” program included two soundscapes, namely a one-off pairing of keyboard artist Plyanci (Oz Kesik) with video artist Nathan Thompson, as well as Lia T’s non-rhythmic interpretation of acid house and abstract chill.

Plyanci and Thompson’s set recalled early UK electronica and the BBC radiophonic laboratory in a manner akin to Ghost Box and other electronica crate diggers. The set though was less rhythmic than Ghost Box’s artists, taking the form of a series of droney plateaus, to be replaced by breathy, windy sounds and plangent, string-like samples before a slightly Aphex Twin-like abstract electronica section, ending on a set of scattered sounds akin to a plucked Asian stringed instrument.

Lia T’s set was more structurally sophisticated, eschewing static blocks of drone or scattered chimes for hissy electroacoustics and then the squelchy repeated sounds so characteristic of acid house (originally produced by the Roland TB-303 Bass Line Synthesiser, but here cloned through Lia T’s laptop), and later using a repeated sample of gentle plashing sounds before closing with irregular, looped saxophone tones.

Also notable on this program was Come what may we will be meet tomorrow, created in 2020. Perth theatre’s sound and lighting legend Joe Lui has teamed up with dancer Tahlia Russelll and lighting designer Kristie Smith for an enjoyable, semi-improvised, sample based work in which layered YouTube clips are accompanied by awkward, crawling, clambering dance and flashing fluorescent lights.

There are certainly issues to be ironed out in Audible Edge. Carry-over from the cancelled 2020 festival meant that Audible Edge 2021 featured an overflowing cornucopia of riches which was difficult to negotiate. The inclusion of film, dance and installation offers exciting new possibilities whilst also diluting the focus on sound/music.

It was, moreover, frustrating how few audience members followed Pauline Oliveros to engage in respectful “deep listening” and who talked even near to the front. If Tone List reject Tura New Music’s policy of closing the bar during sets, then they are going to have to amplify the shit out of it, dance club-style.

Even so, as evident in the mixed bill programs “Every Which Way” and “Come What May”, Audible Edge 2021 was a triumph.

Pictured top: Vanessa Stasiw performing in ‘Ashes of Burnt Sage’ at ‘Every Which Way’. Photo: Eduardo Cossio

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Jonathan W. Marshall is associate professor and postgraduate coordinator at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University. Jonathan has written for RealTime Australia, Big Issue, The Age, Theatreview NZ, IN Press, and presented on radio, since 1992. He grew up beside the Yarra River, near a long metal slide, set into the side of a rocky slope.

Past Articles

  • Lost generation struggles to be heard

    Jonathan W. Marshall suspects there’s good musical theatre potential in a boy wanted to, but says it’s still finding its rhythm.

  • Dance and music in the attic

    Reminding us of theatre’s ability to synthesise the joys and pleasures of the past with contemporary forms, STRUT Dance and Tura New Music’s ‘Situ-8’ is an evocative program of short new site-specific works, writes Jonathan W. Marshall.

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