Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Immersive sound at one with the sunset

15 February 2022

Set at the boundary of land and sea, CLAUDIO’s moody electronic set is a collaboration with natural elements, writes Claire Coleman.

Sounds of Sunset, CLAUDIO ·
South Mole, Fremantle/Walyalup, 14 February 2022 ·

Sometimes I think we Perth dwellers forget to treasure our local landscape. However, the exposed trek from the carpark near the E Shed at Victoria Quay out to end of South Mole, where CLAUDIO’s set for Perth Festival takes place, was certainly not a moment where I was inclined to glory in the wonders of nature. 

It’s not easy to wax lyrical about the scorching late afternoon sun glancing off the limestone and bitumen, or the waves lapping uselessly along the edge of the spit, when you’re lugging picnic gear you’ve come to regret bringing at all toward a distant lighthouse you’ve been assured is not a mirage.

Once you’ve experienced CLAUDIO’s set though – and this is a set to experience, not one to merely listen to – your perspective might shift. 

Rachel Claudio, who performs as CLAUDIO, hails from Perth, but spent 11 years in Paris refining her craft as a soundtrack composer and multi-instrumentalist. She brings these skills to bear, plus a travelled sense of familiarity-and-otherness, in her set for Perth Festival.

Ascending the stage, CLAUDIO thanks the audience for coming, and then turns her back on us, so we are all looking in the same direction – out past the lighthouse, towards the ocean horizon. In doing so, CLAUDIO is de-centred; no longer the star performer, but the conduit for the landscape’s own soundtrack.

CLAUDIO or Rachel Claudio stands at a sound desk with panels and microphones around her. The sun is setting in the background
Rachel Claudio (CLAUDIO) at the control desk. Photo: Court McAllister

Working with synthesisers, pedals, MIDI controllers and software such as Ableton Live, CLAUDIO’s soundtrack occupies the electronic music realm. These works are long-form – not “songs” in a structural sense – built by layering contrasting timbres and textures across a range of registers, with smooth transitions between one motif and the next. 

Responding to the setting, CLAUDIO’s music is mesmerising, cyclical, and appears predominantly improvised. Pulsating, low-pitched chords throb beneath jangly rattles and rushes on the upper end. Harmonic structure comes with a warm, syncopated four-chord pad loop, then CLAUDIO solos for a while, in bell-tones with repeating octave leaps.

The pad is replaced by some thick strings. She improvises short vocal stabs, adds some mumbled speech samples, and eventually drops a beat. Then everything except for the glassy noise in the upper register fades out, CLAUDIO pitch shifts the bass up a semitone, introduces a drone, and the soundscape continues evolving. 

What prompts these musical shifts isn’t always apparent to the audience, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead of overthinking, journey with CLAUDIO and her co-conspirators – the waves, the sky, the clouds, the wind, the setting sun. This work is best experienced if audience members, too, respond to the space. 

Eventually realising we are not in a stuffy theatre, first a couple of people and then a whole lot move from the assigned seating area, around the edge of the stage and behind it, to clamber over the limestone rocks out at the very end of the promontory. From here we can see the sun slip beneath its oceanic blanket, CLAUDIO’s music becoming one with the wailing of gulls and the drumming of waves.

Under threatening clouds, with the wind picking up so CLAUDIO can no longer hear some of her sonics, we return to the front of the stage for a simple closer. Although it is unplanned, there is no better way to end the set than the trio we are served; sparkly piano, CLAUDIO’s rich melodious voice, and the stiff easterly’s gusty interjections.

Sounds of Sunset continues daily until 20 February 2022

Pictured top: The sun sets over the South Mole as a relaxed crowd takes in the sounds of CLAUDIO.  Photo: Court McAllister

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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