What happens when you combine jazz and experimental music? Josten Myburgh introduces TuneNoiseTune, a new series dedicated to this adventurous, exciting music.
Josten Myburgh is a Perth-based experimental musician and one of the founders of Tone List, a record label for exploratory music. He is also a driving force behind TuneNoiseTune, a new concert series in association with the Perth Jazz Society dedicated to experimental jazz and improvised music.
Ahead of TuneNoiseTune’s launch at Four5Nine Bar on February 17, Myburgh joined Rosalind Appleby to discuss WA’s grassroots experimental music scene and why a scene from Spongebob Squarepants serves as a lesson in letting go and enjoying the sounds of freeform jazz.
Rosalind Appleby: I’ve noticed an increasing cross-over between the jazz and experimental music worlds last year, with both Audible Edge and the Perth International Jazz Festival including gigs that ventured into both territories. What has brought about the more visible cross-fertilisation between these two genres of music?
Josten Myburgh: Tone List has been involved in avant-garde jazz since we began. We used to host a series called Outlines for one-off collaborations between jazz and experimental musicians, and many of the artists in our scene maintain projects in that world (orphans, Knots and Ghost Gum Reverb to name three). I think around the time we formed, there was a bit of a dip in the number of original jazz shows in Perth, with the departure of a few key voices and quietening of some platforms.
Kate Pass’s work with Perth Jazz Society since she became president has built a lot of strong and steady infrastructure for the jazz scene and has done excellent, proactive things to boost women’s voices in the scene. My hunch is that means there’s just more room now for organisations like PJS and PIJF to experiment.
RA: The new TuneNoiseTune series celebrates this collaborative spirit even further, with a series of six concerts dedicated to experimental jazz and improvised music. How did this collaboration between the record label Tone List and the Perth Jazz Society come about?
JM: The notion of Tone List and PJS collaborating has been around for about five years! It’s been Kate’s initiative that’s taken it from notion to reality.
We first co-presented a gig at our Audible Edge festival in 2021, and it went well. The sense of occasion a festival brings, and the ability to put a little budget behind kickstarting some new projects, meant a great atmosphere and adventurous, exciting music. It was obvious that we needed to create more contexts for people to play and hear more of this, hence the series. We owe big thanks to Carl Erbrich, a philanthropist with a long-term engagement in free jazz and improvised music in Perth, for backing the project.
RA: What can we expect from the first gig on February 17?
JM: jalan-jalan is a quartet featuring Djuna Lee on bass and percussion, Pete Evans on drums, Simon Charles on saxophones and Jess Carlton on trumpet. They make dance music for tangled marionettes — it’s joyous and noisy music, best appreciated if you’re up to boogie along to it.
Vanishing Island Group is headed up by another double bassist — pop maverick Lyndon Blue — and is a more atmospheric ensemble. It has a star-studded line-up, including classical percussionist Jet Kye Chong on vibraphone and fellow Methyl Ethyl members Jake Webb, Talya Valenti and Julia Wallace playing a spread of instruments including flugelhorn, clarinet, and various electronics. There are influences from jazz and impressionism in the sound palette, with a glacial pace inspired by The Necks, ambient music, and doom metal.
RA: For those not familiar with experimental or jazz music, can you give some tips on how to engage with TuneNoiseTune?
JM: Both bands playing the gig are really playful and influenced by a wide range of styles. Between the vibrant, energetic interaction between the musicians in jalan-jalan, and the broad atmospherics of Vanishing Island Group, I expect anyone could find their way in.
I guess the meme about jazz is that it’s incomprehensible, particularly when it gets more experimental. There’s that scene in Spongebob where pretending to be into free jazz is associated with being a discerning, tasteful adult. But if we lose the idea that we’re “not getting” something, or that it’s supposed to be serious, difficult art, we can just focus on what we’re feeling in response to what we’re hearing and be happy with that.
RA: Josten, your background is in experimental music, and you have been actively supporting the Western Australian exploratory music scene for many years, co-running record label Tone List, producing innumerable concerts and workshops, and curating the annual festival Audible Edge. I know you’re a big believer in grassroots and experimental arts spaces. Why is this type of music making so vital to the arts ecology?
JM: Part of experimental music’s process is letting go of what you’re expected to do or how you’re expected to listen, in turn finding ways of doing things that are personal, grounded, and intuitive. Most of the music we make in WA is using forms inherited from the USA and Europe. By putting some of this aside to seek our own forms, we can find stuff with a deep potential to really belong in the place we’re in. This is what makes culture dynamic and localised — not just reiterating what already exists, but looking for what grows out of us, from this soil. All music can do this, but the urge to try something else, inherent in experimental traditions, has a potency to it.
RA: COVID has had a devastating impact on independent artists. And yet great new projects like TuneNoiseTune keep popping up. How would you describe the state of WA’s grassroots experimental scene now?
JM: Experimental music has a certain advantage in that none of the artists ever really expect to have an audience or make any money! There’s a freedom to being totally on the fringe. But it’s bloody exhausting to work for hours every day on your craft, towards one — if that — brief, probably low-paying gig a month. Without access to international networks, and without any established organisations in Boorloo supporting the underground scene in any substantial way, I have sensed and felt a lot of fatigue. Adding gig cancellations and postponements to that doesn’t help.
What’s true, though, is that the outrageously good musicians who have kept at it for years are making the best work they’ve ever made, and at any show, you can see something world-class right alongside someone else’s first gig or work-in-progress. It remains exciting. I am immensely grateful for the people who keep going, sustaining small platforms or nurturing rarely-heard projects. It matters a tonne.
Pictured top: Experimental musician Josten Myburgh. Photo: Josh Wells Photography.
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