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Reviews/Music

Electronica surges at Outcome Unknown

1 July 2022

The Outcome Unknown Festival brings together some of Perth’s leading players in experimental music, and highlights the strength in the electronica field, writes Jonathan W. Marshall.

Outcome Unknown Festival: Outcome Unknown in association with NoizeMaschin!! and Tura New Music ·
The Bird and The Goodwill Club @ The Rechabite, 28-29 June 2022 ·

Outcome Unknown’s regular experimental music nights expanded into a mini-festival over three nights in June across three venues to take the work of adventurous local musicians to new audiences.

I caught nights two and three of the 2022 Outcome Unknown Festival, which revealed a diverse line-up, featuring soloists on trumpet, guitar, and bass. It was however the electronica musicians who shone.

At The Bird on night two, Plyanci (aka Oz Kesik) offered a shifting laptop set that seemed designed to enable on-the-fly transitions between elements and the reshaping of sounds in rapid swipes and leaps. As with their performance at the 2021 Audible Edge festival, the sonic material harks back to early analogue experiments at American universities (despite the use of a digital set up) as well as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Bebe and Louis Baron. This makes Plyanci’s palette close to that of the Ghost Box releases, but Kesik’s arrangement is very different, largely eschewing a sampled feel for more extruded transitions. Plyanci did however abruptly jump into a rather pleasing classic acid-techno style to close, with blunt, squelchy beats.

Outcome Unknown. A man sits at a control panel on a table in a darkened room
Ben Aguero at the controls in his performance at The Bird. Photo: Eduardo Cossio

Plyanci was followed by producer/performer Ben Aguero also on a laptop linked to virtual synthesiser controllers. Aguero began epic, droney and heavy, with tones gradually switching or overlapping. There was at times an almost John Oswald plunderphonic feel of vaguely familiar snatches of tracks plucked from the ether then stretched and looped. Things got abrasive though, reminding me of Suicide but without Vega’s lyrics. Aguero closed with a classic early techno style feel – think dirty Cybotron, perhaps.

My favourite for the night was Nathan Thompson’s variant on the system devised by Robin Fox for Backscatter in 2004. Analogue electrical output from synthesisers was plugged into speakers, as normal, but also jacked into a vintage analogue monitor screen. In Fox’s case this was a green laboratory oscilloscope, and in Thompson’s, a white computer game monitor. Where Fox’s shapes tended to be curvilinear, Thompson’s were off kilter and spiky; more akin to mutant light globe filaments. Thompson has his own sound palette, but as with Fox, the noise is unrelenting and unabashedly electronic. Amazingly textured and wavering in character, Thompson’s music also reminded me of Aphex Twin’s grittier output.

Outcome Unknown. A man is seen in profile at a control panel which include three coloured screens on a table
Looping and layering: Chris Cobilis at The Rechabite. Photo: Emma Daisy

Thompson began by offering extended demonstrations of each shape or ensemble of tones, which then began to echo and spill across the pauses between each enunciation. This was succeeded by paired, contrasting sound/image combinations, each accompanied by a screaming, punishing yet orgiastic din; very, very hard techno indeed.

The closing night at the Rechabite began with Chris Cobilis premiering Instaphonics, a sequel to his online culture-jamming release This Is You? for which Cobilis generated deadpan voiceover narrations derived from the autocaption function of YouTube. Drawing more directly on Oswaldian plunderphonics, Cobilis surfs Instagram on three Apple devices (watch it here), looping and layering the fractured scores.

One of the delightful ironies here is that while commenting on contemporary digital culture, the performance feels more “old skool” analogue. Conceptually aligned to avant-garde turntablism and video-jamming by Gum (Andrew Curtis and Philip Samartzis); Stock, Hausen and Walkman; EBN and others, the resultant mix was jagged but not far off the work of Kid Koala, Steinski, or just “playing the radio” by twiddling the dial. Instaphonics was therefore funny, bouncy, but also danceable in a spiky, electroshock fashion, frenetic rhythms coming directly from Cobilis’ gestural swoops across the screens.

The festival closed with Michael Terren on laptop and keyboards, accompanied by Eduardo Cossio, mostly using Cossio’s trademark – a pair of amplified, distorted and distressed zithers. Apart from a rocking, atonal crazed metal-guitar-like section, Cossio’s contributions tended to be contained interjections or accents. Terren’s extremely detailed, all-surrounding noise provided the bedrock. Although recalling 1980s-2000s musique concrète, much of the palette was derived from samples, which gave proceedings a different ambience. It was less a fantastical, impossible universe evoked by astonishing sounds, and more an indirect, abstract allusion to spaces and experiences of real-world experience. The set was rich, spatially deep, highly nuanced and deeply satisfying.

I’m not sure what putting these two artists side by side added, but ultimately it didn’t matter. It was a fine end to a great festival.

Outcome Unknown concerts are held monthly at various venues

Pictured top: Michael Terren (right) and Eduardo Cossio closed the festival at The Rechabite. Photo by Emma Daisy

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Associate Professor Jonathan W. Marshall is 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.

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