Lose your eyes for a night on the Fringe

(A shorter version of this article was published in the Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne on May 6, 2009. In that article the words “Close your eyes…” became “Lose your eyes …” — hence my heading above. Picture, below, of Gian Slater by JOSIE HAYDEN)

IF the person beside you in the audience at the Iwaki Auditorium on Friday night, May 8, jumps out of his seat and starts yelling at the performers, it will probably be Ren Walters.

The guitarist and composer was awarded Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival’s APRA commission to create a new work, but for the first time he is not among the performers.

Surrounded by C will use a 5.1 surround sound system in a darkened auditorium to create an “immersive” sonic experience free from any adherence to musical genres or expectations. Performers include voice artist Carolyn Connors, percussionist and noted restaurateur Dur-e Dara, trombonists Adrian Sherriff, Shannon Barnett and James Wilkinson, bass clarinettists Adam Simmons, Brigid Burke and Karen Heath, with Ray Luckhurst on sound.

Ren Walters presented the project and has briefed the participants, most of whom he has worked closely, but will have to hope the result is not “too nice”.

“I am used to impacting during the performance by example, so if I think the music’s too soporific I’ll just inject a bit of venom to change proceedings. I could jump up and down and start yelling in the audience, but apart from that there’s nothing I can do.”

Connors will be placed centrally, with Luckhurst and Dara facing in, surrounded by alternating bass clarinet and trombones, then the audience. Around them will be six speakers.

“I’m hoping it’s a cinematic experience, where people can have a journey, and that they leave feeling as if they’ve been shifted in some way — that’s very important to me,” Walters says.

“I can’t predict whether I’m going to be happy or not. I am most interested in people experiencing the sound for sound’s sake and how the sound is organised, free of any name or genre — having a sonic experience. Close your eyes and listen and visual images will come up as well.”

Walters says people are suspicious of improvised music “because they think the performers are just mucking around. You can’t play in the sand pit and have it be a serious thing. But these people are highly educated in their areas and they are making very conscious choices about what to do and when and how to do it.

“An audience should trust that they are in the hands of people who know what they’re doing. It’s not completely random or haphazard. What the audience is hearing is not faked, it’s real. They should just focus on their experience and leave preconceptions at the door.”

Gian Slater

The other artist performing at the Fringe opening, singer Gian Slater is no stranger to experimentation. Her latest album, Creatures at the Crossroads, was a collaboration with gifted pianist Will Poskitt, who died suddenly late last year soon after their recording sessions at The Base in South Melbourne.

Slater imposed musical limitations on her “prepared” voice, exploring limits on freedom by muting the vocals, singing through a teapot and gradually freeing herself to improvise and use lyrics as the recording progressed. The lyrics also deal with limits we face in our lives.

Poskitt, whose playing Slater described as “ really sensational”, was working in reverse, gradually altering the piano sound so that, by the end, almost every string had something affecting its operation.

Their album has yet to be released, but Slater will sing four of the strongest tracks, all with lyrics, at Iwaki, accompanied by the Silo String Quartet.

As a tribute to Poskitt, Slater has taken some of his improvised solos and transcribed them for the string parts. It will be an emotional performance, especially because a member of the Quartet was also close to the pianist.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe opens on May 8, with the APRA Commission Concert at 7:30pm, and runs until May 17.

Big Arse Sunday — traditionally on the final day — will be held at Fitzroy Bowling Club on May 10, from 3pm to 11pm. Short Arse Sunday will run from 1pm to 4pm on May 17 at Café 303.

For details see Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival

One response to “Lose your eyes for a night on the Fringe

  1. Ren Walters ‘Surrounded by C’ is not a work that could ever be described (in his own words) as “too nice”.

    Certainly the evocation of an aural seascape was successful. But where was the beauty, the drama or the grand vista of life so often evoked by such a visceral subject?

    Any sense of engagement or inclusion in the sonic arrangement (of tones, bleats, rattles, hums, whistles and many other sounds) failed to entice, tease or cajole us.

    ‘ Surrounded by C’ lacked the appropriate pace, energy and elegance required to emotionally invite the audience’s hearts and imaginations into its musical space.

    The complexity and cerebral coldness of the work kept us at a distance. Which is a great pity given the musicians consisted of some of Melbourne’s best. Connors was especially dextrous and adroit – her vocal shifts were often wonderful and compelling. A rare jewel in a performance that was otherwise little more than a lean example of the conceptual and experimental genre.

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