Swing Bridge

Austin Buckett at the organ console as a patron experiences Alvin Lucier’s Swing Bridge.


Exit Ceremonies, Australian Art Orchestra and Ensemble Offspring, Austin Buckett (Aus), Simon James Phillips (Germany), Saturday, 6 February 2015, 7.30pm, Melbourne Town Hall


NOTHING that the Australian Art Orchestra delivers is without challenge. From this group of musicians we have come to expect performances that will expand our horizons and stretch our comfort zones.


Under the artistic direction of Peter Knight that stretching has possibly increased as he, not unexpectedly, encourages the AAO to explore “the nature of sound itself” — to use his description of the compositions of Alvin Lucier, whose work Swing Bridge was given its world premiere on Saturday evening at Melbourne Town Hall.


The AAO was joined by Ensemble Offspring under the artistic direction of Claire Edwardes, and on the town hall pipe organ by Austin Buckett (for his composition, Aisles, and for Swing Bridge) and Simon James Phillips for his work, Flaw).


I think it is fair to say that the three pieces that made up Exit Ceremonies in Melbourne (Lucier’s work was not on the Sydney program) were challenging, and they are definitely difficult to review.


Why? None of these long works was especially difficult to listen to. There is no doubting the capability and concentration of these talented musicians throughout what must have been a demanding concert. And there is no doubting the Sydney Morning Herald‘s assertion that “all three works on this remarkable program demonstrated uncompromising assertiveness …”.


These three pieces were very different. Buckett’s Aisles was highly repetitive and percussive, Phillips’ Flaw was layered and liminal, Lucier’s Swing Bridge was hypnotic and mesmeric. But they lacked the features and structural shifts often found in jazz or improvised music — characteristics we have come to expect.


The challenge for listeners was perhaps that these explorations of sound did not pick us up and carry us effortlessly along, or shock us with sharp barbs or spikes of piercing intensity, or grip us in the excruciatingly pleasant vice of tension. Swing, of course, was not on the menu and was never expected. Solos were not anticipated either.


What emerged was a series of three distinct soundscapes that called on our capacities for concentration, that required our attention to subtle changes, repeated patterns and sustained notes. That, in my view, was not an easy task, but that is not to say it was not worthwhile as a musical exploration. But it was hard to resist an occasional urge to call on the occupants of the organ console to let loose the dogs of roar in a more flamboyant fashion.


I have never liked the term “critic” for reviewers of music or any performance. Some performances my thrill or excite more than others, yet it is surely almost impossible not to take away something of lingering value — it may be an expanded horizon or an openness to new possibilities.


Rather than leaving me exultant or overly excited, Exit Ceremonies has stayed with me as an experience to ponder. This concert has recalled for me two other gigs of note. In one, which I recall was in a church, Joe Talia repeated the same pattern on his drum kit for what seemed an impossible length of time, never missing a beat. That revealed something much more than his considerable virtuosity.


The other occasion was in June 2011 at the Melbourne Town Hall in a Melbourne International Jazz Festival concert featuring Charlemagne Palestine on organ and Tony Conrad on violin and electronics. My post about that gig is here: Minimalism after midnight.


If forced to choose, I’d nominate the layered intricacies of Flaw as most sustaining and enjoyable at Exit Ceremonies. The patterns in Aisle may have gone on longer than necessary. The changes wrought in Lucier’s Swing Bridge by the manipulation of a few organ pipes were very subtle.


Peter Knight spoke of having experienced “aural hallucinations” from Lucier’s works. I reckon the one audience member who chose to lie on the floor to experience Swing Bridge had the right idea. This work required total immersion.


PS: More images will be added soon.


Austin Buckett and Joe Talia in Aisles.

Austin Buckett and Joe Talia in Aisles.

Australian Art Orchestra
Ensemble Offspring
Simon James
The line-up:
Austin Buckett organ
Simon James Phillips organ
Claire Edwardes percussion (Artistic Director Ensemble Offspring)
Peter Knight trumpet/electronics (Artistic Director AAO)
Sonya Holowell vocals
Martin Ng turntables
Joe Talia drums/revox B77 reel to reel tape
Erkki Veltheim violin
Anna McMichael violin
Mary Rapp cello
Sam Pankhurst bass.


  1. Roger can you remember who the band was in the Church Gig?

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