Tag Archives: Australian Art Orchestra


Alister Spence and Paul Grabowsky

Alister Spence and Paul Grabowsky in ElectroACOUSTIC, ACOUSTICelectro

‘It seemed as if they were hunters and collectors, fossicking and ferreting, gathering and creating, building and engineering, coaxing and tweaking.’


ElectroACOUSTIC, ACOUSTICElectro, Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 1 August 2013

Paul Grabowsky was at the piano, but not at the helm for this exploration of meeting points between acoustic and electronic music. This was the first outing curated by the AAO’s recently appointed artistic director Peter Knight, so we were curious to know what would eventuate.

Knight is a trumpeter, composer and sound artist who has gained international acclaim for his integration of jazz, world music, and experimental traditions. He likes to experiment with instruments such as the trumpet, guitar and saxophone, combined with new technologies.

For the third year in a row the AAO has a month’s residency at Bennetts Lane, in this case presenting four Thursday concerts with guest collaborators forming different quintets. The opening night featured Alister Spence on keyboard, vibes and assorted electronic devices, Tony Hicks on reeds, Joe Talia on drums and percussion, Grabowsky on piano (slightly prepared, I think) and Knight on trumpet, laptop and assorted electronic devices.

“The music we will make will be provocative, evocative, visceral then calming, but always richly textural,” Knight said in publicising the concert. “In Melbourne we have one of the most distinctive improvised music scenes in the world and I hope that everyone with a spirit of musical adventure will come out to listen to some of its finest exponents.”

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

So how did the first outing play out? Well, apart from the curator momentarily fearing that he was having a stroke when struck by the red focus beam of a camera (mea culpa, mea culpa), everything went according to the presumably fairly fluid plan. I thought the second set worked best, but both delivered what Knight had envisaged.

In the opening set Spence devoted some time to nurturing, coaxing and fine-tuning his sounds, produced variously by keyboard, a tiny mallet stick and what appeared to be a brush with metal bristles, plus the assorted devices that added distortion and looping patterns. Grabowsky contributed piano string pluckings, spiky notes, runs and some delightful helter skelter. Hicks produced clarinet croaks and rasps, Talia some wavering, high-pitched sounds with his bow on a cymbal edge.

Spence would tap the vibes and work on the effects; Hicks produced a very long note, almost certainly achieved with circular breathing. The collective sounds built a lot of intensity before taking a slow slide towards quiescence, punctuated by sporadic attacks and underpinned by growls, tunnel and funnel sounds. In these instances I love the sense of pleasurable abatement that follows what has become, over time, a little oppressive.

Tony Hicks, Joe Talia and Peter Knight

Tony Hicks, Joe Talia and Peter Knight

The soundscape created in this performance was carefully crafted, with the smallest elements being significant to the whole. Talia’s feather-light taps and Spence’s bell shakings were examples.

Spence conjured recurring “depth” sounds that called to mind scenes from 1960s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, set in a submarine. Grabowsky played chord, chord, chord insistently, then began splashing them about as if he was having summer fun with a garden hose. On tenor sax, Hicks rasped his way in as Grabowsky speeded up his input. Tension mounted. Talia was light and rapid with his sticks before a soaring, high vibrato from Hicks smoothed out the freneticism. Grabowsky tapped low notes. Spence was busily tweaking as Hicks reached a crescendo. Then the beast quietened. The remaining sounds had the feel of breathing.

Spence contributed chimes, then a burst of loudness, as if there was still the threat of a breakout that could not be controlled. Before quiet gradually descended at the set’s end, I reflected on the way the members of this ensemble were working. It seemed as if they were hunters and collectors, fossicking and ferreting, gathering and creating, building and engineering, coaxing and tweaking.

Tony Hicks and Peter Knight

Tony Hicks and Peter Knight

As mentioned, the second set seemed more engrossing. The group was focused, attentive as Hicks opened by delivering air into silence with a very small sax (perhaps a sopranino). The tiny sound was embellished by a muffled patter as pads opened and closed. It was an example of how important it is to be in a venue where patrons listen, rather than chat.

Talia displayed superb lightness of touch and fluidity as he added sprinklings of bell-like and feathery stick sounds. His sticks moved faster and faster, but delicately, until one flew off somewhere. From Knight’s horn and laptop came nasally snorting and rattling, at first animal-like and then techno chomping and static, as if there was a cyber monster gobbling a feast. Then came a bark, a squawk.

Spence introduced vibrato with sustains on the keyboard then tapped the vibes to conjure the feel of pedal steel guitar notes ringing, chiming and hanging suspended. As Grabowsky dabbled on the piano strings, Knight, Hicks and Talia began crinkling paper. This had to be planned. Unless by chance they each decided to screw up a shopping list at the one time. It was unexpectedly effective.

Paul Grabowsky and Alister Spence

Paul Grabowsky and Alister Spence

Weird bird sounds and whooshes, some more undersea echoes and some mass tweeting (not using Twitter) created an eerie feel that was restful, contemplative. I mused on our need to liken every sound to something familiar, and how we could otherwise describe them. Or is describing missing the point, since we should just hear?

Grabowsky produced chords that seemed flat in profile, separated and somehow distorted. They descended like spikes of hot rain, some heavy, some light. They seemed to drop randomly, splotches of sound. Hicks played a piccolo or tin whistle, Knight blew across his horn mouthpiece. Buried in the bowels of the piano, Grabowsky conjured up a storm. There was metallic clatter from Talia’s sticks. It became frenetic. Volumes grew. Hicks was on soprano sax. There was thunder — was it the work of Spence or Grabowsky?

This was reminiscent of a climax during a Necks concert. Was it meaningful discourse or clamorous discord? Who knew? Who cared? From the keyboard came gobble and chatter, from Talia’s drum kit emphatic statements. Knight actually began to play his trumpet. Hicks switched to clarinet. Spence poured in runs of notes. Everyone was going at it.

Before the inevitable dying back came “voices” from Spence, lots of chatter from the ensemble. Then it was over. The electro had encountered the acoustic, the acoustic had taken on the electro. They had met, challenged, teased and perhaps even had their way with each other. And, particularly in this second set, we had been carried into the fiery consummation and beyond.


PICTURE GALLERY: Click HERE for larger images.

AAO performances this month will feature:

Thursday 8 August
Scott Tinkler (trumpet)
Judith Hamann (cello)
Ren Walters (guitar/tape loops)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
David Tolley (bass/laptop)

Thursday 15 August
Joe Talia (drums/Revox)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
Jon Smeathers (saxophone/laptop)
Dale Gorfinkel (prepared vibraphone/devices)
Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone/electronics)

Thursday 22 August
Georgie Darvidis (voice)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
Stephen Magnusson (guitar/pedals)
Scott Tinkler (trumpet)
Paul Grabowsky (piano)
Dale Gorfinkel (prepared vibraphone/devices)

Tickets are available from Bennetts Lane Jazz Club


The Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts has announced its 2012 fellowship recipients.

Two-year fellowships were awarded to four artists: trumpeter and composer Peter Knight, jazz guitarist James Muller, composer and pianist Erik Griswold and experimental musician Lucas Abela.

Peter Knight

Peter Knight performs at Uptown Jazz Cafe

Knight’s fellowship will enable him to create new solo work for trumpet and electronics and undertake three collaborative projects, including a new Way Out West album with kotoist Satsuki Odamura, new work with Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, as well as a new album from the Peter Knight Sextet featuring Paddy Mann of Grand Salvo.

Knight — a trumpeter, composer and sound artist — has released eight albums, including solo work for trumpet and electronics, Way Out West and the Peter Knight Quintet. He has performed at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the International Trumpet Guild convention, and has toured extensively across the US, Europe and Asia.

James Muller

James Muller performs at Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival

James Muller has been awarded a fellowship to create new work for an upcoming solo release and trio album, develop new artistic collaborations during a six-month residency in New York, and undertake a national tour with the James Muller Trio.

An ARIA award winner and a recipient of a National Jazz Award, Muller has collaborated with musicians in Australia including Paul Grabowsky, James Morrison, Mike Nock, Renee Geyer, and Scott Tinkler, as well as international artists such as Chad Wackerman, Bill Stewart, Maria Schneider and Nigel Kennedy. He has toured to critical acclaim in the US, Europe and Asia.

Erik Griswold

Erik Griswold performs at Footscray Community Arts Centre

As part of Erik Griswold’s two-year fellowship he will create a collection of new compositions for a diverse range of Australian and international ensembles, including the Australian Art Orchestra, Camerata of St John, the Viney Grinberg Piano Duo, La Jolla Symphony, QCGU Saxophone Orchestra, Margaret Leng Tan and Acromusical. Erik will also undertake a collaborative project with Ensemble Offspring, and an inter-media project to be premiered at the Queensland Music Festival.

Lucas Abela’s Fellowship will see him create new work as part of his interactive arcade series, undertake a residency period in Lismore and Indonesia, as well as present his solo amplified glass work and installations at international festivals and galleries.

Abela is an experimental musician whose previous work has seen him modify turntables and amplified glass to create a unique improvised sound. He has released eight albums on his Dualplover album, undertaking 21 international tours across 45 countries, and collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, The Flaming Lips, Jon Rose and Anthony Pateras. More recently Lucas’s work has expanded to include sound installation and large-scale instruments for interactive play, such as Vinyl Rally, Mix Tape and Pinball Pianola.

The Music Board held an assessment meeting on 13-14 November 2012 covering categories of Fellowships, Project Fellowships, Skills and Arts Development and the Don Banks Award.


(incorporating material from the Australia Council for the Arts and Listen/Hear Collective)



Taking shape or taking off? Paul Grabowsky conducts Shapeshifter

GIG REVIEW: Shapeshifter, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Take two groups of musicians, add Paul Grabowsky and stir. The result is bound to be interesting.

In this case, Grabowsky as Musical Director has gathered six students from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and teamed them with seven members of the renowned Australian Art Orchestra to form Shapeshifter — “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st Century musicians”.


Shapeshifter: (from left) O’Connor, Mamrot, Rex, Klas and Beck

In the first set, the ensemble played Variations (2001), based on a melody from the Suite du’n Goût Étranger (Suite in a Foreign Style) by 17th Century viola-da-gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. As Grabowsky explained, the piece puts the melody through a series of costume changes, each paying homage to composers past and present: Ennio Morricone, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen.


Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and Davidson

Described in publicity material as “a kind of chamber concerto showing off the virtuosity of the players”, Variations would probably send a shock wave or two through any audience used to classical chamber music. Opening with pre-recorded music over which trumpeter Eugene Ball introduced squeals, whistles, growls and farts, the piece was often frenetic and often displayed dissonance or even discordancy.


Onslaughts: Philip Rex

Philip Rex on bass, with and without bow, helped mightily in the onslaughts, assisted by the superb Dave Beck on drums and percussionist Shanie Klas beating a small tin as if her life depended on its bell-like sound. A dirge of saxes was overlaid by upper register horns from Scott Tinkler and Ball.


Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and O’Connor

Joe O’Connor (keyboards) delivered some fierce runs, the notes well dug into the ivories. Brendan Toohey on bass clarinet added to the chatter of saxes in some bursts of AHBL (all hell breaking loose). James Macaulay‘s trombone worked well with Beck’s ‘plosive’ attacks and Dan Mamrot on guitar added significantly to what was a rich repertoire of timbres.

Variations was amazing, though I am sure I did not catch anything like all of its allusions of homage to composers. I would have to say it left me more marvelling than moved, but there was more to come from Shapeshifter after the break.


Horny: Tony Hicks solos with Shapeshifter

The second set opened with Tall Tales, a three-movement suite Grabowsky wrote in honour of filmmaker Fred Schepisi on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The first movement, Ngukurr Mon Amour, is based on the structure of manikay, the traditional song cycle form of the Yolngu peoples of Arnhem Land. The second, …and a bier for young Arnie is informed by the music of the young Arnold Schoenberg, and includes a miniature alto saxophone concerto. The third movement is entitled Wacky, Zany, Madcap.


Shapeshifter at work

This piece quickly had me convinced it would be the standout of the night. From the first movement, which opened with Welsh’s violin acting as a drone to Rex’s vigorous bass, it was compelling, energy-filled and intense. To me, this was a better showcase for the ensemble than Variations, especially as epitomised in the work of Tinkler, Tony Hicks on tenor sax over the rhythms of Rex and Beck, Lachlan Davidson‘s alto saxophone when fired up, Macaulay’s classy ‘bone, which had Grabowsky clapping, and in some brass salvos fired as if by instruments of war.


Zestful: Paul Grabowsky

Grabowsky as conductor was lively, active, perky, vibrant, vital, zestful, not to mention eager, zealous and spirited. His hands darted into the air as he urged the players onwards and upwards to new heights, demonstrating the drive that will no doubt propel Shapeshifter as it develops and explores new material.


Serious business: Scott Tinkler

Unexpectedly, it was the closing composition, Grabowsky’s Tailfin, which left the strongest impression in this outing. This was a new arrangement of a piece composed in 1992 and released on the albums Viva Viva (1993) and Tales of Time and Space (2004). I was struck by the different feel of the piece in the hands of Shapeshifter — compared to the Time and Space version it was more weighty, with more depth and guts.

Beck led us into it with a long introduction effectively using brushes over the slow thump of the bass drum. When Tinkler got to the serious business of the key solo he drew applause and a call from Grabowsky to “play that again”.


Another place: Welsh and Tinkler

The other horns painted a slow, solemn picture behind Tinkler, before Welsh’s violin took us to another, primal place in tandem with Mamrot on guitar. O’Connor on piano released the tension, making way for Toohey to usher in some twists and turns against the backdrop of Rex, O’Connor and Beck.

This rendition of Tailfin was still spinning in my head long after I left the venue in a mad dash for the train. It remains the standout for me in an outing that showed Shapeshifter to be no mere will o’ the wisp.



Shapeshifter: Rex and Beck

Shapeshifter players: Paul Grabowsky, Musical Director

Australian Art Orchestra musicians: Dave Beck drums; Lachlan Davidson alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Tony Hicks tenor saxophone; Philip Rex double bass; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Eugene Ball trumpet; Lizzy Welsh violin.

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music students: James Macaulay trombone; Paul Cornelius saxophone; Brendan Toohey clarinet &amp bass clarinet; Shanie Klas percussion; Dan Mamrot guitar; Joe O’Connor keys.


Leading man: Grabowsky as musical director