Tag Archives: David Brown



The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2

The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2: Final moment


The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2, performed by the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, August 24, 2017

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since this opening night performance, but vivid recollections remain. I recall thinking as the music faded to silence and a single spotlight played on a suspended “cloud”, that once again Adam Simmons and his crew had demonstrated the power and value of art.

Mundane matters — a computer failure and the need to find a replacement before packing for an imminent flight to Canada — brought me down the many stairs of this wonderful, hidden away venue in an unsettled state of mind.

Yet the sense of excitement and expectation engendered by the colourful Concert 1 of this series, with its streamers, balloons and joie de vivre, was heightened on this occasion by the imaginative set — devised by Diokno Pasilan and Christine Crawshaw — with suspended chairs and clumps of fluffy clouds.

Adam Simmons has recently written about his long preoccupation with Auguste Rodin’s views on The Usefulness of the Artist.

Rodin’s definition of the artist as “the man who takes pleasure in what he does” is immediately appealing — artists in all trades forming part of “an admirable society”. As someone who has come to love beekeeping — not just for the acquisition of honey, but for the deep pleasure it brings — I can identify closely with this concept.

But Rodin’s view is much more expansive than individual fulfilment: “I call useful all that gives us happiness.” And over many years Simmons — an energetic, creative and inspiring multi-instrumentalist and composer — has delved deeply into what art can offer.

“Beyond the more utilitarian nature of art being for economic or personal development, it is also how art can build community,” Adam Simmons has written. “Through performances with my ensembles … I have seen firsthand how music and art can bring disparate people together in shared and transformative experiences. Social connectedness has been identified as an important factor for health and wellbeing. I believe art is fundamental in helping us communicate and connect which other.

Simmons continues: “Artistic expression manages to convey understanding and insight via means other than language. The things that make art so powerful in this regard are the intangibles – the way it helps inspire, question, empathise and unite us, helping create stronger communities. I think that’s useful!”

That unity and sense of community is what has lingered in my mind so long after this second concert in a series of five that will stretch into 2018. The sense of fun and joy was still evident among the ensemble members, although the set and costumes conveyed a darker mood. As collective voices joined Pete Lawler’s distinctive and arresting solo vocals at the culmination of this concert, drawing the audience into their harmonic spell, I felt that we were indeed united and there was much power and benefit in that.

With any offering inspired by Adam Simmons there is going to be more than merely music. But additional elements — in this case the darkly Gothic costumes by Christine Crawshaw — are always beautifully integrated. As Simmons breathed gently and circularly into his bass clarinet to begin the Creative Music Ensemble’s journey through music originally conceived to highlight qualities that art engenders — acceptance, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith — we were enfolded in a sense of mystery.

The pieces, named for those qualities, were familiar. Origami’s album The Usefulness of Art was released in 2013. But this rendition, with 13 ensemble members (unfortunately some others were unavailable on opening night), was dramatically different. Simmons has assembled this ensemble with care and utilises their skills imaginatively. Each piece segued into the next in gradual transformations, swelling and receding as Simmons conducted from within, directing the gestation.

This was very much an ensemble work rather than an airing of solos, but there were highlights. Diokno Pasilan on gamelan instruments, Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey on drums, Peter Lawler on a hand drum and Nat Grant on Marimba provided a rich feast of varied percussion that was at times an underlay and at others more prominent.

Most effective and affecting duos came from Paul Simmons (sax) and Gemma Horbury (trumpet), and Bryn Hills (trombone) with Adam Simmons (bass clarinet). Miranda Hill, with and without bow, was a ball of creative energy on double bass. David Brown, on guitar, not unexpectedly made deft and entirely apposite interventions. Cara Taber and Gideon Brazil on reeds enjoyed making great lamentations. Peter Lawler made fiendishly superb contributions on his mini synth and left a lingering impact with vocals that called to mind the Korean p’ansori singer Bae Il Dong.

This performance lasted 50 minutes, yet it seemed to flash past. Clearly the musicians enjoyed their outing greatly, yet there was a sombre feel in the music that went beyond the mood created by set and costumes. I felt this concert invited the audience to become deeply immersed in the work of creativity and, ultimately, to join in a shared experience.

Art had indeed opened a window on our raison d’être, as Rodin might have put it.


Here’s a gallery of images from opening night:


Farewell David Tolley

Celebrating the contribution of David Tolley


PLAYING WITH DAVID TOLLEY, Monday 2 June 2014 at Carlton Courthouse, 345 Drummond St., Carlton
Tickets: $15 full | $10 concession | Box office 7 PM | Performance 7:30 PM.

This could easily slip under the radar given all the MIJF music on in Melbourne at the moment, but it is a significant event to honour the legacy of bassist David Tolley.

A concert celebrating some of the many influences that the late David Tolley — bassist-musician-artist-teacher-sculptor-individual — has had on particular artists and musicians, many of whom will be performing.

These will include Anita Hustas, Phil Bywater, Belinda Woods, Adam Simmons, Adrian Sherriff, David Brown, James Clayden, Tom Fryer, Louise Skacej, Tony Hicks, Ren Walters.

Thanks to Ren Walters for passing on the details.

Roger Mitchell

David Tolley

David Tolley

David Tolley

David Tolley

David Tolley

David Tolley


GIG: boat music, a new work by Adam Simmons, performed at Quartetthaus, Melbourne on Saturday 15 September 2012
Adam Simmons, David Brown, Annabel Warmington, Howard Cairns


Unexpected, like a spacecraft: Quartetthaus, Melbourne

It was intriguing. It was mysterious. It was hard to find.

The concept was intriguing — four musicians performing on a sculpture entitled “boat music”, a sequel of sorts to Adam Simmons‘ recent exhibition at Catherine Asquith Gallery and inspired by his concerns about the plight of refugees and the absence of compassion towards them by many in our community. The performance was a mystery — would they play instruments or be in a boat? The venue was hard to find — described as “part design installation, part architecture and part music”, ANAM (Australian National Academy of Music) Quartetthaus is a special listening place developed for the 2011 Melbourne Festival. It is also moveable, so its appearance on a vacant block of land in Melbourne’s arts precinct was sudden and unexpected.

The setting for boat music

Tents and a caravan provide the setting for boat music

The setting was surreal. A few tents, a caravan and a few cars populated the surprisingly vacant prime real estate beside the Australian Ballet School, on the wall of which was projected some sepia images that, it turned out, had no connection to the performances in Quartetthaus. Around makeshift tables in the gathering dusk were scattered a few metal bins with smouldering and smoking fires to warm waiting patrons.

Enclosed by a wire fence was the invitingly lit timber structure, suggestive of a packing case, lit from within and sitting lightly like a space craft on the land, illuminating the green of weeds beneath. It felt as if, at any moment, with appropriate noise from within, it may lift off and soar into the heavens.

boat music

boat music

It was chilly waiting to get in, but cosy and comforting within the space, which seemed wholly constructed of warmly hued, light timber. It was like a wooden version of the Spiegeltent. Two rows of seats surrounded the circular stage, on which there were four stools. The ceiling resembled a huge wooden ceiling fan.

In centre stage stood a tower of timber boxes that could conceivably have held paper — in trays or out trays, perhaps?

The performance began like a meditation, the four stools occupied by the four musicians, sans instruments, who sat quietly without moving. Before them rose the irregular stack of boxes, connected by loops of flat, wide tape. Nothing was happening. Nothing seemed about to happen.

boat music

boat music

In time there was movement. At some point the four — I came to see them variously as custodians, facilitators, public servants or operatives of the state — arose from their chairs and began to tend the tower. About the same time it became apparent that, ever so slightly, the scene was changing in another way. The stage was silently, but inexorably on the move, beginning a slow rotation that would take the duration of the performance — about 50 minutes — to complete.

boat music

David Brown at work in boat music

In near darkness, lit sporadically as they moved, the four tended the tower, moving without haste to push and pull, slide and drag the tape to keep a process going. But to what end? Would there be an end?

boat music

Inexorable: The process continues in boat music

The “paper” tape was being propelled by Adam Simmons winding the tiny handle of a music box, but for a while there was no sound. The loops of tape needed constant attention. The focus of the four operatives was intense. No excess of tape was allowed, because that would lead to deprivation elsewhere. The tape could not propel itself. It had to be coaxed, cajoled, given impetus. It had to be shuffled, nudged, nurtured. The process was the focus. The end, if there was one, was not apparent, not important.

In time, notes emerged from the music box — slow notes delivered as Simmons turned the tiny handle. It became mesmeric. It became a meditation. The process and the music merged. It was the preoccupation of the four on stage. It became our preoccupation in the audience.

boat music

Annabel Warmington in boat music

All sorts of things came to mind while this process continued — the enormity of the refugee problem worldwide; the seemingly endless processes that form a big part of that problem; the trauma, heartache and loss experienced at a personal level by the individuals and families involved, rather than much removed as a problem of numbers (of boat people, of votes); the waiting; the hopelessness; the paper shuffling; the time spent getting nowhere; the devotion to process that becomes the end in itself.

boat music

Moving down: David Brown at work in boat music

In our pursuits we are often told that process is important, rather than ends. But what if the process becomes the focus and the ends appear endlessly unattainable? What if the process becomes unendurable, if it puts lives on hold?

boat music

End in sight: Adam Simmons in boat music

Eventually, and unexpectedly despite its logical inevitability, an end to the tape emerges. At the top of the tower, David Brown has less to do. The process moves down the structure.

The pushing and sliding and shuffling and pulling becomes the focus of fewer operatives. In the end, there is only Adam Simmons turning the handle slowly as the tape completes its journey. The music and the process stop. The stage stops turning.

We have turned full circle. We are back where we started.


Ausjazz blog was a guest of Adam Simmons at this ANAM performance.