MOVEable Feast: Kings Artist Initiative
John Taylor Electric Guitar Quartet
First up we heard the — shock horror — totally scripted and completely unimprovised The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge), or fugues 1, 2, 3, 4 and the unfinished 14th, played on soprano, alto, tenor and bass guitars by Fran Swinn, Jon Delaney, Zoe Frater and Ben Edgar. A bit of fun was had the ensemble’s title — John Taylor Electric Guitar Quartet — because British eye surgeon John Taylor operated on Bach in Leipzig in 1750 and this may have contributed to Bach’s death in July that year at the age of 65.
The longest piece was the unfinished fugue, Contrapunctus XIV, which breaks off abruptly. I think it was Jon Delaney who said Glenn Gould had likened listening to this fugue as being like “hearing the universe become balanced”. But there was nothing at all boring or hard to take about this sensitive rendition by musicians whose usual fare is improvised. The spare gallery, with delicate shadow patterns on its white walls, was a great setting for this classy ensemble.
Fran Swinn and Jon Delaney
John Taylor Guitar Quartet
OK, it was not improvised, but the freedom of the fringe festival is the ability to break the “rules” and defy expectations.
For the next set we took to Melbourne’s streets, some of us (Bob and Michael from RMIT) deep in conversation about the artistic possibilities of the city’s laneways, soon arriving at Brood Box gallery, resplendent with the colourful works of Ed Bechervaise.
In her tiny, elevated “secret space”, electric violinist extraordinaire Xani Kolac performed four of her compositions in her debut with a laptop. In Five, using the ping-pong delay effect on the laptop, Kolac sent soaring surges of sound sashaying into the room below.
The “secret space”
The fluidity and expansiveness of her next piece reminded me of a Curved Air album from the 1970s, Air Conditioning. Some of the “chords” as Kolac bowed across strings had a satisfyingly grunge depth to them.
Kolac closed with Merry Go Round, which included pizzicato, string strumming and vocals, ending with the words “I’ll play whatever I like because I choose to die happy”. Magnifique.
NMIT Laptop Orchestra
Finally, in the room below, Myles Mumford and Adrian Sherriff assembled an extra-curricular ensemble called the NMIT Laptop Orchestra. They played Up Down Up Down Up, a piece by Mumford making use of the laptop system sound, followed by a sine tone dedicated to La Monte Young and inspired by his intonations with two pianos tuned to a Pythagorean scale.
Then came Sherriff’s Study No. 2 (For Jan Stole Who) — the title an anagram of John Oswald, of Plunderphonic fame, and the piece plundering Oswald, and Gobo Sine 47.3 by ensemble member Graeme Croft.
They finished with Four Musical Hobos, dedicated to Harry Partch, who spent 60 years creating musical instruments capable of using 43 notes in every octave and training musicians to use them, and the J.S. Bach chorale Jesu, meine Freude, which was slow, wistful and short.
Max MSP to the max
It was fascinating to hear Adrian Sherriff talk about what the laptop ensemble can explore and how a motion sensor in each laptop enables players to control volume. Interaction between the players was obvious to the audience and the musicians played their laptops as they would other instruments, with great expression and obvious delight — and perhaps occasional apprehension — in what they were doing.
There was some wry humour. Sherriff noted that one of the group’s challenges was dealing with “six nervous computers on stage”. There seemed to be hints of swing or a dance band in Jan Sol Who, followed sampling of Dolly Parton’s The Great Pretender, which was mashed into what sounded like a sea of machine-gun chatter.
Controlling the nervous laptops
This was quintessential Melbourne Fringe Jazz Festival — the laptop as a means of creating instruments, creating an interface and creating new works, rather than merely for playback and recording. And the exploration of pure tones in the Harry Partch tradition was way over my head, but fascinating.
The night’s performances were indeed a moveable feast.