When asking the question, ‘Who is Canberra’s hardest working musical act?’, you’d expect a range of answers.
Some would refer to breakthrough electro-behemoths Safia and Peking Duk. Others would point to ubiquitous indie heroes like Capes and Slow Turismo, or even Byron who plays Bon Iver songs on the corner of London Circuit late into the night. Few, I daresay, would pick the collective of music students with homemade synthesisers, kid’s toys and rocks, who played as many gigs in 2015 as any act in town – but this exactly what ANU’s Experimental Music Studio (EMS) did.
From free improvisation sets in abandoned buildings and backyards, to high-brow concerts involving a circle of musicians playing sticks, the EMS have been leading Canberra’s experimental music scene for the past two years. Their work continues in 2016 with Collected Resonances, a monthly evening of music and art at Ainslie Arts Centre, where Canberra’s boldest musicians explore the boundaries and intersections of sound-based art and other media.
For the uninitiated, this environment (which regularly encourages spontaneous cross-media improvisation and rarely features tonal music) can seem anything from foreign to outright confrontational, but what this environment does, is make you consider how the concepts performance and collaboration function. You see, when a dancer is asked to perform with an electronic musician they just met, or a sculptor is given 20 minutes to make a piece in response to someone’s dissonant looping piano musings, each party carries the burden of responsibility. It’s that element of danger, and the ability of performers to navigate it together, that makes the collaborations at Collected Resonances so inspiring.
A particularly memorable concert saw VJ, Jean-Phillipe Demarais, using the audio feed from free jazz trio, A Town Called Panic, as the basis for real-time responsive projections.
Using a Microsoft Kinect sensor, the music was translated from sound into visuals. ‘Having the improvisation element to it was important’ said Demarais, ‘I created the “perfect” visuals in that instance based on the performers, the audience, and the sound being generated’. This idea of wanting to communicate a personal response to music is universal (particularly among music journalists). As Demarais stated, ‘It’s something which was unique and cannot be replicated. It was a visual translation of the emotion felt while listening to the performance.’
Maybe that’s the most intriguing aspect of Collected Resonances – the collaborations are fleeting and usually impossible to replicate. In a live music scene dominated by performers whose most dangerous task is to hit that drum pad at the exact right time to trigger that exact right clap sample, the EMS and Canberra’s wider experimental community remind us that innovation requires the possibility of failure.
Collected Resonances is a concert series at Ainslie Arts Centre curated by members of the ANU Experimental Music Studio. It happens at 8pm on the third Wednesday of each month.