In this two-part post I attend two evenings of the 2014 residency of Hard Core on the Fly, curated by Scott Tinkler. I’ve been listening to improvised music for over a decade and I still don’t ‘get it’. Musical friends say I don’t need to ‘understand’. They say I just need to listen. Over the years, that’s exactly what I’ve learned to do. I’m always learning to do it again!
The first post (this one) is about turning up and just listening.
You might also enjoy the second post
The second post will be informed by a pre-performance discussion in the green room on 14 August. I’ll be in there listening to what improvising musicians talk about before they go on stage and have the real conversation.
Thanks to Jayden Williams for the photos. Jayden is studying a Bachelor of Music at NMIT in Melbourne.
I get there late
I guess they must be 10 minutes in by how warmed into it they seem to be. And for the first little while I’m braced for pain. The notes and the way they go about making them seem to have that sharp quality that sometimes launches into phrases that make no sense and stray into the region when my ears get hurt. And then I’m distracted by Adrian Sheriff’s new toy. It’s like a magic box with buttons and a keyboard of sorts I’m sitting right at the back so I can’t see the detail but I can see him twiddling things and pressing things. Music happens.
I trust Adrian; I trust Scott
Scott Tinkler spoke to Andrew Ford on The Music Show on ABC Radio National, the Saturday-before the residency began. I admired Andrew’s deft ability to draw Scott out. He kept pushing for detail, asking about Scott’s music approach. And Scott hesitated at first I felt, before trusting Andrew and launching into a detailed explanation of cycles and sounds, describing a language that he’s exploring with his music. Most of the discussion was beyond my technical ability but that didn’t make it less interesting and less informative.
Scott’s not here tonight. He’s curating the series but is away for this first week of the residency. Playing tonight are Peter Knight – trumpet, electronics; Adrian Sherriff – trombone; Adam King – drums; Brett Thompson – guitar; Matthias Schack-Arnott – percussion; James Macaulay – trombone.
Done with the knobby box for now Sheriff slides in on the trombone. An interplay between him and the drums. They are speaking something. I like the way it sounds, and start to relax.
This is equivalent to travelling to another country where you don’t speak the language and then deciding to just let the sound of it wash over you. When you learn a new language it takes a while to break the utterances down into their meaningful parts. I’m not trying to learn music but I am trying to enjoy this. If I think too much I find myself missing things. The individual parts are likely to remain a mystery to me, but that’s not all there is to this.
All I can say is, ‘it’s like this’, or ‘like that’. I hear whale song, a rusty crosscut saw. If this was playing on my CD player at home, I would leave it off. Yet here, live, the conversation is compelling and I can’t take my eyes off it, or leave.
Peter Knight has been huddling over the computer contributing to the soundscape with electronic and various bits and bobs some of which I heard and some of which became part of the background. Now he starts playing his trumpet, blowing up and out. I hear some kind of truth in it, and again I trust.
I’m hung up on meaning tonight.
The meaning escapes me but what does not escape me is the facility of these musicians. Sometimes I find it difficult to just listen, but when I do, I hear that though it might sound difficult the music does move forward. It changes in time. There are lines; the stream of notes produced by the trombone; the response of drums and now I’m hearing Spanish something and marching to war.
Matthias sounds a fire bell, and under it the portentous drums march. Rhythmic but slightly unpredictable, I feel anxiety rise and find myself thinking of missiles and Gaza.
This been so much a war in the news recently. Does some of it leak into their playing and my hearing?
Brett Thompson’s bass dances in and out, enough for me to remember how much I like his sound and his listening.
And now Adrian and Peter start something new. Adrian is playing Shakuhachi. I hear a drone affect and building urgency.
Adam King is perfectly present. Drums can disappear or overwhelm but he manages to retain a voice on them, while also just being there. The kick drum punctuates, his whole sound has a flexibility that makes him the perfect conversationalist. I’m often captivated by the sound and movement on the drums themselves, but when I look up at his face, I see a musician in the now.
Matthias contributes percussive clunking – there are pulsations and it is impossible to discern between the electronic and the percussive. I hear R2-D2.
James Macaulay lists, lolling even when he picks up the thread with clear precision that belies the posture. He barely moves his long fingers, seems to hardly touch the slide while his other hand curls around to fill the bell and rest there, then re-emerges for a moment before curling in and resting again.
And when they end the first set, and the second, there’s a pause that feels like a hesitation. It feels like time to stop. They trust us to figure that out. And we applaud.
The 2014 Hard Core On The Fly August residency at Bennetts Lane continues this Thursday 14 August with:
Scott Tinkler – trumpet
Anthony Burr – clarinet
Erkki Veltheim – violin
Ren Walters – guitar
Dave Beck – drums
Jenny Barnes – vocals
It will be a good one. Trust me.