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The many shades of infinity: Nick Tsiavos live on The Sound Barrier; and a tribute to Marcus Fjellström

The Sound Barrier : Blog

Live music in the PBS studio on The Sound Barrier is always a treat but never more so than when it encompasses so much with so little, as it did on last night's show when the power and breadth of a solo double bass, that instrument so often relegated to the task of backing others, was brought spectacularly into the foreground by Melbourne's well-known and well-loved composer and performer, Nick Tsiavos.

Nick played 'The Floor of Heaven' from his album One Hundred Months, Third of East, which he will be performing in full, live tonight at La Mama in Faraday Street, Carlton. It's a work that connects, as Nick's music always does, with many things – with the darkness, with hope, with the past, and with the past that always stays with us and propels us into the future, into infinity. The album's title in fact comes from the description Nick's son, five years old at the time, spontaneously gave to his own question of "what is infinity?'. Infinity – big and located somewhere where we can't quite get to, but that always somehow contains us within it, and in relation to it.

Nick says, paraphrasing Derrida, that music, through the performance of it, creates a framing around what could otherwise be the nebulousness of this. Boundaries are built by the people who perform music, boundaries that define 'this' and separate it from 'that'. And the framings that Nick builds in his music, both as a soloist and in the many collaborations in which he works, are always every bit as creative and original as the ideas they surround.

Even in a work for solo double bass, as One Hundred Months, Third of East is, there is such a strong sense that there is more captured in that frame than a solo musician. There is a sense of an unbreakable tie to history – a history that carries the universal with it, everywhere, always; a history that might have roots in the past, like in the sound worlds of ancient liturgies, but that spreads branches into the present, as it will continue to do into the future. You hear this in Nick's solo work, and when you see him play, you see him become immersed in it, so the soulful and the sonic bind together and the double bass becomes a huge and vivid voice for it.

After our chat about all of this, I played some of his earlier recordings – the transcendent beauty and stillness of 'Hieritismoi' from his 2009 Liminal where he collaborates with his partner, soprano Deb Kayser, his oft-times musical collaborator, saxophonist Adam Simmons, and percussionists Peter Neville and Eugene Ughetti. We also listened to the final 'Alleluia' from 16 Alleluias, where again the sounds of ancient liturgy weave into modern sensibilities as history and spontaneity, the nearness and farness of infinity, weave a tapestry together, again in collaboration with Adam Simmons.

The bringing together of things far and distant was, in a sense, but rather more sadly, the focus of the second half of last night's show too. It was a tribute to the quirky, clever, and constantly ambiguously creative world of Marcus Fjellström, the Swedish composer and audio-visual artist who sadly passed away earlier this month.

Marcus visited Austtralia early last year for a remarkable concert with our own Rubiks Collective – one of those evenings that, with its unusual mix of acoustic instruments, electronic sounds, and visual art based on computer-esque and cartoon-esque aesthetics, left everyone charmed by its throwback to naivety and innocence, and a little shaken by its undercurrent of darkness and brokenness.

This binding of things that seem to contradict each other, whether it be through the sorts of sounds Marcus mixes, or the sources he draws from, or the emotional threads he pulls at, has been a strong element in much of his work, which draws inspiration from sources as diverse as Aphex Twin, David Lynch, and György Ligeti. When Marcus was in Australia I talked with him about some of this when he appeared on The Sound Barrier, and about the ways in which these ideas in his work reflected some very deep notions of how humans think and feel – growing through seeking and finding completion in the embrace of opposites: through finding, in contradiction, the things that are lacking when we simplify things too much and eschew the inconsistencies that are always implied in everything. It is a little like the notions of German philosopher G W F Hegel, and his concept of human awareness growing not through a linear process of one idea leading to a new one, but through the dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, where contradiction yields what is new, and what is new itself generates new possibilities for contradiction and, hence, new growth. In his characteristic humility and self-effacing warmth and humour, Marcus said he had no idea his music had such profound links – but when you listen to it, and when you see the visual work he creates alongside much of the music, it is hard to escape its depth, always hugging the simplicity that that depth has emerged from.

Maybe all of this was more potent than anything else Marcus has created in his final album, released at the end of last year, Skelektikon, an album that both comforts and confronts, like a scary night that urges you not so much to scream but rather to snuggle into the warmth.

The album's penultimate track is 'Schmerzrot', and invented German word that literally means 'Pain red', a word that Marcus thought captured, in a very poetic way, the notion of heartbreak – a theme that always weaves, never more than only slightly hidden, through the whole album. It is a theme that is perhaps most poignantly captured, however, in the final track, which seems to speak both of that sense of hurt growing out of innocence, as well as a little nod to another of Marcus's musical influences. 'Boy with Wound' is the track's name, and, while it leaves the album in the shadows, it also leaves you embraced by it at the same time.

Vale Marcus Fjellström – you left us too young, and too early, but with a rich store of work that reminds us of what helps us grow.

In between these two halves of the show, and the different ways in which they touched on the worlds of immediacy and universality, I played another piece that, again in a different way, touched on all of this too. HALT is a little piece for solo trumpet and double-bass, lifted as a separate work from MICHAELs REISE UM DIE ERDE (Michael's Journey Around the Earth, the second Act of Karlheinz Stockhausen's opera DONNERSTAG AUS LICHT (Thursday from Light). There, in a moment of loneliness, Michael the cosmic creator, as he travels around the world, calls for the Earth to stop turning. In his loneliness he has this sad but consoling conversation with a solo double-bass. It is like a moment of self-reflection, of seeking comfort in the embrace of another, of a friend.

All of us, I guess, have times in our lives when we need to be the trumpet, and times when we need to be the double-bass : times when we need to pause, to reflect, to seek comfort, and to give it.

As always you can listen back to the show and check out the details of the recordings here on the show's playlist and audio pages.

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