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Opening to the cosmos with sounds synthesised and unheard

The Sound Barrier : Blog

I know I have said it many times before, but it's one of those things that I never tire of saying: one of the really special privileges of preparing and presenting a show like The Sound Barrier is the many opportunities it affords to touch base with the huge range of exciting initiatives in new music, and especially those happening right on our doorstep here in Melbourne.

Two of these featured on the latest edition of the show: Speak Percussion's marvellous education program for promising young musicians, Sounds Unheard, and the SAE Institutes now annual symposium on synthesisers Synthposium.

Sounds Unheard provides a string of opportunities for young students to engage in new music, and to mix with the people who create, especially through involving them in Speak Percussion performances both on and off stage. This year the program also included a partnership with PBS where two of the Sounds Unheard students, Lewis de Zoete and Mungo Moje-O'Brien spent time at PBS learning about how radio works, and its role in presenting new music and then going on to learn about and prepare interviews for public broadcast. Lewis and Mungo interviewed Melbourne composer and sound artist Peter Knight and performance artist Tamara Saulwick about their work together and also about Tamara's upcoming production at Chamber Made Opera, Permission to Speak.

As well as playing Lewis's and Mungo's interview, I had a chat with both of them, and with Sounds Unheard organiser, Kaylie Melville, about the program. It's an exciting thing to see how a program like this builds knowledge and rapport between young, new musicians and the new music scene, especially when this is through such a leading-edge ensemble as Speak Percussion, itself so very much at the forefront of that scene.

Synthposiusm began in Melbourne last year and this year expanded into a full day and evening of discussions, academic papers, demonstrations and opportunities for participants to jam on a huge huge range of synthesisers. I was joined in the studio by organiser Nick Wilson, along with one the key speakers this year, James Gardner, now living in New Zealand where he is work on a history of the EMS studio and synthesisers, amongst the most famed and fascinating synthesisers, right from their very first instruments created in the late 1960s. James and Nick talked about these synthesisers and the synthesiser culture in which they play such a central part. It was fascinating discussion about the ways in which synthesisers have, in a sense, synthesised not only sound waves but genres and musical cultures as well, enabling experimentation in electronic music to filtrate through and cross pollinate in everything from art music to pop.

I closed the show with a piece of synthesiser music par excellence: Karlheinz Stockhausen's COSMIC PULSES, with its 24 layers of synthesiser music, playing 24 different musical loops and 24 different tempi across a six-octave range, that is projected in octophonic sound through 241 trajectories. It is a huge tribute to the enormity of the cosmos – its rotations and vibrations, and a potent reminder of the enormity of the space-time cosmos of which we are, for all our pretences at times to grandeur and importance, such a small part.

Whether it is through the enormity of the cosmos, through the rich palette of possibilities when music sounds and genres synthesise, or through the emergence of new minds and talents into the new music community, music can be a wonderful, wondrous vehicle for opening up new horizons, new possibilities. In a world where sometimes we feel ourselves suffocating amongst so many hackneyed and narrow things, music can provide an encouraging alternative way of thinking about it all. It is hugely exciting to be able to bring you so much of this each week on The Sound Barrier, as well as to know that so much of it is happening right here, in the little dot at the bottom of the world, called Melbourne.

Remember that, here on the website, listening back to the show or checking out its playlist, is just a click away.

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