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The things that happen when you turn your back ... !

The Sound Barrier : Blog

For the most part, and in some ways for the whole part, the latest edition of The Sound Barrier is all about catching up with what was happening here while I was away.

While I was in Germany for the last part of July and most of August, some exciting new music was being released in Australia and most of tonight's show was devoted to playing some samples of some of this: not just for the sake of catching up on a growing backlog of great music that has been sent to me, but also as a testament to how much goes on when we turn our backs.

I opened the show with the opening track of a brand new album just released on SoundOut Recordings, a new Canberra-based label, recently emerged from Canberra's annual SoundOut Festival of free jazz, improvisation and experimental music. It is a rich domain in Australia's musical scene, but still one that is represented on only a small handful of labels, so it is exciting to see another added to the mix and broadening the opportunities for both musicians and audiences to connect with this music: music that typically connects in such intricate and exploratory ways with its environment and with its component parts. The sense of that is especially strong in Lure, from improv trio Psithurism, joined on this album by Xavier Charles, from which I played the opening track, "Panus Lecomtei". Panus Lecomtei is a type of fungus and it seems to point to this music's organicism, the ways in which it is constantly disperses it spores around it leading to new possibilities for growth. The music seems a constant search for that growth, as if each note and musical gesture is like a new opportunity for something new to emerge, and as if each musician is scanning it for its possibilities.

The connections between improvisation and place, and the ways in which it connects with composition, is of core interest to Sam McAuliffe both as a musician and as an educator and his newly released album Leave Your Eyes, on which he collaborates on guitar with vocalist Rachael Comte, is just one of his many faces, just one of the many ways in which he explores music around these edges that fascinate him so deeply. I played both the opening and closing tracks of the album to give a sense of the expanse of the expedition it takes you on, from the rich drones and sonic shivers of "Dreaming Pt 1", where nothing is held in place and yet where everything is held together, to "Dreaming Pt. 2", where those drones become the bed for Rachael's multi-layered voice, lullaby-like, as if it is seeking to (and in its own way does) find rest in what the dream's unsettled, floating, images.

In between these two tracks from Sam McAuliffe, I played three more tracks from recent releases which, although really in no way connected with one another, all explore different aspects of how sound attaches, if not so much to space, then perhaps more to time.

New Melbourne-based ambient producer OBA is just preparing his new album Amygdala, from which I played the track, "Baya Del Chorus", where the sounds of bells and gongs and synthesisers evoke a sense of distance and decay – growing out of the music's reflections on faltering memory.

And while that piece looks back to foggy past, the work of Melbourne experimental vocal ensemble Unamunos Quorum, in "Sparks", the opening track of their 2017 release Limit, fires with all the immediacy of the present, as burst of voice sparkle everywhere, spontaneous, unpredictable, heading out no-one-knows-where.

But a sense of where that where might be lies maybe in the expanded futuristic space-ambience of Queensland's Jim Ottaway, from whose new album Deep Space Blue I played "39.5 Light Years (TRAPPIST-1)": music that refers to a very cool dwarf star in the Aquarius star constellation, capturing something of the quiet and cold that lies beyond (and possibly ahead of) us.

All of this music was music that came to me while I was away in Germany – but that wasn't the only thing that happened here during that time. It was also then that the Australian government announced the public postal survey on Same Sex Marriage. PBS, in support of the LGBTIQ people who are part of the station's community, and I as a gay man, is supporting the YES campaign in this survey.

I wanted to reflect some of the diversity of what marriage is, and of what it celebrates, in some of the music of the man whose work I was studying during that month away: Karlheinz Stockhausen. The final scene of the Sunday instalment of his seven-part opera cycle LICHT ('Light') is a called HOCH-ZEITEN. The word has two meanings in German. Hyphenated, it means 'High-Times', but as single word it means 'Weddings'. It is a wide and vibrant celebration of union, of how unions and marriages are celebrated across cultures. It is so broad an expansive a work that it is performed simultaneously in two separate auditoriums: one in which five separate orchestral groups play, and the other for five separate choral groups. Their diversity resonates in every possible way – spatially, in the sorts of musical and linguistic sounds they make, even in the tempi in which they play. At different moments in each piece, the sounds from the other hall are 'bled in' through loudspeakers, and then, at the end, the audience (or the performers) swap halls and hear it again from the other perspective. Diversity is everywhere in the music – and the call to change perspective at the end of the first hearing only goes to make that diversity even more capacious, more inclusive, more fertile. It is a piece without gender.

Tonight I played HOCH-ZEITEN for orchestra, and next week I will be playing its choral version.

It is music that really does make you want to say YES.

Remember that you can listen back to the show and check out the details of the recordings here on the PBS website, where the audio file will be available for about six months, and the playlist forever!

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