Arts / A taste of ‘SoundOut’


SoundOut. Photo by Rob Kennedy

RICHARD Johnson, who presents the “SoundOut” festival, running this weekend at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, introduced the two performers for the pre-festival workshop, and the question in this reviewer’s mind was, “is improvisation at the heart of all music?”

The two musicians that led the day’s workshop were Sten Sandell on piano from Sweden and Paal Nilssen-Love on percussion, who, when asked where he lived said, “giving over 250 concerts a year, I live in hotels and airports”, but he resides in Norway.

After a short and lively work showing off their unique improvisation skills, both spoke to the audience about their musical history, their study and on their improvisation techniques. Paal plays in five bands. In one, a 13-piece, he is currently developing a large-scale piece that relies on improvisational and traditional compositional techniques.

The conversation got very interesting when audience members asked how they improvised. Both kept coming back to the act of listening to what is going on in the room around them. Listen to other musicians and the soundscape of the room, they told us, and even outside the room, such as bird sounds for the inspiration for their improvisation, which happened with the first piece they performed.

A healthy part of improvisation is that they have developed a musical language that informs their playing. They stressed that for any musician it’s vital for them to find their voice and then make that work as a group and build on that to create their sound.

Free music, improvised or formless music is a tricky thing for most people to grasp. People rarely get to hear this type of music, and some are turned off by it because it’s different from what’s on the radio. But in fact much of the world’s music is improvised, especially music from Asia and folk music from indigenous people around the globe.

Workshop in progress. Photo by Rob Kennedy

After a short break, the improvisation lesson really took off. Many people brought their instruments, so they formed a circle, separating some of the similar instruments. And, from an initial short sound, started on the piano, each musician played a similar sound, but all on their different instruments, such as sax, French horn, voice, percussion and even on a midi controller hooked up to a computer playing electronic sounds.

The idea went around from musician to musician, which shadowed one another with their sounds, and that created a foreground and background swirling and swelling effect. They then tried varying the initial sound, and the group gave their improvisation on that.

The power of improvisation showed these musicians a new world of sound possibilities and construction methods. More of this type of experimentation could be something that breaks music out of its traditional path and help lead music into new territories.

“SoundOut” improvisational, free jazz and experimental music festival, at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery on Saturday and Sunday, February 3-4, from 1pm- 5pm and 7pm -11.30pm on both



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