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INSTRUMENTS strewn across the gallery, twigs, rocks, metal balls, pieces of bark and a well-prepared piano let the audience know that they were in for a night of improvised and original music.
In the Drill Hall Gallery Saturday, June 2, the concert began with the EMSC trio, who is a loose collective of musicians that had Millie Watson on piano and a selection of found improvised instruments, Rhys Butler on alto sax and Richard Johnson playing soprano sax.
The ambient and soothing sound they created oscillated around the gallery through harmonics, and a jagged reverberation coming from Johnson playing his sax onto the skin of a kick drum prepared with bamboo skewers. The sound slowly melded into a new form that came about when Johnson removed the reed from his sax. It popped and splashed like the sound of falling rain through his breath manipulation, it created a sonically soft and electronic music ambience.
This type of sound and performance is imaginative not only from the players but also for the audience. It takes you into a world where your imagination can run free and judging by the number of people in the audience with their eyes closed, concentrating, the music was doing just that.
There is no set rhythm, tune or harmony for this style, what they come up with has its own musical language, and it works for those reasons.
After the break, the group Great Waitress, who is made up of Magda Mayas playing the piano, Laura Altman, clarinet and Monika Brooks on accordion got ready for their set. There cannot be too many all-female improvisation groups in the world, but Great Waitress is one, and we were lucky enough to have them here in Canberra – they came from Sydney and Germany.
A prepared piano can make almost any sound, from a deep guttural growl to a high-pitched harmonic. A multitude of devices and instruments can be used to alter the tone of a piano and some even help to create a percussive effect.
Between the players, there was a silent and musical conversation going on. An almost trance-like state comes over the performers as they become entangled in their sounds. This extended work developed into a surreal sonic landscape that created a meditative state for all.
Just like a piece of classical or modern orchestral music, where composers choose the instrumentation to make their tone colours, so does this group. But, they add unique techniques to take those sounds through a wide variety of colours far beyond what happens in most traditional orchestral or ensemble music.
After they finished, it was as if they had come out of a trance of sound, which also transfixed the audience. More people should take the opportunity to hear this type of music and expand their musical horizons; you never know where music like this can lead a listener.