Arts / Moody start to experimental music festival

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Astronomical Unit… from left, Christian Marien, Matthias Müller, Clayton Thomas

THE 2019 SoundOut experimental music festival got off to a cracking start yesterday (February 2) with two four-hour sessions at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery.

“CityNews” popped in on the evening session to find festival director Richard Johnson grappling with the technology that lies at the centre of the enterprise, while Drill Hall Gallery director, Terence Maloon watched on with satisfaction.

According to Maloon, the Drill Hall, which has hosted SoundOut for several years, was very serious about making the visual-arts venue home to music and to that end had engaged  a web specialist to set up a Music at the Drill Hall website. The gallery also hosts regular cocktail recitals by Carl Rafferty’s “Opera by Candlelight“.

Last night’s performance saw an impressive line-up of interstate artists and a strong representation from Germany. Patrons for this very rarefied kind of music could be seen with eyes closed, absorbing the moody ambience of the music.

From left, Millie Watson, Cor Fuhler and Monika Brooks.

That moodiness was perfectly personified by the opening collaboration  by Sydney pianist, Cor Fuhler, Canberra organist Millie Watson  and Blue Mountains accordion player Monika Brooks in a dark, intense work where Fuhler played mostly string piano, reaching inside the instrument directly.

That kind of exploration was the chief theme SoundOut and the second set saw German group Astronomical Unit – Christian Marien on drums, Clayton Thomas on bass and Matthias Müller on trombone – perform an arresting set where Müller in particular worked every aspect of the trombone.

There followed two solo performances with the same aim.

In the first by Birgit Ulher from Hamburg, the acoustic potential of the trumpet were tested as its sounds were muted, muffled, enhanced by speaker and later accompanied by radio. The work was “Traces, “intended to conjure up chemical waste in the Chicago River.

The audience moved to a more intimate adjacent gallery to see and hear the ambidextrous Clayton Thomas, originally from Sydney, performing an extraordinary work in which every part of the double bass was investigated. His two bows worked over the entire surface of the instrument and a couple of drumsticks in his back pocket were produced to create temporary bridges on the bass for further exploration.

There followed a performance by Jim Denley on wind instruments and violinist Melanie Herbert, booth from Sydney, joining Québec viola da gamba (and other objects) player Pierre-Yves Martel and the evening wound up with the SoundOut Collective  playing together.

This is a boutique festival never likely to attract great masses, but the interest in experimental  music and free jazz is a worldwide phenomenon and Johnson has done well to make Canberra part of that movement.

SoundOut 2019, Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton, continues 7pm-11.30pm  today (February 3). Book at

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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