Arts / Music festival hits deaf ears for funding

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Viola da gamba player from Quebec, Pierre-Yves Martel.

THIS is the 10th year of the annual SoundOut international festival of improvised and experimental music, but they’re doing it hard.

Appealing to listeners keen about exploring sonic arts, the festival (under the guidance of its director Richard Johnson) aims to “uplift tired ears, explore the unknown, see within the fabric of sound, unravel the threads of normative musical praxis and question sonic hegemonies.”

Obviously that must sound esoteric to official ears because, although in 2015 Johnson was the recipient of the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music at the ART Music Awards in Sydney for developing SoundOut, it has been sporadically funded by EventsACT and this time around missed out entirely.

As saxophonist Rhys Butler asked ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr recently: “Why is it a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ each year? Your funding neither grows nor declines it just appears and disappears.”

Against the odds, Johnson and his musical allies push on with plans for a festival that will cement SoundOut’s place in Australia’s cutting-edge music calendar alongside Now Now in Sydney and Mona Foma in Hobart.

Richard Johnson receives the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music at the ART Music Awards in Sydney for SoundOut in 2015.

With artists coming from Australia, Austria, Germany, Quebec, Spain, and Sweden, Johnson hopes to provide opportunities for Canberra musicians to develop their music through collaborations that will combine, mix, cross-fertilise and, in a characteristically grand turn of phrase, “move sound mountains to inspire inquiring ears”.

Definitely not music to the ears of EventsACT would be his assertion that It is “an unbridled mix of micro modular, minimalism, desynchronised repetition, fractional maximalism, melodic deconstruction, variable repetition and semi-thematic repetition and extrapolation,” although he does add that such music can be “moody, atmospheric, unsettling, good-humoured, menacing, ominous, jovial and, above all, original”.

The 2019 festival will see artists such as the Superimpose duo from Germany; viola da gamba player from Quebec, Pierre-Yves Martel; Australian improviser Jim Denley; electronic artist Pia Van Gelder; clarinettist Laura Altman and accordion player Monika Brooks, all from Sydney, Brisbane flautist Hannah Reardon-Smith with trombonist Brodie McAllister and from Melbourne, drummer Maria Moles and guitarist Adam Halliwell.

Canberra plays its part, too, with electronic instrument-builder and performer Brian McNamara, young clarinettist Marlene Radice and the EMSC trio – pianist Millie Watson, alto saxophonist Rhys Butler and wind instrumentalist Richard Johnson himself.

SoundOut 2019, Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton, 1pm-5pm then 7pm-11.30pm, Saturday, February 2 and Sunday, February 3. Book at

A crowdfunding appeal for SoundOut is at


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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