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Going to musical places that others never dream about

A sound drawing installation by Jody Graham, part of the SoundOut music festival at the ANU Drill Hall gallery.

Music / SoundOut Festival, Day 2, Drill Hall Gallery, ANU, June 17-19. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

EXPLORATIVE sound not only leads to new ideas but also to improvisational and experimental music that can take a listener on a journey far richer than a concert of standard music forms.

SoundOut is a musical journey like few others. In this the 13th year of the annual SoundOut Festival, initiated and run by director and musician Richard Johnson, the 25-plus artists in the 2022 festival highlighted just how diverse and unique the creations of experimental music can be.

Including the combinations of film, art, music, and workshops, SoundOut is one of the most creative festivals in Australia.

To begin session 2 on Saturday, June 18, in the Drill Hall Gallery, Mark Cauvin on double bass and Tony Osborne, vocals and electronics opened with a deep resonant rhythm on the double bass as Osborne breathed a calming sound into the microphone. The amplified bass created a world of mystical sounds through multifaceted techniques. Osborne followed along, building a sound envelope of speech, singing, and breath expressions that created a captivating oral and aural story.

The two performers fed off one another, at times creating similar effects while setting up a call-and-response scenario. The highly rhythmic and percussive sections saw the two performers fall in line with one another to create a wall of dynamic sound.

A soundscape for solo piano performed by Monika Brooks came next. Beginning as a tonal work, not dissimilar to a Debussy piece, this punchy repetitive work fluxed in tempo as the dynamic built. Progressively gaining speed in a similar pattern of music, Brooks shaped waves of sound at a great volume, which created a reverberant sound chamber.

The physicality of this extended work was quite extraordinary. To have any player perform at such a rapid rate, repeatedly on a similar chord grouping, was nothing short of astonishing. Eventually, the piece slowed and quickly halted to rousing applause.

A work by Clara Pitt, flute, Erik Griswold, piano, and Nikki Johnson on percussion followed. With a battery of percussion instruments, including wine bottles, jugs, vibraphone, crystal lids, wood blocks, shells, and many other specific and found instruments, the trio began with an eclectic array of sounds responding to one another in a symphony of personal and individual creations.

Like a delicate musical tale, the three performers set up a language that explored a mysterious aural world that spoke of the ingenuity and creativity of human beings. This creation expressed many languages.

Michael Norris, from Sydney, who filled in for local Brian McNamara because of covid, played electronic instruments along with Charles Martin on laptop and electronics. In this set, it took the audience into an electronic experience that almost defied description. Norris said that what we heard was a sound art performance.

For the final two sets of the session, James Wilkinson, trombone, and Julia Magri, double bass demonstrated just how many sounds can be created on an instrument when a player thinks outside the box. It was a beautifully subtle performance. And then a collective improvisation by the artists from sessions 1 and 2.

The universe of sounds and music created on this day showed what experimentation can lead to in the hands and minds of players willing to go to musical places that others never dream about.

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