Here’s two hours of varied recordings from Clinton Green aka Undecisive God, an Australian underground legend. I’m drawn to the absolute zero-effort art work for this, the lack of extensive background info provided, and how the majority of the tracks aren’t even listed on the Bandcamp page until you purchase the music. It’s a simple invitation: pay $7 AUD and you’ll get a trove of material that you have to make heads or tails of on your own. I like the quiet beauty of “The World is as I See It,” meditative in its oceanic ambience and glints of guitar. It’s as calming as “Can’t Get Better” is anxiety-inducing. On that track, he mischievously ruptures the space with shards of noise as different radio broadcasts (?) play, one of which is a woman that keeps repeating the titular phrase. The “Three Movements for Batman Bridge” tracks are simple, edited field recording soundscapes that capture everyday mystique while “Guitar and Feedback Study 1” is the process of him trying to attain magic through different tools. Consider Archive 7: 2004 a sonic diary that’s been thrust into the world. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Green mentions a compositional procedure for choice of tape, tape speed and direction and panning, which yields a combination of sounds disturbingly mismatched to eerie perfection, much in the way of a prolonged chance collision…the ordinary is repurposed into a hallucinatory melange of sounds beyond conventional comprehension. It taps into a powerful strand of late 20th Century experimental music, going back to Cage’s collages from the 1950s, that’s occasionally forgotten only to be taken up again a generation later… – Boring Like A Drill
This newly released two-track set makes no attempt to conceal the ugly, knobby seams and blemishes inherent to physical media and fusions or exhumations thereof; like a zealous dig through the bargain cassette bin at your local thrift store—old answering machine archives and sound effects collections and obsolete dictations and forgotten world music thrown (in)discriminately into the “yes” bag—“Here?” stitches an abstractly (yet disturbingly) coherent sequence from voices mangled to oblivion and harsh analog ephemera, while “Secret” plays with sputtering negative space, radio squawks, and sporadic bursts of raucous, chattering chaos made even more gleefully caustic by the hiss and screech of the low-fidelity playback. Moments of warm beauty also lurk quietly in the marshes of both halves, only briefly emerging when absolutely necessary to avoid wasted impact: a flutter of buzzing drone like a ray of light through the dust, a snatch of familiar innocence amidst bedlam. Lovely stuff – Noise Not Music
Clinton Green […] presents a new LP and again the turntables play an important role, like in much of his recent work […]. Unlike in the work of many other musicians with the same apparatus, here [it is] to hit upon objects around it. In Green’s case, this is mostly percussion objects, drums, and bells. The cover has a better wording for this process; “beaters and objects suspended from an overhead swaying horizontal pole strike percussive objects on three rotating turntables”. I assume Green moving around these turntables, placing new objects, removing old and keep the music vibrant and energetic. The one thing this is not is static. One may suspect that the rotation of the turntable leads to a steady rhythm, which Thomas Brinkman once cleverly turned into dance music, but none such is the case here. On this LP we find four pieces, two on each side. It is difficult to tell the two per side apart; on the first side everything is fast and on the other side everything is slow. That is an interesting choice, I think but it works very well. Side A is a wild ride, chaotic mostly, from moving and removing all these objects around the three turntables, a hybrid of sound, ants crawling around sort of thing. The two on the other side are meditative touches, scratches upon a surface and is of delicate sparseness. Here too nothing stays the same for very long, or, maybe not at all. It shares, however, the same love for the chaos as on the other side, which curiously ties both ends together. This is another most enjoyable record from Green, […] a fine example of the sort of turntable usage I enjoy very much. – Vital Weekly #1296
Note: despite what the review, I did not move objects around the turntables during the recording of these pieces, the variation is build into the sound sculptures, largely facilitated by the swaying pole beaters are suspended from.
Clinton Green Relativity/Only – Lately, my cat has been more anxious than usual. She runs around and gets into things more often when I’m not in the best moods, because I don’t have the energy to play and keep her from getting bored. To get her to chill out and stop going nuts at 3 AM, I’ve started putting videos of birds and squirrels on the TV so that she’s got something to focus on and feel like she’s hunting. She gets enraptured with this stuff and will watch it for hours, and it does its job at calming her down, but it’s had an unintended side effect—now I’m addicted to it too. I’m mostly amused by her amusement—it’s adorable when she swipes at the screen trying to grab a little critter or when her head whips in the direction that a bird flies off screen—but it’s also pretty good visual stimulus. We’ve watched all of the videos on the incredibly titled Birder King channel together, some multiple times; it’s officially a family bonding activity.
The cat, likewise, seems to enjoy some things that I’m into. It’s well known that cats mimic the habits of their owners when they’ve bonded, and she’s pretty much attached to me at the hip. She follows me from room to room, expects to be fed when I’m eating, and has a spot on the couch imprinted with her shape right next to the spot that’s shaped like me. My favorite thing, though, is that she gets enamored with the music I listen to when I play it from my laptop speakers. Relativity/Only is a recording of a kinetic sculpture at work, and the resulting sounds are strictly percussive—metal on metal, drums being struck, wooden objects being dragged across surfaces. She seems to especially find sounds like these fascinating; she’ll stand by my computer and stare, rub her face against the speakers, and circle around me trying to figure out the source of the sound. This is already one of my favorite types of music, but I’m particularly likely to play an album repeatedly if it gets a cute response from the kitty.
This album, probably due to its dynamic stereo panning that makes it sound like there’s something moving around the room, has gotten a response out of her more dramatic than anything else I’ve played. It’s one of my favorite musical experiences I’ve had this year because of how I’m uniquely able to share it with my cat. It gets me thinking about how personal experiences can elevate a piece of art, and sometimes those experiences can be so narrow that it’s hard to imagine it ever applying to someone else. Relativity/Only might not end up being your pet’s favorite album, but I now mine has good taste—she learned from the best. —Shy Thompson
THIS Ensemble “Brown Paper Business” – Melbourne’s Shame File Music has long been one of Australia’s most important experimental labels, both unearthing and reissuing the country’s long-forgotten noise, musique concrète and tape music from the 70s and 80s, as well as releasing new albums from some of Australia’s leading experimental acts. In January, the label put out one of their most ambitious releases to date: a wooden box, housing two CDrs, which contain a single, two-hour performance by the roving, malleable performance troupe known only as the THIS Ensemble.
The music here truly defies description, but let me try anyway. There’s plenty of spoken-word and tape loops, and instruments half-played or possibly just shuffled around the stage. On top of this, on the first track alone, I think I can make out maracas, a slide whistle, a dripping faucet, a balloon rubbing against a metal pipe, jangling keys, wind buffeting a microphone, a rice cooker, and two guitars. While much of the proceeding 110 minutes operates in the same register of shifting, unplaceable sounds, the ensemble do manage to cover a surprising amount of ground, sometimes veering into rock, jazz, noise, acousmatic drone, and trancelike percussion circles. Through all this, the spoken poetry, full of lopsided phrases and wordplay, and delivered in an absolute deadpan, both anchors the diffuse material and cuts through the air of monastic seriousness which typically attends a two-hour, avant-garde performance. At times, even the performers can be heard laughing at what they themselves are doing onstage.
In this way, THIS Ensemble embodies something I love about the Australian avant-garde underground: it is both ambitious and self-deprecating, not afraid to poke fun at its own extreme weirdness. Experimental music is weird! It can be pretty silly stuff. This isn’t to say that Australia doesn’t have its own share of stuffy, self-serious sculpteurs du son. At its best, however, the scene balances its adventurous inclinations with a flair for the comedic, giving audiences and performers alike permission to stop holding their breath. Brown Paper Business is a fantastic distillation of this ethos. At two hours, it can be a taxing listen, but its slowly shifting landscape and slyly circular structure reward a more-than-casual engagement. Brown Paper Business is huge, yes, and frequently very difficult music, but it is also one of the most fun experimental albums I’ve heard in a long while. Gird your loins, and take the plunge. —Mark Cutler
As I am sitting in my comfy chair, reading a book and drinking afternoon tea, I play the new release by Barnaby Oliver and Clinton Green… [Oliver] plays violin and piano…Green plays bowed metal bowls. With these limited sources they set out to play long-form pieces, and they have been doing so since 2017. As I sit back and do all the things mentioned, I listen to music and feel blown away. On the first piece, ‘The Interstices’, they keep bowing the strings and bowls in a very delicate drone-like piece that works very well with acoustic overtones. Think a bit of Organum or Nurse With Wound’s ‘Soliloque For Lilith’, but acoustic. It is refined and rough and works very well. It lasts nineteen minutes but for me, it could have lasted an hour. It is minimally changing and that’s enough. ‘Of These Epidemics’ is four minutes longer, twenty-three minutes in total and here Oliver plays the piano and Green keeps striking and bowing the bowls. Oliver plays chords, loosely and spacious, reminding of the best jazz works from down under I heard before; think Spartak, Gilded, 3ofmillions and Infinite Decimals but also The Necks, I would think. It’s smooth, it’s a bit of jazz and with Green’s backdrop on the bowls, it is spacious as it roughly edged. As I am sitting in my comfy chair, reading a book and drinking afternoon tea, I play the new release by Barnaby Oliver and Clinton Green again. I get up and just play it all over again. It’s melancholic, it’s sad, and I might think this is the best release I heard this week – Vital Weekly 1250
In “The Interstices” the coalescence of metal and strings produces a series of semi-dissonant, never-too-loud organic stratifications. Imagine David Jackman’s rawer output sounding decidedly more moderate – say, as on an Another Timbre recording – and you’ll have a faint idea of what I’m meaning here. The relative fragility of the pitches enhances the release of specific harmonics from their combination, placing the music in a niche between contemplative mood (always with an eye open) and slight uneasiness.”Of These Epidemics” is strongly characterized by Oliver playing peaceful sequences on the piano, a resonance reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright circa “The Great Gig In The Sky” but with an entrancing repetitiveness à la Charlemagne Palestine. The fluctuation of those chords along the strident mantra of Green’s bowed bowls is uniquely delightful. Without the need of revolutions, the duo’s interaction remains accessible to most everybody. Overall, an appreciably unadulterated work – Touching Extremes
This was the second performance of this programme of graphic scores staged by Carmen Chan Schoenborn as part of her multi-faceted Do You See What I Hear? project. The first iteration took place at the Church of All Nations in June 2017. It had been a unique (for Melbourne) collaboration of graphic notation and contemporary dance; an obvious artistic success that demanded a repeat performance. This time it took place in the slightly different confines of Melba Hall, across the other side of Carlton in the Conservatorium, with the same compositions and similar personnel.
The concert opened with Schoenborn delivering another quality rendition of Feldman’s piece for solo percussionist, The King of Denmark (1964). The score calls for the percussionist to use only hands, fingers or arms (no sticks or mallets) to strike the percussion (Schoenborn used a variety of pitched percussion, bells and timpani), resulting in very quiet music. Schoenborn displayed her confidence as a percussionist along with her understanding of the score in resisting any urge to play any parts louder than was absolutely necessary. At times, you could feel the audience straining to hear some parts (as the building’s air-conditioning became apparent), but this feels to me very much in line with the composer’s intention. Like many of Feldman’s compositions, the music has not dated and retains a timeless quality that has the potential to take the listener to a meditative space; it’s not easy listening by any means, but it can put you in a state of mind where listening is primary.
The next piece, For E.B. & M.F. (2017), was a duo composed and performed by Schoenborn and Warren Burt (on smart phones and tablets, often approximating sounds similar to the vibraphone played by Schoenborn). This piece seemed more precise and focussed than when I first heard it last year; possibly the performers’ interpretation of the graphic score has evolved and/or been refined, but more likely it is the addition of two dancers in Tony Yap and Brendan O’Connor to the performance. Yap and O’Connor have a long history of working together, and each of their individual dance vocabularies seamlessly integrates with the other. Their presence seemed to focus the composition, grounding it somehow, unlike in the 2017 premiere where it had drifted at times, partly through a sameness of dynamics and timbre.
The programming of these first two pieces formed a logical development towards the third item; Earle Brown’s FOLIO (1952/3) and Four Systems (1954), where four more musicians joined Schoenborn and Burt along another three dancers (all associated with Yap). According to the informative programme notes, this collection of eight pieces consists of both traditional and graphic notation, some of which was originally composed for a choreography (now lost) by Carolyn, Brown’s first wife. Yap and his dancers have a created a new choreographic structure that is integral to music, and a pleasure to experience. The set of works began with a profound statement on piano by Michael Kieren Harvey (the only new addition to the ensemble from the 2017 concert; returning alongside Schoenborn and Burt were Miranda Hill on double bass, David Brown on electric guitar, and Gelareh Pour on kamancheh), before the rest of the musicians provide sparse, largely un-ornamented phrases at irregular intervals. The effect is a spartan, dry approach that could create an initial impression of severe mid-twentieth century asceticism that, unlike the Feldman, has perhaps not aged well. However, this is not the case. These opening parts presented the basic materials which would come into play throughout the following works.
The structure of this collection of Brown’s pieces appeared to alternate between solo piano interludes and episodes with the full ensemble, where each player contributes short, relatively simple gestures that overlap each other at different points. The ensemble’s instrumental palate is far from traditional, especially with Pour’s kamancheh (a stringed Persian instrument) and Burt’s electronics. The combination of these instruments alongside piano and double bass, etc, can sound a little jarring at times, but Schoenborn has shown in the past that she has little time for tradition for its own sake. The eclectic instrumentation of the ensemble possibly has something to do with the freshness of how these compositions sounded, adding elements of diversity to what could be austere music, and instead bringing a new dimension to the openness of the graphic notation.
It was when the dancers took the stage (three new performers at first in Rodrigo Calderon, Kathleen Gonzalez and Takashi Takiguchi, later joined by Yap and O’Connor) that Brown’s work suddenly came to life. A canvas materialised in this listener’s mind of elements entering and leaving the tableau throughout, creating long-form rhythms. The key to this staging of the work is that the dancers follow a similar structure to Brown’s music; of entering and leaving the space. Each dancer performed individually, with no interaction, and working to a spatial structure mapped out on the stage floor in white tape. This mapping of the stage area had the practical effect of ensuring minimal collisions between entering and exiting dancers, but it also had the character of a graphic score in itself. In fact (as shown in the photo above), the form of the stage markings are not dissimilar to Brown’s graphic score. The 2017 performance of this programme took place on the hall floor, on the same level as the audience was seated, where the schema used by the dancers was clear to all. The lack of a stage at this earlier performance meant the dancers sat amongst the audience between entries and exits, which had emphasised the impression of elements entering and leaving the composition. I’m sure the performers were much happier to have a traditional stage in Melba Hall on this occasion, but the subsequent hiding of the choreographic schema along with dancers waiting at stage left and right in between entries, lessened this symmetry with the music a little.
This event was, however, a rare reimagining of these landmark works of twentieth century new music that deserves a wider audience. It would fit perfectly in a new music or contemporary arts festival programme, where a new performance setting could further explore the intersection of bodies and sound.