24 January 2013
Dan Bigna relives his first SoundOut experience. The 2013 instalment of SoundOut - festival of free improvisation, free jazz and experimental music - takes place in Acton, Canberra, on 2-3 February.
When I first heard about the annual SoundOut festival of improvised music in Canberra early in 2011, I was caught up in a listening phase where the most satisfying sounds were at the freer end of the spectrum - which meant hunting down anything I could find from the likes of major innovators such as pianist Cecil Taylor, haunting saxophonist Albert Ayler and astral traveller Sun Ra. These performers filled a void that had opened up whenever I switched on the radio, and I became all the better for it. The energy, commitment and unexpected delights brought forth were timeless qualities as relevant today as when Ayler was reinventing sound in previously unimagined ways in the early 1960s.
This all came together for me at SoundOut 2011, which took place on a hot summer weekend at the Street Theatre. The headline act was Norwegian trio The Thing, led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, who turned up in the late afternoon to survey the surroundings in an inconspicuous manner. As I sat drinking a few beers with a few local artists between sets, Gustafsson could have been just another punter checking out spontaneously improvised music of the highest order on a sultry Saturday afternoon.
But later that evening I better understood what was going on. Gustafsson had turned up to soak in the sounds that would impact on his own set later that evening. And what his saxophone/bass/drums trio produced must have hit upon raw nerve as the sonic intensity came close to blowing the roof of the Street Theatre. The shrieks and screams summoned from his tenor saxophone in full synchronicity with bodies on stage in frenetic motion exemplified creative energy at its most primal. I'm sure that all of us left the venue with jaws agape.
And isn't this the sign of a successful event? Festival organiser Richard Johnson had struck gold, but all performers, either local or international, at each SoundOut event, have transformed contemplative Canberra spaces into hubs of potent creativity.
Improvised music is all about exploring sounds emanating from fully engaged musical dialogue, close listening and commitment to exploring acoustic and electronic combinations that emerge in and of the moment. With this in mind, one can only imagine the extent to which something as simple as striking a child's tin drum, or microscopic thumb cymbals attached to a contact mike, enables an accompanying saxophone, clarinet or violin to hit upon a train of thought previously unimagined.
For SoundOut 2013, festival director Richard Johnson has brought together a bunch of artists from as far afield as Germany, Brazil and Canada to interact and engage with Australian performers such as Canberran electronic sound artist Michael Norris, longstanding violin deconstructionist Jon Rose and immersive percussionist Tony Buck. From what I have witnessed in previous years, a full and engaging interaction between audience and performer is what SoundOut offers; an experience highly recommended.
Where else will you find a festival organiser with impressive looking baritone saxophone on his lap engaging in a call and response performance with intuitive like-minded players in a spontaneously arranged group improvisation? Given what I have previously experienced, SoundOut 2013 will deliver this and much more.
2-3 February 2013
Theatre 3, Ellery Crescent, Acton ACT
Australian artists including Jon Rose, Mike Majkowski, Matt Earle, Adam Sussman, Tony Buck, and others.
More event details, links and ticket information: AMC Calendar
© Australian Music Centre (2013) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Dan Bigna is a Canberra writer who enjoys those momentary leaps into the musical unknown.
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