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18 May 2023

Land's Air: Reflections from a European Tour

Eduardo Cossio and Josten Myburgh Image: Eduardo Cossio and Josten Myburgh  

Eduardo Cossio and Josten Myburgh are currently in Europe touring with their duo project Land's Air: a duo using improvisation as a methodology with a timbrally complex aesthetic built from textured microtonal drones and melodies. The duo have just released their debut self-titled album. Here they share reflections from their tour, and diary entries made after each concert, in a loose self-interview following prompts from the Australian Music Centre. Their reflections were completed on May 9, after playing ten shows in Graz, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Köln, Munich and Paretz. Six more shows await in Wroclaw, Łódź, Berlin and Rosendal.

What were your goals for visiting Europe, and how did you plan this tour?

JM: I knew I wanted to visit Berlin and spend time with friends I hadn't seen in around five years. The timing was right to tour with a Boorloo-based project, given three years of being grounded here, and this timed out well around us working on our new release.

I think "returning favours" has a certain currency in our scene. Friends who had played in the programs I have organised through Tone List and Audible Edge - the label and festival I co-direct - felt happy to come through and organise events for us in return, or at least share contacts. Half of the gigs were organised by peers of mine on my behalf. Some deferred programming from a tour I had planned in 2020 manifested here, too.

Beyond that, the process wasn't more complicated than sending hundreds of emails using databases I've built over the years, and starting early (in August last year, which was already too late for many programs). As an unknown musician in an unknown duo, I had to cast the net wide and see what came back: really, there's a lot of ghosting and rejection.

My main reason for being here is just to develop my practice through playing and listening a tonne. Prior to the tour, I house-sat for a few friends in Berlin for six weeks, going to concerts nearly every night and working on music every day. Now that we're touring, playing almost every night for this long brings a certain depth of focus that is difficult to access in Australia: this is really special.

EC: Aside from touring regionally around WA and a tour of Melbourne and Sydney with my collaborative project OVERLAY in 2019, I have not done a whole lot of travelling as an improvising musician. My practice has matured over the years, so it feels timely to embark on this project. I have also taken this opportunity to soak up in the arts. This is an important foundation for me: a love for the arts comes before anything I might do 'artistically'.

Eduardo Cossio And Josten Myburgh at Petersburg Art Space, Berlin
Josten Myburgh and Eduardo Cossio at Petersburg Art Space, Berlin

Diary entry: a reflection on our concert at MicroFest, Prague - a festival and conference for microtonal music.

EC: Our set took place in a small room of the Czech Music Information Centre. Conference presenters, musicians and composers who were part of the festival program were the bulk of our audience. The gig started with Ian Mikyska and Martin Debřička playing two pieces: a graphic score by Martin contrasting rough timbres with static passages punctuated by silences. These two musicians are members of a scene of composer-performers which includes the Prague Quiet Music Collective.

This is our third gig in the tour and we have been playing longer sets. Improvised music sets tend to be shorter in Perth (around 10 to 20 minutes) although this is changing as musicians become more confident and committed to their practice. At one point Josten and I shared a passage of beating frequencies, something that has manifested in our playing before, but this time it was more acknowledged. It was treated as a structure we could explore rather than a mere effect. Our playing seems more purposeful at the moment.

How did you build this project's sound world?

EC: The duo language of Land's Air is still evolving, but I feel like we have a strong foundation from where to start. At some point during the early stages of our collaboration it became clear the music had a patient quality and an expansive breath. We experimented playing in big spaces like the Holy Trinity Church in York, and the Old Customs House in Fremantle. The droning, clanging of the zithers and the modal-like saxophone lines brought to my mind a kind of liturgical music. I grew up in Peru surrounded by a religious atmosphere of Catholic and Quechua rites; spirituality was manifested in churches, in processions, at home.

I am interested in a self-effacing character to this music, like the rites I witnessed as a kid, where the communal or spiritual experience was more important than a cult of personality. I guess I am trying to create a way of serving this music.

JM: I think a lot about ways of organising pitch that are emergent from our improvised interaction. We can't pre-ordain any harmonic system, but rather need to listen in real-time to the interaction between vibrations and make decisions based on this. Eduardo never tunes his zithers - and so it makes much more sense for me to think in terms of what is resonating between us in that moment than to depend on the pitch-map the saxophone's fingering system offers. There are probably ten or more different fingerings and tunings around "B-flat" that I can play, for example - and at each moment, a different one might be more "in tune".

Whilst in Berlin I fell into a crowd of musicians involved in the Harmonic Space Orchestra. The way they hone their musical practice to be attuned to nuance details of interaction between tones has focussed my engagement with microtonality. The moment Eduardo described regarding the MicroFest concert was one where this new way of listening was very clear to me: the polyrhythms between different beating patterns, the manifesting of difference tones, my own breathing, and the way I was modulating tones, were influencing the direction of the music in a manner more lucid than I'd ever experienced.

Diary entry: Reflections on Echoraum and our experience in Vienna.

JM: Echoraum is the kind of space I'd love to have in Boorloo. It's a lean concert venue with everything one needs to play a great experimental music concert: an attentive audience culture, a nice sound system with a sensitive engineer, adequate time for soundcheck, and offices and gallery spaces attached to get the organising done and experiment with other ways of presenting work. Everyone gets paid a good fee to perform. Sara [Zlanabitnig] and Alisa [Beck] are clear, honest communicators and there's no sense of gatekeeping or arrogance. It works perfectly as-is and wouldn't benefit from being any bigger or more complicated.

There's other series with these ethics and practices in Australia, but none with such a stable venue and funding situation. Most platforms with money seem to be aspiring to grow and upscale and both the art and the organisation's relevance to the community are compromised as a result. I think we should instead encourage a culture that is about belonging to the cultural ecosystem as carefully as possible: understanding our role in the bigger flow of community and sharing and inhabiting it dynamically.

EC: The audience takes a risk as we also take a risk. This mindset creates a fertile ground for communication. I was impressed at the way people would share their impressions of our music. They had developed a kind of personal system around it. I felt like I was witnessing a performance just hearing them talk with such thoughtfulness and creativity about their listening experience.

JM: I'm really noticing this ability we're developing as a duo to develop one idea extremely slowly and subtly over a long period of time. I guess our next release might explore this extended, sprawling sense of time and gradual accumulation. Looking forward to practising this when we get home!

Josten Myburgh and Eduardo Cossio at Echoraum, Vienna
Josten Myburgh and Eduardo Cossio at Echoraum, Vienna

How do you feel the European scene differs from Australia?

EC: What strikes me the most is the sense of continuity. Generations of musicians overlap and create a rich culture. This is less apparent in Perth, for example, where times of musical activity have been followed by a lull as musicians move out or stop playing due to various reasons. I also feel the historical avant-garde is still very much present here whereas in Australia I perceive a more relaxed attitude, where popular and non-popular styles intermingle more readily. A musician described the scene in Europe as very intellectual. He had been to Australia and was impressed by the culture of playing outdoors exemplified by people like Jon Rose, Jim Denley or the Splinter Orchestra. For him, this represented a music-making with a 'spiritual' dimension.

JM: I believe both of us are trying to think intergenerationally and create platforms that young up-and-comers can feel excited to be part of, in lieu of this clear continuity. We're not experienced (or old!) enough to be elders, but we can at least make sure we are sharing what we do know from privileged experiences like this one.

Diary entry: Reflections on camping outside Sabine Vogel's bauwagen, and our performance at the concert series "Field Music Paretzer"

JM: I think every tour should have a camping trip - and more concerts need to happen outdoors! Playing outside in this special location near Ketzin has been a real highlight of the tour for me. It's so interesting to explore how the music might belong: there's a thrilling tension in how our thinking meets and mingles with the thinking(s) of the place, its human and non-human patterns and cultures.

The company of dear friends - two of my closest pals Emilio Gordoa and Lena Czerniawska and their son Federico, new friend Alex Nowitz, and Sabine Vogel who I expect I will be working with for a long time coming - was so nourishing. We ate radishes, rhubarb compote and stinging nettles from the soil we played on and breathed in the smells of spring flowers on the wind. After four very rockstar travel days where we only set foot on a handful of streets of Munich, Köln and Dusseldorf each before jetting off, this new pace was needed (though I must give a shoutout to hosts Uwe, Lu, Hannes and Georg, and the superfans of Düsseldorf who all wanted autographed CDs, for keeping spirits up!).

EC: Sabine's playing on ceramic flutes (Tlapitzalli) from Oaxaca impressed me greatly. The flutes have two or three chambers tuned microtonally to each other. In a trio performance with Emilio Gordoa on snare drum and Josten Myburgh on alto saxophone, they created a spectral wash of sounds. Emilio elicited rich overtones scraping a cymbal on the snare, while Josten and Sabine tuned in and out of beating patterns. At some point during the performance Sabine switched to the Tlapitzalli. I was overcome by its sound. I stood up and got closer to the musicians as I felt like I was playing that music myself. I was immersed in the breathing-like cycles of the playing.

Informal recording session at Paretz Fesival
An informal outdoor recording session.

The debut self-titled album Land's Air is available on Bandcamp.

Josten Myburgh is a musician based on Whadjuk Noongar Boodja in Boorloo (Perth, Western Australia), making with techniques from the worlds of electro-acoustic music, radio art, free improvisation, field recording and experimental composition. He plays saxophone and electronic instruments.

Eduardo Cossio is a Peruvian-Australian musician based in Boorloo, Perth, Western Australia. His work on prepared instruments and electronics foregrounds spontaneity, collaboration, and the development of a musical language whereby instruments are treated as malleable objects open to new configurations. 


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