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7 July 2009

Lucky Number: the extraordinary music of Syd Clayton rediscovered

A self-portrait by Syd Clayton Image: A self-portrait by Syd Clayton  

On a chilly Melbourne evening in May 1968, musicians Barry McKimm and Roger Holmes arrive at the recently established La Mama Theatre to perform a new piece of music by Syd Clayton, called Yehudi. They find a note from Clayton, stuck to the theatre’s door, advising that the venue has been changed to a local billiards hall. McKimm is already familiar with Clayton’s unconventional leanings, having played alongside him and Robert Rooney in a trio that traversed the gap between jazz improvisation and indeterminacy, and was one of the first groups to compose and perform graphic scores in Australia. 

McKimm and Holmes dutifully make their way to the billiard hall (where neither the owner nor patrons appear to have been forewarned), set up their instruments and perform from a score that contains elements of collage, a ‘false intermission’, and calls for the musicians to ‘become actors’. Soon the La Mama audience begins arriving.  As the performance progresses, Clayton plays songs on the jukebox.

Through extraordinary music like Yehudi, Syd Clayton (1939-1994) explored chance composition and broader indeterminate elements from the mid-1960s until his death in 1994. Clayton’s favoured chance generator was a toy roulette wheel on which he painted the maxim deus ex machina (‘God from the machine’), signifying chance in his compositional method as a form of divine interpretation. His pioneering musical output has been sadly neglected, but this is being rectified by a concert of Clayton’s music entitled 'Lucky Number: the music of Syd Clayton'.

Director Barnaby Oliver has challenged a new group of performers from the Australian experimental music community (with a smattering of former Clayton collaborators) to perform these often-obtuse scores with a new energy that remains true to the spirit of the work. The concert features renowned saxophonist Adam Simmons, double-bass exponent Mark Cauvin, sound poetry/improv group The Crystal Set, experimental musician/researcher Clinton Green, with visuals conjured by Hugh McSpedden. 

Music performed on the night spans a twenty-year period of Clayton’s compositional output, including a variety of music theatre pieces, works for solo performers and ensembles. Highlights include the minimalist pitched percussion piece Lucky Number (1986), which spans nearly four hours and will be performed simultaneously with the other works throughout the evening, and the world premiere of He Colours the Wild Orchid Slipper Wagon (1980) for solo piano. This rare performance of the work of one of Australia’s most original composers is not to be missed.

Event details

Friday, 17 July 2009
Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Centre, Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne
Performance of Lucky Number begins at 7pm, main program at 8pm.
Information: http://www.myspace.com/sydclaytonluckynumber
See also: AMC Calendar

Adam Simmons and Mark Cauvin will also perform Yehudi at North Melbourne Town Hall Arts House (11 July 7 pm, a Liquid Architecture event) - see event details in the AMC Calendar.

Clinton Green is a Melbourne-based experimental music performer and researcher.


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