11 September 2009
Sydney // NSW // 23.08.2009
Jason Sweeney, the brains behind Panoptique Electrical, has spent August on the road promoting the release of his album Yes to Fear, Yes to Desire. Joined by cellist Zoë Barry, electric guitarist Jed Palmer and Tristan Louth-Robins on electronics, the group's tour has taken in Adelaide, Mt Gambier, Melbourne and Canberra, with this Sydney gig the last stop on their travels.
The venue for the Sydney performance was the unbelievably tiny Don't Look Gallery in Dulwich Hill, a space devoted to experimental New Media. A small but appreciative audience filled the space to capacity, yet despite the cramped confines there was a general atmosphere of bonhomie amongst the attendees. With no room for seats people either stood or sat against the walls. Fortunately there was a fine selection of colourful pillows at hand to ease discomfort. I perched on a pillow covered with manga imagery and waited for the show to begin.
First up was a performance by Catfingers (Ashley Scott). His short set was mostly comprised of sample-based material overlaid with occasional, discrete beats. Unfortunately, with the gallery door left open, his pleasantly innocuous soundscapes came off second best to the continual barrage of traffic noise from New Canterbury Road.
Thankfully, once the Panoptique Electrical quartet began their performance the door was firmly shut and stayed so. Surrounded by a goodly variety of laptops and other electronic impedimenta, the four performers set themselves up in a tight-knit little unit, with the cello and electric guitar players seated behind their colleagues on a small dais in the gallery window.
Using the rich, open C-string of the cello as a tonal basis, the Panoptique quartet slowly established a thick wash of pulsating, reverb-drenched sound. In this near beatless sonic environment, the melodic content was the controlling element, with Jason Sweeney dictating the musical flow with mellifluous dyads from his MIDI keyboard. These melodic droplets fell on an undercurrent of elongated instrumental samples and processed cello and electric guitar tones. There was a real sense of cohesion to Panoptique's sense of ensemble, aided by an implicit sense of communication amongst the four players. However, it would have been nice if there was less dependence on pre-recorded cello samples at the outset, especially with the real thing at hand.
The live mix was quite something, and enveloped the Don't Look Gallery in a treacly morass of sound. Although this occasionally swamped some of the finer effects, such as the cello pizzicato, the Panoptique quartet displayed a fine sense of control, pulling back the volume and intensity whenever things threatened to get overwhelming. However, this proved to be something of a double-edged sword, with each new iteration of melodic material from Sweeney heralding a predictably long sustained build-up followed by an equally long release. The entire set became rather episodic as a result.
That aside, the Panoptique Electrical experience was a gratifying one, the environs of the Don't Look Gallery adding to the overall feeling of being immersed in an intimate sonic installation. This was a musical experience in which to wallow.
Jason Sweeney (electronics), Zoë Barry (cello), Jed Palmer (electronics), Tristan Louth-Robins (electronics)
Works from Panoptique Electrical's new album Yes to Fear, Yes to Desire
Don't Look Gallery, Dulwich Hill, Sydney, NSW
23 August 2009
Event details in the AMC calendar
© Australian Music Centre (2009) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Geoffrey Gartner is a freelance cellist, conductor and writer living in Sydney. He is a passionate advocate of the Fluxus ethos.
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