19 February 2019
Sounding Together & Audible Edge: exploring sound and friendship in WA
© Josh Wells Photography
'Amidst all of this I have a sense that something truly fascinating is growing here. As well as a playfulness which strengthens friendships and livens spirits, there is an increasing curiosity with what it means to make music in this place - Noongar boodja, a place to which our majority non-Indigenous scene has only a fragmented connection to, an isolated capital city, a place artists love to leave', writes Josten Myburgh, reporting from the recent Audible Edge exploratory music festival and the Sounding Together mentorship and residency project - both are programs by the Perth-based Tone List, curated by Josten.
At the end of last year, we folks at Tone List put together a mentorship project, Sounding Together, with Sydney improviser Jim Denley at the helm. With nine locals and three visitors, four days were spent music-making in Koorda, on Ballardong Noongar country. Though the arbitrary appropriation of a Noongar word (meaning something like 'friend') for a wadjela wheatbelt town makes me cautious about making such a reading, the week's greatest victory was nonetheless how it strengthened old and produced new friendships, both personal and artistic, and the profoundly rich way it seemed to do this. Between building Aeolian sculptures in the forceful wind, conducting improvised soundwalks, and developing absurd stargazing practices, there was round-the-clock playing with all kinds of companions: the dawn chorus, breakbeat hi-hat cicadas, a remarkably aggressive neighbour dog, a backyard family of endangered spiny-tailed skinks, and massive crowds of manitj (corellas). And each other.
Good mentors, it seems, don't really have to do much beyond just being there. Jim acted less as a leader and simply joined in on whatever was happening with curiosity and commitment. Still, perhaps the presence of an admired figure elevated the situation for everyone else: an introductory improvisation in the living room of our lodge accommodation produced results that, to me, seemed immediately cohesive and rich, and such quality seemed to be maintained for four days without losing playfulness, even when there were struggles.
Perth's ensemble of improvisers have produced strong group improvisations before, but there was a shift here. Perhaps not having explored extensively with such activities outdoors, the additional compulsion to listen was creating a new kind of sensitivity in the group. But this doesn't explain why it worked indoors so immediately. Was it something Jim was doing? Or one of our other visitors? Or was it just that we had not tried it in a while, and were realising together that we were all better friends, and collectively knew more about how to make space for each other, and for new voices, in our playing?
A few months later, Jim is back in town amongst many other visitors for Audible Edge, our annual festival that happens betwixt others on the Eastern states in January. After the visitors have all finished their inner-city obligations, we have a day off before the festival's third night. Spontaneously, we decide to drive all the festival artists and a bunch of local improvisers into the hills in Gidgegannup, where we snack on peaches from a friend's orchard, swim in their dam and play as an orchestra in the forest. Bandin (New Holland Honeyeaters) produce a chorus, as do myriad other birds including an (introduced) Laughing Kookaburra, cackling as it scores a kill. Berlin's Christian Marien dons a wide-brim hat and stands atop a fallen log in the sun, finding its eroded interiors have produced a tuned drum. Be Gosper assembles a kind of creature out of rope and found objects around the dam that they drag through and past the ensemble, while Josh Pether turns himself into another sort of creature, compellingly entwining his body with branches and leaves at the centre of the group. Canadians Éric Normand and France Jobin both first meet and collaborate here of all places, with various small electronics sounding fascinatingly peculiar on unfamiliar country. Jim lifts Kardan (marri) gumnuts from the ground and within the hour has developed a sizeable vocabulary by blowing them like flutes and using them as resonators for vocal noises. When it gets too hot, ensemble members jump in the dam to refresh, producing spatial percussion that one won't find in most performance venues.
Audible Edge tours annually to Minang Country in the Great Southern, where famous host Regan Kelly prepares outrageous food and offers limitless conversational energy, plus beautiful trumpet improvising and storytelling. After workshops to enthusiastic kids and a host of great performances (wherein the gumnuts reappear prominently in Jim's set with Éric Normand) the festival formally ends with wild dancing to art-punk duo Allison Labs from Denmark (the one in WA), echoing similar moves made to the free-jazz-inflected avant-rock of Original Past Life a few nights before. The next morning, a farewell is shared through an improvisation under one of Western Australia's largest tingle trees on Bibbulmun country, which remains beautifully understated and full of considered woodwind dialogues, courtesy of Noemie Huttner-Koros & Laura Altman, even while Jim, Éric and Andy Butler close it off with an unexpected nu-metal chorus to the tempo offered by those raucous cicadas.
Amidst all of this I have a sense that something truly fascinating is growing here. As well as a playfulness which strengthens friendships and livens spirits, there is an increasing curiosity with what it means to make music in this place - Noongar boodja, a place to which our majority non-Indigenous scene has only a fragmented connection to, an isolated capital city, a place artists love to leave. This curiosity has changed the musical landscape here quickly, and perhaps connects us more closely to a lineage of musical thinking initiated by forerunning sound artists Ross Bolleter and Alan Lamb rather than imported influences.
Many questions: can we learn to find this place fascinating, to treat it with greater respect, sonically and otherwise? Might what we do be part of growing the toolkit that allows us to become capable to heal the wounds that our ongoing colonial disregard for the specificity of place - our insistence on domesticating the world rather than becoming sensitive to it - constantly make on this land? We are clumsy and make many mistakes, but things are revealed in the process, and I feel certain that the latent secrets this place holds can't be uncovered anywhere else - a tone hiding inside a kardan nut is just one of these.
In the wake of the festival an email is sent, proposing that we start a kind of orchestra together, to keep researching these kinds of things collectively. Within two days there are twenty-two replies - all 'yes'.
Sounding Together mentorship project (www.tonelist.com.au)
Audible Edge festival of exploratory music, January 2019 (www.tonelist.com.au)
© Australian Music Centre (2019) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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Josten Myburgh (b. 1994) is a composer and performer based in Perth, Western Australia. He is one part of the artistic direction and organisation of the Perth-based label Tone List, and curates the Audible Edge festival and the Sounding Together mentorship project. Notable performances include Festival Cable#8 (Nantes), the Totally Huge New Music Festival (Perth), High Tide/Fremantle Festival (Perth) and Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic (Melbourne).
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