Wait. Stop the press. There’ a new music show on TV and it isn’ hosted by an Australian Idol reject. And it doesn’ feature videos of talentless hacks over a drum machine beat exclaiming “yeah yeah’ as a bunch of scantily clad nubile young women are paid to fawn all over them. Bizarrely enough it seems to be coming from the increasingly rare perspective that people are making music for more than just a business investment or desire to be famous. It was produced by the people behind At The Movies and the critically lauded Subsonics series that appeared on SBS a couple of years back, one of the first programs in the world that profiled the strange diverse and progressive exponents of experimental music. Interestingly a large proportion of those surveyed were Australian, suggesting a vibrant and unique experimental music scene.
“This music is the most Australian music there is,” offers producer Brendan Walls. The last time this writer saw Brendan Walls he was stalking around the Spanish Club with his noise music trio, hurling cymbals along a wire across the stage like a flying fox and creating a cacophony of violent hilarious and terrifying chaos. So as an exponent of sonic extremity, he’ uniquely qualified to bring some of the sounds from the underground to light.
“Unlike a lot of pop music that takes it’s cues from the U.S. or Classical music that’s inherited a European tradition, I believe that the artists we’ve profiled are creating truly Australian music,” he continues. “They’re fed by and are responding directly to the environment in which they work. When I hear Rod Cooper, for instance, I know that this could never come from any other place in the world. As the National Broadcaster the ABC is the perfect place to showcase this uniquely Australian music.”
Rod Cooper, who appears later in the series, is a Melbourne based sculptor/musician who makes his own instruments, often creating ensembles of musicians all using his remarkable creations – and will definitely make fascinating viewing. Last night improvising trio the Necks, perhaps best known for their soundtrack to The Boys performed a thirty odd minute improvised live set. Next week features local avant garde folkster Francis Plagne and band for one of the more overtly melodic episodes in the series and is followed by new music composer Anthony Pateras in three of his different guises. His duo with laptop maestro Robin Fox in particular makes for very strange television. Sitting facing each other on a table it looks like science fiction or a strange torture and interrogation scene from the Eastern block and should not be missed. Running in blocks of three the series continues over the coming months with the likes of Melbourne’ legendary The Hi God People, Amanda Stewart, Oren Ambarchi, Lucas Abela, and Sydney’ mammoth Splinter Orchestra.
“I chose acts which I thought would lend themselves to a visual medium in one way or another,â€ reflects Walls. I learnt from Subsonics that laptops and mixing desks although wonderful things to look at for fetishists, make for dull TV.”
Yet despite this Sydney’ incredible Stasis Duo are performing. A duo who barely move, staring at their laptops, playing the most minimal, often barely discernable high pitched sounds.
“Unsurprisingly the Stasis Duo episode is the most extreme in the series. The performers are utterly still, the music barely audible. It’s very challenging, but I also think totally absorbing if you allow yourself to be drawn into it. In a Televisual landscape in which spruikers and advertising agencies clamber over each other for our attention, shrieking and bellowing from the screen, I view that episode in particular as an oasis of stillness and beauty. I’m very proud of that one. I wasn’ being perverse when I booked them, I really believed that they would made for a great episode and they have.”
And that’s probably the key to Set. New and experimental music isn’ necessarily about bluster abrasiveness or chaos, it’s about an approach, about exploring and developing ideas and concepts far removed from the mainstream. This can be about pop, melody and music concrete like Francis Plagne or vibrating your lips onto a giant slab of glass like Lucas Abela and crafting a sound that suggests the world might end soon. But mostly it’s about suggesting that music can be more than what you see in video clips and Australian idol TV. After all why fill someone else’ shoes when you can make your own?
“I feel more strongly than ever, that it’s essential for programs to be made that stimulate and challenge audiences, rather than simply pandering to established tastes and interests,” adds Walls.
-Bob Baker Fish
set continues on Thursday 10pm on the ABC. May 9 sees Francis Plagne and May 16 sees Anthony Pateras