Well if ever there was a band that was in danger of outnumbering the audience it’s these guys. I last saw them play at the Now Now Festival a couple of years back, where they sat in a circle surrounding a mic, and the music slowly evolved outwards. With an orchestra this size you’d expect bombast and violence, after all how could you possibly attempt to keep upwards of 27 musicians (I think at the time I saw them it was upwards of 40), improvisers no less, in check. Yet that’s the thing about this Sydney based ensemble, the egos are put aside in favour of a greater good.
This is their first recording and it demonstrates an increasingly conceptual approach to their compositions, possibly a survival mechanism to prevent everything from descending into chaos, yet intriguingly enough that never seems to have been one of the dangers, even early on. Perhaps this is because the group includes some of the best instrumentalists that Sydney has to offer, people like Chris Abrahams, Clayton Thomas, Claire Cooper, Jim Denley, and Shannon O’Neil.
Here the group offer some rule based performances, split up into sections, and whilst still playing in a free manner they are somewhat restricted in what they can do. What’s always been exciting about the Splinter Orchestra is the broad range of their sounds, everything from laptop musicians to accordion players, woodwind, sax, vibraphone and anything else you can think of, extended technique, the kitchen sink, even, gasp, the electric guitar. This means that even in those moments of restrained scratchy tranquillity, you know that hiding behind it is a mountain of controlled mayhem. Yet they never unleash. It seems to be about multilayering, about creating new textures, multifaceted drones, made up of groups of instruments, of peaks of density and subtle troughs, about unlikely associations and being able to draw upon the kitchen sink if need be. It’s a remarkable example of control, and whilst you could imagine it would be a nightmare to record, it feels like you can hear, even feel, every squeak and scrape.
Bob Baker Fish