From last year’s Grain Loops album, to premiering new work at this year’s Open Frame festival, Austin Buckett is an intriguing figure whose work with repetition / durational frameworks in a variety of settings carves out a unique niche in the terrestrial experimental sound scene. The recent storms made catching up by phone with the Sydney based composer a sonic impossibility so we transferred our conversation about his practice and upcoming activities to email.
Sam: The Open Frame festival celebrates the first 15yrs of Room40 – what does Room40 represent to you as an artist on the roster and (perhaps more difficult to answer) what do you think Room40 represents to Australian experimental music in the frame of what’s happening elsewhere in the world?
Austin: Room 40 has been a favourite label of mine since I was in late high school. From getting into the Necks, then subsequently launching into an obsession over Chris Abrahams’ solo work on Streaming and Glow, I was directed to his record ‘Thrown’ on Room40 then started getting into to the rest of the catalogue. I remember when I was studying jazz with my friend Evan Dorrian (drummer of pollen trio) we would nerd out on several of the Room40 releases which really helped to inform the way we were thinking about music at uni – It was very much part of the process of showing us that things could be done differently. In any institution it’s often hard to make sense of the skills you are learning or how to apply them in a way that can manifest your individual artistic interests – hearing the diversity of those records was a huge influence.
Room40 represents to me a label that facilitates new recorded work from Lawrence’s perspectives as a curator and more importantly as a listener. What I love about it is that it is a label that isn’t necessarily aesthetically restricted yet still somehow has a clear aesthetic. It might be the pseudo-tropical madness and beauty of something like Mike Cooper and Chris Abrahams’ album ‘Oceanic Feeling’ or the elegant sound collage that is Marina’s ‘P.A./Hard Love’ – they all seem to have this lack of aesthetic safety too them- Yet when you listen to two room 40 records back to back you really understand how they fit together.
15 years of a label like Room40 is quite a feat and something to be celebrated- I am really pumped for this show, both the artists and the fact that it is commemorating the birthday of a really amazing thing. I remember playing a show at Brisbane IMA to launch ‘Grain Loops’ last year and was talking to these uni students who came to the show and they said that if Lawrence wasn’t around, Brisbane would be a much less interesting place. Even though there is clearly lot’s happening there, I could feel that for people of certain interests Room 40 is a pivotal organisation to allow them to get closer to engaging experimental music – this seems to apply to friends in not only Brisbane but internationally who are interested in new music.
Sam: What do you think Room 40 represents to Australian experimental music in the frame of what’s happening elsewhere in the world?
Austin: The question about what it represents to Australian experimental music is tricky as it’s output is multi-national and so are its audiences. I think what Room40 represents to experimental music as a whole is a platform from an antipodean perspective, being Lawrence (English) and what interests him as an artist.
Sam: Is there an overarching aesthetic to the Open Frame festival?
Austin: This Open Frame at Carriageworks seems to be a particularly special occasion for many reasons. A celebration of the 15th year of the label, a collection of national and world premiere’s, and a really exciting line up that I am so excited to be a part of. In terms of an overarching aesthetic I would just say that through showcasing a collection of international artists it is an event that highlights the spectrum of Room40’s diversity. All artists could be described as coming from a certain experimental aesthetic but all coming from quite unique perspectives.
Sam: What are you up to in the festival? I see you’ve got a premiere with Robbie Avenaim; is this a notated thing? What’s the go?
Austin: No, the new work I am making with Robbie Isn’t notated as such. I am really excited about it!. We will be approaching focused live percussion source material using an approach to ‘extreme’ repetition that I guess is aligned with how I explored post production on the Grain Loops LP. I will put a composition of sorts together and we will be exploring how this applies to Robbie’s amazing mechanical mallet set up (SARPS) – striking a large set up of bass and snare drums to create some evolving looped textures of live percussion while exploring the dichotomy between unison and juxtaposed gestures. Although, to some extent it will be a pre-meditated composition- Robbie and I will be changing particular components at different times throughout in real time to explore that flux between how looped sound can feel both static and actively moving when repeated.
Sam: The work does sound exciting Austin and you’ve raised the issue of ‘extreme’ repetition.. I’ve been listening to your Grain Loops LP and enjoying the environments you place the listener into. I found myself trying to ‘de-construct’ many of the loops; each iteration triggering different thoughts about what it was, exactly, that I was listening to.
Austin: Thanks for listening!. That’s really interesting that you heard it like that. For me it certainly was about exploring repetition in order to expose certain elements. It is similar to when I was studying with Peter Ablinger in Berlin who has a section of his practice devoted to white noise works – He likened the effect of listening to white noise to staring at a white wall – a situation where there is too much or too little information for our minds to process, so we begin to search for, or even invent patterns. Through repetition of certain frozen moments from improvisations I wanted this to occur. That element of perceptive trickery where you might begin to question where the pulse is or even what the kind of instruments you are listening to are.
On a more visceral level however, I am simply just really into hearing something that sounds good repeated constantly in a pulse or groove. Like white noise, lots of people find it irritating but if you lock into this kind of ritualistic element and allow the momentum to take you wherever it can be rewarding. This could be anywhere from a Terry Riley organ piece, to an RP Boo set.
Sam: Someone once told me that musical repetition is comfortable to humans as we get to escape the arrow of time (if only for a while). What function do you feel repetition serves in your work?
Austin: It can be comfortable. I think it is when some level of familiarity is established – that moment of being able to acknowledge that you just heard the same thing happen again – I guess what is interesting to me is what happens after that and thinking about how necessary variation or narrative development is? How a situation can be set up where there is enough engaging activity (or lack of) that it doesn’t matter.
I love the way repetition can play on our memory and our sense of time. For instance listening to a late Morton Feldman work like ‘Trio’ or Piano and String Quartet (which are both over an hour) it can feel like 20 minutes. Something that interests me is the question of if, and how repetition actually exists. I am sure it does for goldfish but our memories seem to be better than that (most of the time). Without being too cliche’ it is like that line that goes something like ‘You can never step in the same river twice’. Other influences on this include footwork artists like DJ Rashad and RP Boo, Werner Dafeldecker’s record called ‘Long Dead Machines’, and my studio partner Coen Young who makes these large silver nitrate based paintings that are all products of the same materials, process, and framework, though all completely unique once you stare at them for a while.
I have always naturally been really into looped phrasing throughout growing up playing drums and then it kind of moved to my piano playing and approaches to composition. Over the last few years I have been exploring post production with recordings of projects like pollen trio (Roll Slow, 2011 and Wreck, 2014) and Golden Blonde (Gwen, 2013) . I eventually wanted to take that standard practice of looping in music production and extend on it by focusing on just the looping part which is usually in the context of many other varying parts (ie. drum loop within a through-composed / multi-layered electronic track).
It also manifests in the composition side of my work- for instance, last year I made a work for the Australian Art Orchestra which was basically a series of looped materials taken from 12” records that I cut up and transcribed for the orchestra then eventually culminated into real time loops played live on the turntable by Martin Ng.
Sam: What’s next for you, conceptually speaking?
Austin: I want to continue the Grain Loops idea as an annual series with different source materials which will be fun, and then just continuing working on these concepts more. In some ways it is difficult for me to even refer to them conceptually because for some reason it has always remained as quite an inherent way for me to approach music making. I am basically just continuing to explore these ideas further in different contexts.
I also recently finished a commission which was entitled Preludes and Fugues manifesting in an audio-visual installation and a book which published 24 photographs and recordings of low A (A0) on 24 different pianos. For me this was more about the repetition of an action as opposed to the repetition of material that was explored in Grain Loops – however my work is seeming to increasingly possess a kind of archival nature that collates and frames sounds within different fixed durations and frameworks.
Other than Open Frame at Carriageworks I have some new recorded works, an installation in Underbelly Arts Festival on Cockatoo Island this year, a group show at BUS Projects and another work with AAO involving Melbourne Town Hall’s grand organ (currently there right now for a development period – it’s such an incredible instrument!)
Room40 is celebrating it’s 15 year anniversary via a series of performances from the likes of Jim O’Rourke, William Baskini, Chris Abrahams / Louise Curham and of Lawrence English amongst others. More details can be found here.