Here at Cyclic Defrost we are huge fans of MESS, the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio, who are presenting a huge show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl this Saturday. Central to the lineup is the world premiere of Magnitudes, a newly commissioned piece for 40 synthesisers composed by Mat Watson which will be the inaugural performance of the MESS Synthesiser Orchestra. We managed to sneak a few minutes out of Mat’s hectic schedule to have a quick chat about composing for 40 synthesisers!
Cyclic Defrost: How did you go about putting together the composition?
Mat Watson: I spent some time looking at photos of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl construction from 1959. This led me to begin thinking about the people in Melbourne and wider Victoria at the time, and their feelings about visiting the Bowl for the first time. Looking at the shape of the Bowl inspires questions of how the sound of the crowds have changed over the course of its history. I was interested in exploring the push and pull of time and the movement of sound around the vast shell. How will the air move in response to a wall of electronic sound and how will the audience feel in response? Taking people on a journey was my prime motivation. Time, place, community. These things matter to me and Magnitudes pays respect to this.
Cyclic Defrost: How did you select which synths to use? Did you just walk around MESS and pull out the most esoteric and obscure machines?
Mat Watson: I pondered this after being offered the project. Once I had the concept of Magnitudes, it was a simple process of selecting the instruments that I wanted to hear come alive in such a big space. There is a balance of keyboard and modular synthesisers which allows for varied approaches to controlling and moving sound around. I chose my favourite machines (which feature heavily), but I also saw this project as an opportunity to do something different to what I have done in the past, so I stepped back and arranged for sections and different classes of sound. It was a really fun process grouping sounds together and composing the work with that in mind.
Cyclic Defrost: What excited you about the prospect for composing for 40 synths?
Mat Watson: Besides the luxury of a vast pallet of sound to play with, it was the idea of deliberately pairing artists with instruments they weren’t necessarily familiar with. I wanted to capture those ‘happy accident’ moments that people think of when talking about why analogue synthesisers are inspiring to make music with. Exploring the balance between the individual skill and knowledge of each artist, and those early moments of discovering a new instrument for the first time where you find those ‘happy accidents’ is an exciting idea to explore in a large group, and then to witness on a big stage.
Cyclic Defrost: Have you left much room for improvisation or is it pretty locked down?
Mat Watson: It is pretty locked down regarding the arrangement but the artists are given space to find their space and sound within the group.
Cyclic Defrost: Are you using MIDI? Or chaining CV? I’m fascinated to see how this comes together
Mat Watson: No. This work is focussed on individual artists coming together, to play on unfamiliar machines, to create something special. Midi and CV are about relationships between machines, this project is about relationships between humans who are controlling the machines.
Cyclic Defrost: What do you hope the audience might take away from this spectacle?
Mat Watson: That electronic music comes in many forms.
Cyclic Defrost: What does it mean to be able to stage something like the MESS Synthesiser Orchestra on a stage like the Sidney Myer Music Bowl?
Mat Watson: I can only speak from the perspective of composing a work for the MESS Synthesiser Orchestra. I will say that this is the biggest challenge of my creative life, and I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
Cyclic Defrost: What is your favourite synth in the MESS collection?
Mat Watson: Synthi Aks.
Cyclic Defrost: What is the value of having the synths that are housed at MESS be out and onstage in front of an audience?
Mat Watson: Dissolving the notion that these instruments are toys or sound effect machines, and that these instruments require a degree to use or understand. I hope that we are able to reveal just how beautiful these instruments can sound when played live on a big stage in front of a big audience, on their own and within a large group. You don’t need to understand the machine to enjoy the sounds. This is about a group of people making music together for the broader community.
Joining the MESS Synthesiser Orchestra on stage at the Bowl will be Simona Castricum, R. Rebeiro (My Disco/Downwards), Naretha Williams (Blak Mass), OK EG and the legendary sound of Artificial (Nicole Skeltys/B(if)tek), with live visuals by Carla Zimbler.
Grab yourself some tickets for the show this Saturday 27th March show here. See you there!