borders down, camaraderie on

romy caen: 2012 now now festival

Nigel Brown, 12 Dog Cycle

Nigel Brown, 12 Dog Cycle

Nigel Brown, 12 Dog Cycle

LIKE MUCH OF THE EXPLORATORY MUSIC IT FACILITATES, THE NOW NOW FESTIVAL IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING. BASED IN SYDNEY’S INNER WEST FOR THE SECOND YEAR, AFTER TRAVERSING THE INNER CITY AND BLUE MOUNTAINS SINCE 2002, THE 2012 FESTIVAL TYPIFIED THIS MOMENTUM WITH ONE OF THE MOST DENSE AND DIVERSE PROGRAMS YET. FEATURING TWO PUBLICATIONS, TWO SOUND WALKS, OVER 100 ARTISTS, ONE GROUP EXHIBITION AND SEVEN NIGHTS OF MUSIC OVER FOUR VENUES THERE WAS AN ABUNDANCE OF SOUND-BASED ART AND MUSIC TO ABSORB. I’LL FOCUS ON THE JANUARY 19 AND 21 PERFORMANCES.

With a sizeable crowd already ensconced in velvet armchairs or on cushioned crates at the Red Rattler Theatre, Melbourne duo 12 Dog Cycle began the evening with a low volcanic hum emanating from Nigel Brown’s dissected accordion. Amplified with contact microphones, the subterranean drone was punctuated by the scratch of electric toothbrush bristles against the exposed bass reed blocks accompanied by the shrill shrieks, gurgles and sudden silences of vocalist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang. With the uncanny ability to make her voice sound like more than one, her piercing bursts of sound roamed the warehouse rafters like a swarm of insects.

The ominous tone took a turn towards farce when Wollongong’s Gooble Gobble launched beards-first into the third set of the evening, presaged by “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from one of the circuit bent toys littering the stage. Guitarists Gary Butler and Jariss Shead played everything, including the kitchen sink, with chaotic energy, partially reined in by the poise of laptop musician Nathan Penzer. While the resultant noise-fest would have benefited from distillation, the performance was endearingly enthusiastic, culminating in Butler fiercely grating styrofoam on his guitar strings and showering the stage in ‘snow.’

As well as being a showcase, the NOW Now Festival functions as a conference, bringing musicians together from around the world to network through events and curated groupings of performers. One such duo was the creative and ambitious pairing of turntablist Jordan Dorjee and stand-up comedian Nick Sun. Such a potentially awkward union requires excellent skills in improvisation, and though the set did feature some nice moments of spontaneity—“You want a joke? This whole situation is a joke”—there was, if slight, an overall lack of synergy. Nevertheless, it was bravely attempted and essentially one of the most experimental pieces of the festival.

On January 21, with the Red Rattler bathed in a dim blue glow, French musicians Christine Abdelnour and Ryan Kernoa began with a slow build-up of cicada-like trills that morphed into a low flapping pulse. Abdelnour’s guttural squeaks and skids from the saxophone complemented Kernoa’s icy guitar tones and waves of feedback, smoothly balancing the challenging and the pleasurable. Together they explored many terrains of sound, flowing in and out of melody and dissonance, calm and crescendo, weaving a misty sonic journey that held the audience entranced with its ethereal allure.

Next up was a trio featuring acclaimed Japanese no input mixer player Toshimaru Nakamura. With a sound at once immense and subdued, Nakamura came forth with a series of powerful, evenly spaced thumps, heralding the onset of Sam Pettigrew’s long notes on double-bass and Dale Gorfinkel’s randomised clicks and rattles. Gorfinkel’s adapted vibraphone and trumpet contraption are intriguing tactile playgrounds, as illustrated when a small boy approached mid-set to peer into the bell. Both Gorfinkel and Nakamura harness the haphazard tendencies of their instruments with masterly finesse. Pettigrew, pockets overflowing with implements, never gives the impression of overuse, instead employing each tool to timely advantage. The set peaked in a cataclysmic upsurge highlighted by Nakamura’s static spits, Pettigrew’s textured drones and the harmonic ring of mallet on vibe keys.

At the end of six sets it was somewhat taxing to drag drooping eyelids to the assembly of people awaiting the departure of Anthony Magen’s hour-long sound walk, but I’m glad I did. With a mind brimming with music it was a welcome relief to walk in silence through Marrickville. The only injunction being not to communicate, thoughts were free to roam, alighting on various heightened sensations without stress or force. Instead of a solemn procession there was a sense of playful youngsters cheekily provoking the curiousity of passersby, with some participants darting off to contemplate a vent or jump through a hole in some brickwork. The route itself was thoughtful and extensive with three stages most clearly defined by their soundtracks. After the isolated growls of passing cars inherent to the industrial precinct, the second part of the walk flowed into Sydenham Railway Station where our silent collective went virtually unnoticed amid beeps, automated voices and the occasional disengaged passenger. On the other side, wind and breath intertwined while clover heads thwacked against feet as we crossed Tillman Park and made our final stop-off under a large moonlit tree. When Magen stood up to declare the sound walk over we began to make our way back, our elated chatter contrasting with the rich magic of silent listening.

One of the aspects I love about experimental music events is the sense of communion with a crowd of people without the need for physical or verbal communication, a sensation epitomised by the sound walk and present in everything the NOW Now does. Inclusiveness and warmth is felt in all facets of the organisation; through the idiosyncratic MCs, quirky flyer design and camaraderie between all involved. As co-founder Clayton Thomas puts it, the mission is to “break down cliques” and that shared experience is what makes the NOW Now such a beloved and quintessential initiative in the Australian music scene.

The 2012 NOW Now Festival, curators Laura Altman, Sam Pettigrew, Rishin Singh, venues Stone Gallery, Hardware Gallery, the Red Rattler, Jarvie Park, Sydney, Jan 12–22

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 37

© Romy Caen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

10 April 2012