Eclectic ecstasies

Matthew Lorenzon, Haco, Ourobonic Plague, Barn Owl

Haco, THNMF2013 Opener

Haco, THNMF2013 Opener

Haco, THNMF2013 Opener

With walls of bright-red shipping containers, The Bakery looms out of the Perth car park like a post-apocalyptic fortress. Once inside, a crowd mills around under strings of lights covered by colourful strainers and baskets. Metal fans, indie rockers, classical music aficionados and computer musicians rub shoulders on astroturf-covered benches and twisted tree stumps. The eclectic audience reflects the variety of styles programmed in this year’s Totally Huge New Music Festival, which is presented in collaboration with the first International Computer Music Conference in the southern hemisphere. For opening night electronic artists from Australia, Japan and the United States converged to present three different takes on contemporary electronic music.

With a lo-fi bass kick, Perth-based solo artist Ourobonic Plague plunged the audience into a forbidding industrial landscape. The flat timbres of Ourobonic’s synthesisers and beats move the focus of electronic performance from signal processing to a “concertistic” manipulation of musical convention. Moments of sparse techno build to a fuller dubstep sound before paring back to grainy ambient atmospheres.

Whereas Ourobonic Plague draws on a stylistic encyclopedia to hold his charged musical scenes together, Japanese sound artist, singer and improviser Haco threads together electronic and sampled textures with her voice. Playing from the recent album Forever and Ever, Haco sings over vibraphone arpeggios, string sections, guitars and cross-rhythm brass. The regularity of the instrumentation is offset by Haco’s declamatory, meandering phrases that halt, start, skip and jump before returning again to familiar refrains. The organic textures of Forever and Ever were contrasted with “The Room of Hair Mobile” by Haco’s previous incarnation After Dinner. In this remarkable composition a sparse, at times a cappella vocal texture is superimposed over a procession of different samples from bird song, through flutes, static and a full-blown band arrangement to the sound of a squeaky gate.

Barn Owl, THNMF2013 Opener

Barn Owl, THNMF2013 Opener

Barn Owl, THNMF2013 Opener

Unlike Haco’s melodic neclaces, Barn Owl was an object lesson in textural economy. The San Francisco-based duo created an intensely evocative series of variations using a palette of undulating static, gritty bass drones, etherial synths and sampled skin-drum percussion. When it did appear, melody was used to ecstatic effect. After twenty minutes of grey sonic landscapes, a synth rose above its usual register with a leading-tone-to-tonic motion, pulling the audience with it. A slight dynamic swell at this point marked a moment of light in the otherwise grim desert-rock sound.

It is fitting for a festival dedicated to drawing together physically dispersed and stylistically diverse musical cultures that the opening night should be about different ways of making a set hang together. As Ourobonic Plague, Haco and Barn Owl seem to suggest, the possibilities are endless.

11 August 2013