: tim o'dwyer

Molecular Music Projects/Radio Bremen, 2004, MMP001

Saxophonist Tom O'Dwyer's latest solo release Multiple Repeat is a fascinating, seductive, confusing and at times unsatisfying suite of sound. A significant part of the music community in Sydney and Melbourne has become enamoured with the musical gesture. This includes not only artists working from within the semi-intuitive world of jazz and improvised sound, but also the milieu of highly composed atonal, serialist and microtonal composition, as well as those who straddle both realms like O'Dwyer. Much of this music is characterized by punctums and exclamations, small, jagged little pieces of sound and endless leaps around scales or tempo, a hopping and skipping across sonic relationships. This keeps the listener intrigued, searching for the hidden links and associations, but always off guard, waiting for more as each gesture is cut off or circumscribed without developing into the older classical or romantic models of resolution and conclusion. This is challenging and exciting. It is 'hard listening.' Such music can also be exhausting and uniform.

O'Dwyer has produced a CD which unequivocally pushes the envelope. The early pieces consist of multi-tracked recordings, initially of mostly percussive sounds, with lip clicks and half breathed hints thrown in, producing a truly remarkable splattering of sound and texture, little clunky noises scattering about time and space. It is impressively crafted and striking but also somewhat unsatisfying. The tossing of minutiae across the sonic field leaves little to hold onto or follow moving from one isolated sonic bit to another. After dazzling with his technique in this rarefied musical form, O'Dwyer moves into altogether different material on track 3 of 6. Here instead is an uneven, raspberry-ing of sustained tones and notes, fluttering motifs of considerable beauty which hover about chords before slipping off onto others. O'Dwyer has moved from an exploration of hollowness with the early, percussive materials to one of breathiness. You can feel the gentle yet surging pulse of air as it deflates out of the saxophone and kookaburra-like vocalisations are added to the mix. The playing off and layering of these now established motifs of breath and clunk, with a few dashes of tongue towards the end, define the musical progression across the CD.

The overall effect is one of virtuosic display, with O'Dwyer's absolute mastery of his instrument being more than apparent. Like the musical gesture itself however, the CD simply ends. It does not close or resolve in any apparent manner, there is no drama or finale. This could be interpreted as a classic late Modernist gesture–”This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper”–and it soon has one hitting play again, struggling to catch the fleeting conclusion that is hinted at. This is therefore a wonderfully paradoxical recording which I am still not actually sure if I really like. This is probably not a bad thing.

Jonathan Marshall

1 December 2005