This afternoon Amber sent me an email. It said: “just fyi, myriad reflector is what the first mirror balls were called. #generalknowledgeclub2016”
I thought this was one of the best facts I’d heard in ages. Another one of the best things I’ve heard in ages was the performance of Aarti Jadu & Matt Coldrick, not so coincidentally at an event called Myriad Reflector, held in one of the vacant rooms behind local store Highgate Continental.
This is going back to last Wednesday. I lace up my bootstraps and trot down Beaufort Street, into the glowing prism with the books and the plants and the records and the floorboards everywhere. And Mei (Saraswati) who organised this gathering, with Aarti, appears in an excellent coogi-style cardigan. Apparently she’s just jumped off a plane and launched straight into lighting candles, laying out cushions and chairs and candles and facilitating this unique event: a concert-cum-film-screening in an uncommonly cosy space.
The film was going to happen first, but family members are here and rearing for the long-awaited tunes (Aarti is based in Melbourne, so this is a rare opportunity). I duck over the road to cop a cuppa, chat to some buddies on the footpath and get back inside to hear Aarti and Matt floating into the airwaves, on voice and acoustic guitar respectively.
Their collaboration revolves around the adaptation of traditional Indian bhajans (devotional songs, which Aarti’s been singing her whole life) into new arrangements (the harmonic contours of which are traced out tonight by Matt’s chords and vocal additions).
The result is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Matt’s fingerpicking, gentle strumming and haunting modulations recall British and Celtic, folk and occasionally blues, while Aarti’s vocals are truer to the traditions of the subcontinent. She brings a distinct tonality, presumably informed by just intonation; chromatic explorations not common in western styles; and pseudo-glissando and improvisation which give the whole thing a fluid, mercurial quality. Moreover, she delivers it all with an unfaltering, crystalline voice, tangible focus and feeling. The result of these two approaches coming together could have been incoherent, but the pair have carefully sought the intersection of the venn diagram, or found ways to create one. Thus guitar chords weave into unexpected territory, creating a jazzy sensibility and moments of dissonance; meanwhile bhajan vocals recur in form and metre more associated with pop songs, or are joined by Matt’s major/minor vocal harmonies. The conjunction is most successful when neither style is overtly discernible, and instead a new, singular hybrid sound floods the sonic field. At moments like this, with the flickering of tea lights, the smell of lemongrass and friendly faces gathered round, the room is all magic.
Intermission: we sip beers and tea, snack on roti canai, thumb through records. Back in the back room, a screening of the 2015 film ‘The Java Spirit’ directed by Agus Purwanto and produced by Thomas Reuter, which explores religious diversity in Indonesia. It’s a fascinating, if roughly hewn, documentary - consisting mostly of candid interviews with Javanese locals that are alternately insightful, daunting and light-hearted. Daunting because of radical end-times predictions, or because of unfathomable recollections, as with one man who was trapped in a cave for ten days during a quest for God. Light-hearted because of the subjects’ good humour, especially in regard to lofty questions or taxing situations (“even rice tastes good when we’re hungry!”). And insightful all round, allowing for a meditation on heterogeneity, and airing voices that might typically be deemed too out of left field in Australian discourse.
I continue down the road, procure an underwhelming felafel plate in Northbridge and end up at The Bird. Here, I watch a band called MYSTIC FORTUNES for the first time. Under moody purple lights, it’s Steven Bovenizer on laptop and guitar, Warsame Hassan on electronic drum pad (these two fellers also comprise the band Mudlark) and Solomon Amoabin on the mic. The set is thrilling for its originality, its sense of creative fun: the same spirit of experimentation, the dabbling in dissonance and rhythmic weirdness that suffuses Mudlark is at play here. Sol brings a humanising voice to the uncanny musical landscape though, offering patient rap verses describing nocturnal exploits and romantic dilemmas, all with a poetical spin and crisp delivery.
When people talk about “experimental” music it’s often as a euphemism for that which is relatively formless, nihilistic and challenging to the ear. At this point in the cultural conversation it doesn’t seem like the term is going to escape those connotations, but it’s a shame, because Aarti Jadu, Matt Coldrick and Mystic Fortunes have captivated ears on Wednesday night and exemplified the surprising, diverse, heartfelt and approachable results that can emerge from earnest experimentation with harmony, rhythm, form and genre. As dizzying and joyous as a mirror ball in your brain.
(You can see and hear some Aarti and Matt here, and some Mystic Fortunes