With an electrical sigh, all the lights and machines in the suburb go out. The traffic lights are down, so fat green buses and pokey hatchbacks wiggle through the intersection sheepishly. All the cafés close, the servo’s ice creams melt. I meet J and we walk around my primary school, eventually getting lost in the neighbouring hospital, finding ourselves in dim corridors between alien vending machines and a desolate hydrotherapy pool. Luckily, by the time the sun’s gone down I’m on my way out of this weird western suburb fever dream and sitting on an empty fat green bus, alighting at the museum, rounding the corner to the Hellenic Club.
An eclectic crowd of familiar faces and less familiar ones and H-Club regulars are scattered though the generous space, its walls lined with Greek tourism posters. Starving, I buy a plate of olives and chips and things, a mandatory Mythos, and sit down near the patch of carpet where music is going to happen.
The first thing to happen is ORIGINAL PAST LIFE, a trio comprising Michael Caratti (drums/noises) Warwick Hall (guitar/noises) and Adam Trainer (bass/keys/noises). As you might guess from all the noises, they describe themselves as a noise band, but their brand of inharmonic cacophony owes plenty to the worlds of pop, jazz and ambient music too. Indeed, OPL might be a totally different band from one gig to the next, occasionally performing neatly arranged compositions and at other times careening into a full-blown free improve wig-out. Tonight’s set is more like the latter. Drums sizzle and boom unpredictably, synth whirrs and ebbs, strings clang and screech. Unlike countless improv band sets, this one doesn’t start quiet, get loud and end quiet – it is pretty much loud the whole way through, with occasional dynamic dips. This results in a refreshing and memorable kind of noise jam that never slips into being “structured” but, in its spontaneous way, is certainly put together thoughtfully. Really fun to watch three musical stalwarts in reckless abandon mode and clearly loving it. Definitely seek out Original Past Life.
The set finishes sooner than expected, which is fine: better to be left hungry than bloated. Up next is ROSALIND HALL, whose sets I witnessed a couple of times while living over in Hall’s home base of Melbourne. She plays the saxophone, but not as you know it. The composer and sound artist eschews what you’d normally call melody and rhythm, instead adopting a minimal technique that foregrounds the sounds a sax player would typically attempt to hide. Like a painter drawing your eye to the brush strokes, Hall amplifies her throat and the inside of the sax horn, bringing breath, tongue and mechanical sounds into stark relief. The confined microphone teeters on the edge of feeding back, so that with the smallest emphasis, resonant harmonic frequencies shoot through the air. In the dim room, all our ears are pressed up against the chaotic shapes of metallic, undulating soundwaves. Hall’s music invokes a kind of mindfulness – of body, space, and sound itself – in a way that’s unique and aesthetically compelling, distinct from the term’s perhaps nebulous, new agey connotations.
On another tangent again is GRANPA ABELA, aka Lucas Abela, mainstay of the Australian experimental scene (though I’d never heard of him before this event got announced – Club Zho is good for turning up these wild gems). Turns out he’s done just about everything, from inventing freaky high-powered turntables, to making an album out of a Kombi van, to “remixing” Otomo Yoshihide (destroying his CD with amplified skewers) and working with the Flaming Lips. Tonight he delivers his trademark solo set which involves a giant shard of broken glass that acts (apparently) as a giant stylus. Abela places it in his mouth and blows, hisses, sucks, screams – the vibrating glass is fed through a smorgasbord of effects pedals, so it ends up sounding like the weirdest, filthiest synthesizer you’ve ever heard with all parameters set to “stun.” Abela improvises at peak intensity for a surprisingly long time, and keeps it surprisingly engaging, beyond the initial shock factor of watching a guy freak out with a giant shard of glass in his mouth. At last, though, the set has to end when blood is pouring from his lips, smearing the glass pink. Abela blows the last bellow of air from his lungs and, naturally, smashes the glass over his head.
In the unassuming surrounds of the Hellenic club, tonight’s selection of experimentalists has been captivating – with each performer careful to avoid cliché and offer something genuinely strange, artful and intriguing. Club Zho delivers the goods yet again. I raise my glass to them. Not that glass, Granpa!