This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A journey through experimental Melbourne - The Shape of Sound, volume 2

There are lots of exciting things about new and experimental music, and not least is the way it always takes you into something uncharted. But it can be easy to forget that even uncharted territory has a history and a story to tell. And sometimes when we listen to new music we can become so absorbed in the moment, so engrossed in the strangely shaped tree in front of us, that we stop noticing the whole curious, amazingly connected forest around us.

But it’s impossible to do that when you listen to a new compilation of experimental Melbourne music just out on Iceage Productions, and being launched in Melbourne, at the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood this Friday, 9th December, from 9 PM.

The album is the second instalment of The Shape of Sound, and it takes you on an incredible journey through some of Melbourne most innovative creative new music artists.

But it’s not just that each piece on this album is fascinating in its own right. The Shape of Sound Volume 2 assembles its parts in a way that really does seem to tell you a story, the story of the beginning and end of things from the perspective of sound.

Arthur Cantrill opens the album with ‘Island Fuse’, a piece where the sounds of nature are blended with and mirrored in distorted noise, so the two worlds – the organic and the electronic – sit side by side, as if this is how they had always been. It’s a fitting start to the album’s journey, like a kind of rewritten version of Genesis.

Barney Oliver’s ‘Plutonium Theft’ keeps that journey moving, with its sense of vast, horizonless stretches of electronic space, built out of single notes that pulsate and echo into a boundless distance. It’s a short piece and yet somehow creates a feeling that it is bigger, and longer, than it is.

With ‘Toil’ by Penguins, things get heavier, where deep, pounding guitar driven blocks of metallic sound rumble beneath the earth that the previous track had only so fragilely created. This is no longer an empty barren world, but rather one teeming with dark, threatening creatures that creep and crawl, unseen, below the surface.

But then we move onto Galactagogue’s ‘Have Lawn Chair Will Travel’, and our journey is now airborne. A two-way radio dialogue is imposed on a noise loop that lifts you up and thrusts you forward. It’s breathtaking stuff.

There is then an almost krautrock sense of momentum to Mad Nanna’s ‘Just Before The Sun Hits Down’, with guitars that twist and drone their way over the motorik drumbeat. There are shadows here, with dark harmonies and notes that wince and whine as they are forced onwards, and yet you feel you are in safe hands.

The heaviness continues to hang in the air throughout Bonnie Mercer’s ‘Blau’, but here the pace is slowed down a bit, giving you time to look around you at the shards of electric colour with which the guitars and distorted noise are setting space ablaze.

Then comes Screwtape’s ‘The Fall Of Persepolis’. Persepolis is an ancient Persian city, destroyed by Alexander the Great a few hundred years BC and here, in this music of dense noise, you can feel its stones and sands crumbling to dust but somehow staying mighty, even in its destruction.

Dark Passenger’s ‘Ancient Extraterrestrial Pipe Organ Unearthed’ keeps us in that foreign, alien world, with its long drones submerged in a sea of soft, almost soothing, noise. After the destruction that has gone before us, this restores a sense of peace, a sense of hope that there is always something emerging from the ashes.

The pace is revved up again for ‘Nine’, the music of Admin Bldg. But we’re still in the Far East, with tribal winds and beats dancing in a frenzy with one another, like the music John Zorn might have played for Scheherazade.

But ancient history of another sort then takes centre stage with an extract from Undecisive God’s ‘At Uluru’. Here, atop long, primeval, drones, indigenous to the Earth itself, a guitar picks notes out of eternity, leaving you still, meditating on the enormity that is before you. If I was told I had to have one quibble with this amazing album, it would be that I could not get to hear more of this incredible piece.

There continues to be a feeling of connection with ancient things in Oranj Punjabi’s ‘They Thought That They Had A Purpose There’, where things start out with a kind of distorted pentatonic tonality, giving you the feel that you are in a some oriental dream, but it is soon invaded by Western banality, still distorted, as if to remind you that you are still in the same dream, but now brash and brazen. We have come a long way since the beginning of the album, where it is no longer nature and electronics sitting together, but cultures clashing and jarring.

It is a clash that then seems to bleed into the dark ambience of Monolith’s ‘Control Room’, sounding almost apocalyptic after all the bizarre, unsettled energy we have just had.

Things could have ended there, but they don’t. There is still Ernie Althoff’s ‘Jila 9’, and the percussive busyness of handmade sound machines, leaving us with a different, drier world than the one we started with, but one that still moves, one that is still vibrant – and one that we feel, thanks to the kinetic vitality of Ernie Althoff’s music, always will be. It’s a good note, an optimistic note, to finish on.

The Shape of Sound Volume 2 is a very, very impressive journey through some of the really interesting things being accomplished in Melbourne’s experimental music scene right now. You have a chance to see some of these artists – Arthur Cantrill, Ernie Althoff, Undecisive God, Oranj Punjabi, Barnaby Oliver, Dark Passenger, and Penguins – at Collingwood’s Grace Darling Hotel in just a few days at the album’s launch. The album itself is also available, in a very limited edition, from Shamefile Music.


  1. "it always takes you into something uncharted."

    I call toooootal bullshit on this. So much experimental music takes you to the exact same fucking place. Fuck. Quality control.

    That said, even despite the slightly sloppy writing here, I'm interested in checking out a few of these tracks.

  2. Interesting - that just hasn't been my experience of experimental music at all. But thanks for your feedback. Sorry you found the writing sloppy.

  3. The point of experiments is that they don't always 'work' as intended or proclaimed. If they did, they wouldn't be experiments, would they?

    This year's experiment can sometimes be next year's mainstream.

    Nicely written, Ian.

  4. Thank you Patrick. I guess in a sense everything s experimental. I mean, even if you copy something else exactly, even that is experimental. But that's playing with words I guess. Ultimately it's a mater of degree and. as you say, whether it works or not. But I always like seeing what the new place looks like, even if ultimately I decide I don't want to stay there.