Category: Music

Review: Nils Frahm

Making the familiar strange

By Caitlin McGrane

When we arrived at Hamer Hall the space was nearly empty and I took the opportunity to snap some photos of the stage where Nils Frahm would soon appear. His set-up is unlike any band or composer I have seen play live. There was a piano on the right, which I didn’t even realise was a piano until well into the show; a huge synthesiser; at least 3 other keyboards; and a mini organ that he introduced to the audience last year as his “pan flute army” because of the unintended sound it makes.

This is the second time I have seen Frahm play in Melbourne in Hamer Hall, and both times the music and Frahm’s performance reminds me of the reasons why his work means so much to me. Frahm’s ambient, electronic and percussive music has been my chosen soundtrack to long stretches of time spent in deep concentration – marking assignments, writing my PhD confirmation, and spending evenings lying totally still trying to stop my brain from fizzing. His music, fusing elements of electronic and classic composition are perfect for maintaining focus in the present. And yet there is also something about his arrangements that invoke a sense of reminiscing about the past and dreaming far into the future.

As the hall filled, the crowd seemed familiar, the ambiance was relaxed and possibly even aloof – classic North Fitzroy. Frahm came out on stage, he bowed quickly and warmly to the crowd, thanked them for coming by clasping his hands together. He sat down at the mini organ and began to play a gentle introductory melody; one that I might have heard many times before, from last year’s All Melody, but in such a way that gave me a feeling like it was new.

This feeling of what I can only describe as an internal ‘familiar dissonance’ with the music pervaded the entire performance. It was an extraordinary and exciting experience, and brought to mind the sociological concept “making the familiar strange”. To me it felt like this is what Frahm does with his work, only live on stage. In comparing last year’s show to this one, it seemed as though the tracks were the same, but somehow different, like they were in a different register, maybe a little ‘muted’ in places. I knew the melodies so well that my brain was anticipating them, but Frahm’s improvisational skills made each moment subtly different. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the show, during the encore, where I noticed how the muted quality had been underscoring the entire show. It felt like putting the final piece in place in a huge jigsaw.

During the show, Frahm, in his deep yet quiet German-accented voice, mentioned that this show was a continuation of the tour started last year and that he had played it many times, but that he still manages to make a mistake each time he performs. To me there seem to be very few, perhaps no, mistakes in his shows, but rather his admission was a peak behind the curtain of his creativity – something he seems to enjoy – and this may also explain why he often played with his back to the audience. Frahm, at times, asked for the help of Jonas, a sound engineer but, this to me also seemed part of the performance.

Watching him move about the stage, moving his whole body as he put the tracks together, it was clear that Frahm is a performer, and that every element was carefully and masterfully controlled by him. Sometimes during the bassiest of his tracks it felt a bit weird that the only person moving in the 2,488-seat room was the man on stage. But the lack of movement also made it much more affecting and pleasant to sit with my eyes closed and let the sound wash over me like a bath. Around two-thirds of the way through the show I felt like the boundary between me and the sound had ceased to exist. Seeing and hearing, on their own do not fully capture the experience of Frahm live. There is a proprioceptive quality to his shows where the whole body and senses are involved in the experience – like you can feel your body and the sound interacting. For me it is an incredibly enjoyable experience, and yet I can also imagine it being disquieting for those who like to keep things familiar. Frahm is a natural performer, and watching him move I could tell that he was moving not just to the sound he was producing in that moment, but also to the sounds he was planning several bars ahead. He was deeply present yet also somewhere deep in the future. And I am obsessed.

Nils Frahm’s performances demonstrate that he might be one of the most talented performers of his time. He has a deep commitment to the entire experience of sound and how it interacts, engages, and changes the body. If you can get to see him wherever he is playing, I strongly recommend that you do.

Nils Frahm will be performing in Sydney on 5 December at the Sydney Opera House. Tickets and more info: https://www.nilsfrahm.com/

Review: George Michael: Listen to Your Heart 

Enjoyable night of unforgettable music

By Samuel Barson

Careless Whisper. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Last Christmas. All synonymous with your Mum’s record collection, all synonymous with one man… George Michael.

Like many artists of his time, Michael’s music, fashion and unique approach and outlook on life has allowed for him to remain a stronghold in the hearts and minds of music lovers of all ages. The tributes are naturally endless and on October 17th, Melbourne held a very special tribute of their own.
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart was a 2 hour long tribute to not only the music behind the man, but also the man behind the music. Household names Rob Mills and Hugh Sheridan joined a cast of former Voice contestants and music theatre personalities to take audiences through Michael’s extensive discography, making some spoken word tributes to what the man meant to them as artists. The cast were joined by a tight and impressive full orchestra, all under the helm of maestro John Foreman OAM.
Whilst many of these tribute shows run the risk of being self indulgent on behalf of the cast (the people on stage making it more about themselves than the artist they are honouring), this show’s biggest strength was that it did the exact opposite. It was only ever about Michael, and the connections the cast made between themselves and Michael never felt too facetious or fabricated. There was a genuine and palpable love for Michael being shared by the cast and the audience.
Production values of lighting and choreography never took too much focus away from the main focus; the entire night was undoubtedly Michael himself.
The cast did a solid job, and it was enjoyable seeing such a diverse musical cast representing different parts of Michael’s musical talent and skill – I think you would be hard pressed to find one artist who could encapsulate Michael in his entirety these days. Special mention must be made to Sheridan for perfectly showcasing Michael’s smooth and sexy jazz side.
A great night for all ages, it was fantastic seeing such a diverse demographic in the audience, all attending to enjoy a night of unforgettable music in recognition of such an important musical icon.
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart played at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall for one night only.

Review: High Tea Live – Steaming Jazz with Stevenson’s Rockets 

Toe-tapping jazz that’s good for the soul

By Narelle Wood

There is perhaps no better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than sitting in The Pavilion at the Arts Centre, overlooking the city, eating scrumptious food and listening to “Steaming Jazz” with Stevenson’s Rockets.

The Stevenson’s Rockets are as smooth as they come, entertaining with numbers such as Scott Joplin’s Solace and the more laid back Riverside Blues, mixing it up with jazz styles from songs with upbeat Latin-American rhythms, to the Dixieland stylings of Ice cream. The quartet, consisting of Jo Stevenson (reeds), Steve Grant (piano), Chris Ludowyk (bass, trombone) and Ian Smith (drums, trumpet and vocals), effortlessly moved between styles, instruments, and solos, each song just as entertaining as the last.

This is perhaps to be expected given that Stevenson’s Rockets have been around for some time. But what added to this already stellar performance was that the Stevenson, Grant, Ludowyk and Smith also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, the music, and each other’s company, as well as the performance itself.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a rocketing-rendition of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, compete with Smith on the washboard. It was certainly a crowd pleaser that left me wondering where exactly one might find a washboard.

If the toe-tapping Jazz performances are not quite enough to tempt you into purchasing as ticket, then the addition of high tea should certainly seal the deal. There are bubbles on arrival, with non-alcoholic options also available, and continuous tea and coffee refills. There are both sweet and savoury options, of sandwiches, pastries and cakes. And of course, any high tea wouldn’t be complete without scones, jam and cream.

So if you’re looking to spend a couple of hours soothing the soul, decadently eating and listening to, not just good, but great music, I highly recommend high tea on a Sunday afternoon at The Arts Centre.

Venue: The Pavilion, The Arts Centre, Melbourne

Tickets: from $79

To book tickets for the November or December High Tea Live go to www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Review: Amazing Grace

Just Franklin and the power of her voice

By Narelle Wood

Some 47 years after filming, the documentary capturing Aretha Franklin’s seminal gospel recording of Amazing Grace has finally made it to screen.

In 1972, over two nights, Franklin, along with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir (directed by Alexander Hamilton), recorded live gospel songs such as Precious Memories, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and, of course, Amazing Grace. Keen on making it an authentic experience, Franklin insisted that the recording take place inside the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in front of a congregation; a congregation including Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and gospel singer Clara Ward.

In an attempt to capture what would become a landmark event – the album going on to be the biggest selling gospel album of all time – Warner Bros commissioned director Sydney Pollack to document the recording. Pollack, an experience director, was not however accustomed to making documentaries, and this is where the trouble with the film begins. The original delay in the film’s release were due to ‘technical difficulties’; Pollack hadn’t used clapboards to mark sections of the film, making the task of syncing the visuals and sound almost impossible. Eventually Alan Elliot would take on the project and work tirelessly to bring it together, even amidst threats of legal action from Franklin herself due to missing contracts and payment disputes.

What Elliot and editor Jeff Buchanan have created is an immersive experience, giving an all to brief glimpse into the immense talent of Aretha Franklin and her voice’s ability to literally move people. Pollack’s lack of experience as a documentary maker is evident; it feels like the cameras have been given to some random onlookers with the only mandate to ‘hit record and capture this’. The footage is sometimes blurry and often jerky as a camera man moves from one location to the next. Some of the close-ups are uncomfortably close, and some of the camera angles are really awkward. But Elliot and Buchanan capitalise on this lack of polish, reminding the audience that this was first and foremost a recording session, and a documentary last.

The film hits all the right notes, quite literally. The pacing is good and there are a few cutaways that provide momentary insights into the work behind the scenes to produce such an event. There are no experts or commentary on Franklin other than that which occurred during at the original taping. It focusses purely on the recording and Franklin’s performance, which does not disappoint. My favourite part was seeing just how excited the choir was to be a part of the two night event.

In a time where stylised and sleek recreations of the lives of musical legends’ have begun to grace our screen, Amazing Grace offers a refreshing contrast with its authentic 70’s hair and clothing, offering no narrative and no explanation. It’s just Franklin and the power of her voice.

Amazing Grace is now playing in cinemas such as the Classic, Lido and Palace. Check websites for listings and prices.

Review: Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy

An evening of absolute pleasure and beauty

By Bradley Storer

Video game fans braved the icy weather and rain for the first ever presentation of ‘Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy’ in Melbourne, and their dedication was well rewarded. From the first glorious strains of the harp, the 100 piece Distant Worlds Orchestra and Chorus cast a spell over the attentive and enthusiastic audience.

Conductor Archie Roth was electric and energetic in his handling of the orchestra, and in between he was charming and affable in his introductions to all of the numbers (often calling out for the fans of each specific iteration to cheer). An incredibly special treat on the night was the presence of the legendary Yoko Shimomura, composer for the Kingdom Hearts series and Final Fantasy XV (the latest in the series), and her compositions ‘Somnus’ and ‘Apocalypsis Noctis’ were two of the highlights of the evening.

The first half of the concert was a mixture of selections from across the series. The program began with the opening theme of Final Fantasy VIII, drawing gasps of pleasurable recognition before segueing into the operatic ‘Liberi Fatali’ which utilized the chorus to brilliant effect. Composer Nubuo Uematsu (the main composer of the Final Fantasy series) was well represented across the board, the brilliance and beauty of his dramatic melodies – as well as the quirkiness and distinctiveness of his more character driven themes – brought completely to life by the orchestra. Masayoshi Soken’s ‘Heavensward’ from Final Fantasy XIV was absolutely riveting with its celestial soprano solo blossoming into a full choral and orchestral climax, alongside Hitoshi Sakamoto’s brutal and bombastic ‘Flash of Steel’ from Final Fantasy XII.

The second part of the evening was dedicated mainly to the score of Final Fantasy VII, which can be justified in light of both the game’s importance musically to the series in addition to its importance to the global canon of video gaming. The video projections screened through every piece were at their most effective here, mixing together visuals from both the original FFVII, the subsequent spin-offs and even newly remastered footage from the upcoming remake (which drew delighted squeals across the audience). The iconic opening Bombing Mission, the emotional and heart-rending Aerith’s Theme, the commanding Cosmo Canyon and charming Cinco de Chocobo finally leading into the terrifying JENOVA COMPLETE and the series’ most recognizable and masterful musical moment, One Winged Angel.

An evening of absolute pleasure and beauty for fans of the beloved video game series!

Venue: Melbourne Arena, Olympic Blvd.

Date: Saturday 24th August

Time: 7:45pm

 

Review: Ghost Quartet

Electrifying staging of beautiful music NOT to be missed

By Owen James

I’ll begin with a disclaimer: I have been a huge fan of the cast recording for Ghost Quartet for many years, and was very excited to see this staging as the Australian Premiere. Dave Malloy’s score is delightful and odd, filled with moments of beauty and confusion alike. Antipodes Theatre, relatively new on the Melbournian theatre scene, have proven they are one to watch with this beautiful and haunting production.

Director and designer Brandon Pape has conjured (no pun intended) an atmosphere that is playful and eerie for Ghost Quartet to enchant its audiences with numerous entangling tales and characters. This song cycle about “love, death, and whisky” is sometimes relaxing, sometimes humorous, and sometimes genuinely chilling – but always enchanting. Storytelling is at the heart of Ghost Quartet, and Pape’s loungeroom-reminiscent setting – a place we often feel most comfortable – becomes the home of unnerving spectres as both original and familiar fables unravel. Malloy’s text must be mined for meaning, and Pape has translated layers of riddles into a moving and theatrically rich staging.

Musical Director David Butler has masterfully interpreted Dave Malloy’s malleable (or Malloyable?) score with grit and slickly rehearsed precision. You would be hard-pressed to find four voices that harmonise and blend as seamlessly as this cast who also play every note live: across piano, cello, drums, ukulele, synthesizers, organ, and other musical oddities. Not only have these four performers memorised the entire 90-minute score (a feat many pit musicians would struggle with), but perform an entire fifteen-minute section in pitch darkness. Audience members are also sometimes given the chance to contribute with percussive instrumentation – take the invitation if it’s offered.

Melissa David’s voice is a powerhouse of passion, delivering mesmerising numbers such as ‘Starchild’ and finalé ‘The Wind and Rain’ with both severity and sensitivity. Willow Sizer’s bewitchingly unique voice can seemingly transcend substance and style, becoming a terrifying instrument of its own amid the darkness. David Butler charms with improvised dialogue and delivers striking, dynamic and controlled vocals, and Patrick Schnur is cellist extraordinaire (turn a cello on its side and it can become a quasi-banjo, who knew?), often rounding out the quartet with invigorating baritone vocals.

Lighting design by Brandon Pape and Lachlan McLean is some of the most effective and evocative I have ever seen. Each song has a distinct and specific flavour, and the intimate Studio space of Gasworks transforms seamlessly into countless locations, both physical and conceptual. Sound Designer Jedd Schaeche is presented with a difficult challenge – an audience seated in the round with acoustic instruments playing in the same space live makes replicating the same balance for every seat near impossible. Unfortunately this means lyrics are often difficult to hear when the music is driving hard, a hinderance to an already oftentimes confusing and complicated book by Malloy.

To quote one audience member as they were leaving the theatre, “that last section has left me feeling sleepy, like I’m in a trance.” Ghost Quartet is a warmly hypnotic experience and a rare gem of a show, which this cast and creative team have brought to life with perfection.

Playing only until August 23rd at Gasworks Arts Park (finishing with a special ghostly 10pm show on the Friday). Tickets: https://antipodestheatre.com/ghostquartet

Photography by Lauren Boeren

Gothic: a journey through Gothicism in music

Oh, to go a little Goth

By Leeor Adar

It conjures up images of storming nights, the occult, hauntings, and everything else in between. If you walk a little along the dark side, you’ll have found yourself drawn into the stream of this poetic and imaginative underworld.

I for one found nothing more delightful than a late afternoon of music inspired by the Gothic; namely stories and imagery conveyed by words and sounds that evoke feelings that excite and terrify us. Gothic is brought to us by experimental music maven, Andrée Greenwell, whose arrangements and compositions of such varied works of the dark-kind delight and scintillate.

It began with the death of the young wife of Victorian Gothic poet, Edgar Allan Poe in Annabel Lee, a whimsical poem of death and the sea, and wonderfully brought to life through the visual design and animation of Michaela French. French’s beautiful and hypnotic animations, which were projected onto three arched windows, are a Gothic architectural throwback that served as a perfect visual world to fall into as the music played.

We quickly leaped into a modern transformation of the Gothic in an arrangement of The Cure’s A Forest, an atmospheric piece of the Gothic rock band that draws the listener into the dark.  We steadily moved deeper into the morbid world and the added vocals of the operatic Jessica O’Donoghue contributed to the sense of drama. The pieces chosen are starkly different, yet completely cohesive when assembled together by this talented group of musicians which included Andrea Keeble and Kyle Morrigan (on violins), Joshua Stilwell on viola, Noella Yan on cello and David Trumpmanis on electric guitar and on-stage audio.

The Birds, a short story of Daphne du Maurier’s and later known for its Hitchcock grandeur makes for a screeching segue into Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, a most beloved revival of Emily Brontë’s book of the same name. O’Donoghue performs the piece in a far more sombre manner and it is here that I was hoping for the pitch of Greenwell’s voice to soar instead.

Gothic took off suddenly from the ethereal into a far more disfigured terrain with Chosen, written by Maryanne Lynch and Andrée Greenwell, which bases itself on the entrapment of Kerstin Fritzl, whose walls were her world until she was 19. This progresses to the seedy world of a suicide at a motel with Death at the Beach Motel, focusing on the death of artist Brett Whiteley. The feel of this piece takes on a more Southern Gothic feel of urban decay.

Swiftly back into the land of goose bumps, all forms of Nosferatu and night creepers were projected in snippets of film as the troupe performed Thriller. And finally, after all the excitement I was glad to return to the ethereal with Edgar Allan Poe in The Bells, capping off with the strange beauty of the theme from Twin Peaks, a work by film composer Angelo Badalamenti and performed to perfection by the troupe.

Badalamenti’s Fallen was the perfect closure to the evening, giving me the sense that I’d woken from a dream. Gothic was exactly what I always wanted and never thought to envisage. Thanks to Greenwell and her team, I was able to say my cravings for Poe and Twin Peak binges had at last made sense: I am of the Gothic kind.

 

Gothic was performed  25 November 2018 at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photograph: supplied