Fragmented Frequencies Dec 11

The problem with MP3’s is that they are so amorphous and disposable. Traditionally when we’ve purchased or stolen music we’ve had something to put on the shelf and ogle while we listen to the sounds, an object to give value to the music. With the rise of digital music this object has been done away with, and thus the value of the music is similarly reduced or erased.

Which is probably why most people feel little to no guilt about downloading an artist’s entire discography off a torrent site for free. Yet deep down there’s some degree of conflict as most people believe that good music, the staple your face to your driveway and ask your neighbour to back his car over it a few times good music shouldn’t be free. The problem is that people just wont pay for computer files…yet.

Music used to be special, even mysterious, and the packaging said as much about the artist as the sounds. Which might explain the increasing popularity of vinyl. Then there’s a newly resurrected cassette culture, offering a long extinct crappy format that no one can play. But that’s not the point. It’s there to bolster the music. A useless object with a download link is much more palatable than just a download link.

But what if the object wasn’t so tokenistic? What if it was, (and I quote from their press release) “something useful like a mining product or a foodstuff?”

The foodstuff is an Anzac biscuit, and together with a download link it’s the latest release from Melbourne art ensemble The Hi God People. The biscuit is tasty, apparently gluten free, though a touch dry, perhaps overcooked. It tastes fresher though than the packeted biscuits you buy in supermarkets and it’s nice to know that you’re supporting local biscuit makers/musicians. The three tracks are experimental electronic digital psychedelia with two of the pieces featuring spoken word, saying things like ‘Some of the things close to us seem unexpectedly large.”

Of course once you eat the biscuit you’re left with computer files, yet if you think about it the HGP have provided so much more. Not only will there undoubtedly be a few crumbs left on you on your lap, but once they’re swept away, there’s still a nice taste in your mouth. If you ate the biscuit while you listened to the music then that’s where Pavlovian conditioning comes in and you’ll always associate HGP music with a full belly and a rush of sugar. It’s genius, a kind of internal cross promotion.

The HGP aren’t the only folks grappling with the object in a rapidly shrinking marketplace.

Sabbatical have gone all out with Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne, a classy double cd box set compiling artists they view as being under represented and under appreciated in Melbourne – even within the underground music and experimental music scene. With 29 artists over two cds, this is a bold, totally uncompromising collection. They refuse to shy away from the sonically challenging, featuring everything from extended cello techniques, a noise piece created solely from recordings of carpet, tracks recorded direct to Dictaphone, a live performance of a drum stool, spliced strands of tape forced through a walkman, and well, you get the picture. Artists include The Bleachboys, Justin Fuller (Zond), Sean Baxter, Rod Cooper, Ebola Disco and all manner of weird and wonderful characters. The fact that it’s in this simultaneously stately and sleazy black box makes the music seem more evil, more underground and the collection more definitive.

Lawrence English’s Room40 are another label offering experimental music in distinctive fetish object packaging. To be fair they’ve been doing this for years, creating distinctive cardboard cases for everything on their label. Their recent releases from Pimmon, and Minamo are both works of art, however Scott Morrison’s Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons takes it another step entirely as an audio visual experience. The cd/dvd case itself features cardboard inserts of stills of his work, yet it’s the intertwining of the video footage and the sound that is nothing short of incredible. Images often begin abstracted, and slowly come into focus, and the sound tends to operate in a similar manner, glimpses of field recordings, of nearly discernable sounds gradually revealing themselves, often in concert with the images. It’s the kind of work that deserves the loving treatment it’s received, as it’s something quite special, his ability to dance around and alter your perception is really quite unique in Australian video/sound art. Yet the power is the full package. To download it or convert it just to mp3’ would only serve to dilute its power.

Fragmented Frequencies Feb 10

When old people turn out to be talented musicians from a former age then everybody wins. If there’s one thing the Buena Vista Social Club taught us, it’s not to dismiss the oldies, you just never know. Since then we’ve been blown away by middle aged Balkan dudes (Fanfare Ciorcarlia), and dazzled by poorly amplified thumb pianists from Congo (Konono No 1). The Tango is another story. Not only is it a percussion button on your organ, but also Argentina’s national music, and its sultry sound throbbed through the streets of Buenos Aires in the 40’s until it was curtailed by the military dictatorships that remained in place until the mid 80’s. These days there’s something of a tango revival happening in Buenos Aires and in the DVD Cafe de Los Maestros (Hopscotch), Gustav Santaol, academy award winning composer of Babel and Brokeback Mountain leads a scattered journey through the genre, meeting the maestros and uncovering the history of the unique sound. Early on we see a 70 year old bloke singing acapela at the race track and we know we’re in good hands. “If when you listen to a well played tango you don’t feel your chest trembling, go do something else,” offers one of the aging maestros. There’s some remarkable grainy television footage of old school bandoneon (accordion) bands and plenty of pearls of wisdom from the aging legends, “He who plays silence well can play tango well.” Right. There are tearful reunions after decades apart, footage of the maestros in the recording studio and of course how could this film end but with a triumphant concert hall appearance from the legends themselves. There wasn’t a dry pelvis, I mean eye, in the house.

Julian Williams is from Melbourne. He creates this peculiar kind of outsider pop and has released (maybe) 20 odd albums. His latest is Zhu Zi Dan Ge (From the Same Mother) and it’s inspired by a six month stay in China in 2007. It’s much more poppier than last year’s Liquidamber, comprising of quite simple repetitive organ and guitar chords, occasional metronomic percussion and these lush slightly unhinged Beach Boysesque vocal harmonies. It’s a strange endearing mix, feeling like your subconscious went out to cash convertors bought some cheap outdated music gear and started a lo-fi pop band. By itself. Because Williams who also plays in Melbourne legends The Hi God People and Inevitable Orbit, plays all of the instruments alone. The lyrics are obscure, he sings of ‘forests of dead peat, ‘blisters on the skin of the foghorn,’ and birds ‘underwater.’ At times it’s a little reminiscent of a messier, more spazzed out DIY sounding Panda Bear, yet at others its a random lunatic on the street singing along to his headphones. He’s launching this weirdo melodic opus tonight (Wed 17th) at Stutter at Horse Bazaar alongside the always interesting Justin K Fuller’s (Zond) lucid trance guitar and the uncomfortably named Wet Patch who are apparently a drone duo.

Well it’s Womadelaide time again (March 5-8) and whilst it seems you have to make the trek to Crows territory to see the likes of Ethiopian singer and Ethiopiques recording artist Mahmoud Ahmed and also the Jamaican institution The Skatalites, where sleazy organ genius Jackie Mittoo got his break as a 12 year old, some folks are actually sliding across to Melbourne. Firstly there’s the 90 year old sitar maestro Ravi Shankar on his farewell Australia tour on the 20th of March at Hamer Hall, yet also theatrical French party band Babylon Circus playing the Corner on the 10th of March. Then there’s the inventive Hungarian gypsy ensemble Besh o Drom who steal musical styles from everywhere, including electronic music and create incredibly distinctive sounds at breakneck speeds. They’re reportedly amazing live and they’re stopping by for Karavan, Melbourne’s inaugural Gypsy Music Festival on the 27th of Feb at the Corner Hotel. Also featured are entertaining Russian gangsters Vulvergrad, the gypsy deathcore of Barons of Tang and Unified Geko.

Finally if you’re in the market for free music Beck is hosting a bunch of musicians on his website including Wilco dudes Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy, Jamie Lidell, and Devandra Banhart all collaborating with a bunch of others. Beck explains it as “an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. The songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering.” Some, not all of it is pretty good.