Interview with Rod Cooper (originally appeared in Inpress)

Lots of people make music. But not so many make the instrument that they’re playing. For those who do it’s usually a guitar or some other conventional instrument. Yet Melbourne is host to another type of instrument builder, one who has little interest in convention, and the results are weird and wonderful constructions that defy imagination. Perhaps it’s a reaction to computer music or made in China off the shelf consumerables, however there’s no doubting a renewed interest in unique hand crafted instrumentation. To the extent that some of its most prominent practitioners have organised a festival to celebrate.
“People have actually moved to Melbourne for the music scene and then they make things and we end up meeting and slowly we’re forming a community,” offers instrument builder and Hand Made Musical Festival (HMM) co organiser Rod Cooper.
“I think there’s something that comes out that is uniquely from the area, from Melbourne, from Australia,” he continues. “We gravitate towards certain sounds that we want to use, certain textures.”
Cooper, who has been creating instruments and sound sculptures for over 20 years, has regularly performed at improvised and experimental music festivals alongside all manner of artists and musicians. In fact the genesis of the festival was borne out of The Make It Up Club, a regular improvised music night at Bar Open curated by co HMM curator Ben Koliatis.
“It was about hacking and bending, people using fruit as oscillators and other acoustic instrument builders like myself,” reports Cooper, “and it was really popular. So we thought lets go a bit further.”
Featuring artists as diverse as Toydeath, who use circuit bent toys to create bizarre noisy pop music, to the more experimental video synthesizer and cracked TV of Vijay Thillaimuthu, there’s a feast of musical styles and approaches on display.
“It’s for artists who are building their own original instruments, the DIY electronics stuff, “ offers Cooper. “We had a list of about 20 people and worked from there. The thing was they had to be builders; we didn’t want any traditional instruments or pedals in the show. I mean it still crept in a bit; you can’t be a Nazi about it. We just want to highlight there’s another form of music that is happening in Melbourne.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect is the diversity of the festival with performances, artist talks, an instrument makers swap meet, and workshops where a few of the artists help a lucky few create their own unique instruments.
“We want to make this inclusive,” offers Cooper. “We look at all the other festivals and why they haven’t lasted and why they tapered off. It’s important to make it inclusive. We’re encouraging people to get into it.”
Cooper suggests that making instruments isn’t a desire. It’s more of a need. The form and the materials may change, yet the need remains. And it’s something he shares with all of the artists involved.
“I’ve got stacks of printers that I’ve been taking apart and building different mechanisms out of. It’s fun too. I just have an urge to build things all the time. That’s one strong element about the festival. The makers are always saying I’m building heaps and heaps, I just want to play some more. They have this urge and that’s one thing you need to consider. It’s one thing to play music but to set up the whole instrument design and interface of your expression that’s another complicated process to go through creatively.”
Cooper raids hard rubbish collections (shh), building sites and is increasingly interested in reusing and recycling materials, rescuing his material from landfill. Ultimately though his interest is about creating an instrument that feels part of him, that makes sense to him.
“As a performer when you’ve made your own instrument you know it in a different way. You’re inside it. That’s a big difference for me. When I’m playing instruments that I haven’t built. They just don’t feel comfortable. They’re not like my shows that I’ve worn into the shape of my feet. “

Bob Baker Fish

Hand Made Music Festival is on until the 28th of August. Check for more details.

Fragmented Frequencies Oct 09


If your curious about sound, about texture, about frequency, without the need for overtly musical elements like melody or percussion, in finding new ways to compose and construct sound, then Melbourne is the place for you this month.

Tomorrow the World is a mini experimental sound festival at the Westspace Gallery, that’s on currently and will continue until the 1st of November. Every day of the week you can trek down to Westspace to get your fill of curious and eclectic sound and media artists doing curious and eclectic things. Whether it’s a Philip Brophy or Adrian Martin slide night, improvisor Jim Denley or Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr discussing their practice before demonstrating it via performance, or Marco Cher-Gibard and Rosalind Hall’s amazing audio visual sax/msp performances that need to be seen to be believed, you’ll get your fill of experimentation and innovation here. Hell it even ends on a boat going down the Maribrynong with sound artist Philip Samartzis who will use the boat and surrounds to create a site responsive sound performance. Perhaps most interesting is the focus on children for some of the events, with Eamon Sprod and Dale Gorfinkel taking an instrument building workshop, or a couple of weeks later Sprod and Rod Cooper taking the kids for a walk down the Maribrynong. This doesn’t sound like your usual monotonous chin scratching sound festival, where underfed students fiddle earnestly with laptops to conjure up terrifying and hurtful sounds that no one really wants to hear anyway. But you never know. Check for the full program.

Western Australian Matt Roesner has released a couple of really interesting, quite minimal electronic albums that tread the boundary between sound and music on both Room40 and Apestaartje, though his latest is a 12-inch on UK label 12×50. He’s coming to Melbourne along with Perth shoe-gazers The Ghost of 29 Megacycles, a dreamy heavily reverbed Windy and Carl meets My Bloody Valentine three piece, who’s album Love Via Paper Planes (Sound and Fury) is due anytime. What’s more TGO29M guitarist Greg Taw will play live with Roesner, offering some drum textures and guitar drones alongside Roesner’s laptop and guitars. They’re playing Horse bizarre on the 22nd of Oct, the 23rd at Glitch Bar, and the Tote on the 24th all with different local supports.

Over the last decade or so Australian born French resident percussionist Will Guthrie has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to move between jazz, rock and quite musical realms into more experimental directions using contact microphones and junk to create these incredibly articulate musique concrete sound pieces. It’s pretty clear that the guy can play almost anything. Spike-S is a 7-inch on Norwegian label Pica Disk. And it’s mental, The first side is an all out assault of kick-ass pedal to the metal kit drumming. He pummels those bastards under a noisy drony mess of raw searing noise and it feels good. Meanwhile side b becomes much more tinkery and electro acoustic, focussing more on space, a kind’ve cut and paste reworking using elements of side A. It’s inspiring stuff. Check out for more details.

Keeping the French/ Australian relationship going French sound artist Cedric Peyronnet (Toy Bizarre) is releasing a 3-inch cd a month over a 12 month period, each with a new 12 minute piece composition. And crazily enough they’re all based on reports made to him by an Australian about a 1 metre square patch of the Atherton Gardens. So for example “Fog, drift, quiet, a lone red vine leaf floats…falls, flurry and plummet from the golden ash,” gets us an incredibly visceral almost glacial sound piece, with bird chirping behind a sharp metallic and quite thin oscillating drone. It’s incredible work. Each disc is limited to 50. Check for more.

Finally Fragmented Frequencies can’t go past a Sabbatical night at the Empress, Glass, Drums and Piano. It’s Lucas Abela (evil glass blowing dude), Sean Baxter (Bucketrider) and Paul Grabowsky (Melbourne jazz alumni). It sounds absolutely wild and I have no idea what to expect. It’s on the 7th of November. Also performing are James Rushford and Joe Talia, a duo who earlier in the year released the curious electro acoustic music concrete Palisades (Sabbatical). Check for more details.

Bob Baker Fish

Fragmented Frequencies 5th of March 09


Fragmented Frequencies has been thinking about musical instruments of late. It seems there’s a whole bunch of them that have been invented over the years. They have been distributed widely and that’s what everyone uses to make their music. Of course there are subtle differences in how people do it, tending to follow along genre lines, yet blurring the edges to appear a little different from the next guy/girl/monkey, but ultimately you can’t deny a strong link between Steve Vai, Thurston Moore or even John Fahey. Fragmented Frequencies question is simple: When did the invention and innovation stop? 

 Many of us are waiting for this fully formed amazing and beautiful music to fall from the sky and tear our faces off, but how likely is this if everyone’s just using bass, guitar and drums with a lead singer with great tattoos that squeals occasionally?

 To answer Fragmented Frequencies first Dorothy Dixer, the innovation hasn’t stopped, it’s been alive and well in experimental music for years. Of course experimental music has it’s own difficulties and limitations, mostly in terms of a form and structure that seem to be too rigorously adhered to, particularly in relation to improvised music. Yet it also appears to be the one place where something new, something earth shattering could appear, where market forces aren’t going to destroy something before it’s began.

 Found Sound: The experimental instrument project is a series of musical and sound events curated to feature new experimental instruments designed and built by Australian artists and musicians. They’re up to their third performance, and video excerpts from the previous 2 can be seen at  and they’re pretty damn interesting. March 18 sees Queensland based Ross Manning who does curious things with light, has created some kind of electronic Kalimba skipping rope and lists some of the tools of his trade as upside down cake, dinosaurs, junk assembly and repurposed old technology, teaming up for the first time with iconic Melbourne instrument builder and composer Rod Cooper. Cooper makes incredible instruments with stupid names that look terrifying and wonderful at the same time, like evil bbq’s on steroids or  impossible and wonderful wind instruments. He’s also an incredibly accomplished improvisor. It’s on at Tape Projects 1/ 81 Bouverie St Carlton from 7.30pm on Wed 18th of March. Only $5.

The 15th of April sees Dylan Martorell and Nathan Gray teaming up with David Nelson in the same series.  Martorell and Gray are better known as Snawklor, a local experimental duo who have continued to do strange and wonderful things with electronics for the last 10 odd years. Their music doesn’t conform to electronic music conventions, seemingly owing more to the natural world than the insides of a computer. It’s an approach that creates an incredibly immersive alien world that is sometimes terrifying yet also quite beguiling. It’s the type of music that you experience and then at the end have no idea how it was all done, like a massive trick has been played on your senses. They’ve just released a new download only album culled from live shows, including outdoor performances (last one was at the bat colony) and art shows (both are accomplished visual artists). Also they’ve elected to allow free downloads for two previous self released albums They Live/ Moths Dissolving, which they constructed via live processing in 2005 and Dived in a Microphone (2004), their last album constructed from samples. You can find all this goodness on their site at