INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Faster Louder JUNE 18, 2009 - by Michael Carr
PURE SCENIUS FEATURING BRIAN ENO AT SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
As I walked up to the illuminated Opera House for the last time, I was overcome by a mixture of sadness and excitement. Sadness at the end of the Luminous Festival. Excitement at seeing Brian Eno. Having already delighted us with the cavalcade of shows - ranging from the free, improvised performances at The MCA to Battles' weekend of sonic glory at The Opera House - Luminous has been boiling up all the creative juices of this city that usually sit at the bottom of the cauldron during winter.
Seated toward the back of the concert hall as Mr. Eno, joined by The Necks, Jon Hopkins, Underworld man Karl Hyde and Leo Abrahams sat in a small lounge area at the front of the stage (as well as the lounge area onstage, Eno and his chums also had their very own tea station and a tent at the back of stage - WTF?). After a bit of an introduction and a joke about not being given a dressing room, the performance began.
The music started out as amorphous ambience, each instrument swelling and receding, at times pulsing in sync with each other, and some wandering independently of the rest of the ensemble. While the band went about their ambient business, the three large diamond-shaped screens above them were working overtime. Underworld's visual-wizard Toby Vogel mixed and matched footage of the band members playing with some of Eno's artwork we've all had the pleasure of seeing up on the Opera House these past few weeks.
The combination of the visuals with the Eno-led musical ambience was genius. Imagine watching the stars as you float in a warm sea at night, having consumed more Peyote than is healthy, while the gentle moans of a passing colony of whales lull you into a soft delirium.
After about half an hour though, the music shifted into a more beat-driven section, with Jon Hopkins letting loose his musical insanity with a double Kaos Pad solo. The whole piece took a decidedly more industrial direction; think early '90s Einstürzende Neubauten with Trent Reznor adding drum machines.
After this piece, Eno once again delighted us with his unique sense of humour, describing the piece as "an example of a new form of music, Ikebana Noise Club, that was very popular in Tokyo in the early 2020s." He went on to explain that is was a logical extension of Heavy Metal, as Heavy Metal is just White Noise at a very fast pace. "Ikebana Noise Club offered both Pink Noise and White Noise clubs, as well as Black Noise apparently, but it was later banned due to its association with hate crimes," he explained.
Again embarking on a voyage of minimal discovery, the performance soon turned into an uber-ambient bout of call-and-response piano between The Necks' pianist Chris Abrahams and Jon Hopkins, while Eno had to run to the toilet. Returning to the stage, he found the audience and the other performers rapt in the ivory-dominated jam session and decided to make himself a tea and sit on the lounge, before returning to his seat and starting up again.
Necks drummer Tony Buck drew my attention for a lot of the show, living up to his reputation as one of today's most innovative and open-minded drummers. One minute he'd have a cymbal sitting on top of his snare, the next he'd be rubbing what looked like an abacus over one of the toms. His ingenious idiosyncrasy aside though, the man is like some retarded atomic metronome. He was not only keeping in perfect time with the incomprehensible wanderings of his bandmates, but also with the schizophrenic electronic smatterings of Hopkins, Eno and Hyde.
The whole performance had a once-in-a-lifetime vibe to it (Talking Heads pun not intended). Watching these giants of their fields working together on stage was an intensely humbling experience for me, as I had no idea what was going on half the time. Between the table full of pedal Karl Hyde had in front of him (not even mentioning Eno and Hopkins's weighty racks of gear), there was so much sound happening on stage you'd need five ears and a degree in Audio Engineering to be close to understanding how they were doing it.
The performance ended with Eno confessing he had been seeing other audiences, asking if we could "please leave as they'll be here in half an hour." We all obliged, more than content with our brief affair.