INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Sounds From The Mootmobile JUNE 16, 2009 - by Owen
THOUGHTS ON BRIAN ENO'S PURE SCENIUS, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE CONCERT HALL, JUNE 14, 2009
Sorry, but there will be no review per se.
That would be impossible.
So here are some thoughts and comments you may or may not like to know. In random order...
• • •
Even though I had "no expectations", I expected it to be exciting, experimental and entertaining.
It was all that and so much more.
It was revelatory.
I was right up the front and could see nearly everything. As Eno was on the far side of the stage to my seat, I could even see the side of his face when he had his back to the audience, a position he needed to be in to use his mic or laptop.
I was surprised to see all the musicians on stage at once. The publicity led me to believe that each show would feature separate groupings of musicians. Looking back though, I see this is my error.
Peter Chilvers was the unannounced eighth member of the "group", acting mainly as Eno's assistant as far as I could tell. Possibly subbing for Fripp?
There was a "lounge-room" set up on one side of the stage, complete with tea and coffee making facilities. Each member made use of the facilities at some point during the shows aside from Tony Buck, who pretty much only rested between shows.
The "lounge-room" was also the dressing room.
There was also a tent on stage, which Karl Hyde painted 'HOME' on during the last piece of the main set of the third show.
I have no idea what that was about.
Because of the onstage dressing room, they stayed on stage for over six hours straight, playing in total for around four and a half hours.
I'd say over three hours of this was unique, new music. There was little repetition between the shows.
The music was rarely one-hundred-percent improvised.
The music was rarely one-hundred-percent written.
Eno directed the ensemble throughout, regularly rifling through notes and/or scribbling things down on pieces of paper and handing them to Chilvers, who placed them on a device which looked a bit like an overhead projector. I assume this device was some type of camera/scanner as the musicians were watching monitors/laptops and responding to whatever Eno had written/selected.
Sometimes we also got to see what he had written/selected, projected onto the screens above the performance.
Sometimes these notes were obvious directions like "just The Necks", sometimes they were more obtuse things like "Start warm, then fiercer", sometimes they were specific 'titles' like Ikebana Noise Club, sometimes they were a sequence of numbers/times, and sometimes they were even chord progressions.
Eno also physically directed the ensemble with gesticulations and counting cues etc.
The titled pieces were definitely not your conventional written song type affairs. The few repeated pieces sounded completely unique in each repetition for the most part.
Eno told the fictional future history of Ikebana Noise Club during the second show. It was a complicated story on how a genre developed in Japan during the 2020s, spilt into several subgenres and then was eventually banned in the year 2025. I believe this story may have actually been the bulk of the composition - i.e. I think this story was all that the musicians were given to work with.
The first show was performed as continuous piece.
The second show was broken into separate songs with banter in between.
The third show was a mix of the two.
The first and third shows had encores, which were definitely not planned events.
The first show started incredibly quiet and slow, with bubbles popping.
The second show started like Merzbow on fire.
The third show started like a retro rave-up.
Hyde also did his Underworld (manual) looping rant-chant singing several times, to great effect.
Eno also sang once in the third show, and it sounded horrible.
This exchange contained some imagery that was a little sexy, and this amused them both. Hyde and Eno seemed to be trying to get each other to crack and laugh, with Eno eventually waving Hyde off with a huge smile on his face.
Only one piece had a strictly set text, sung by Hyde. This was the same piece to use a set chord progression. It was called Pink Moon (not the Nick Drake song). If this were a conventional band in a bygone era this track would be the single.
Pink Moon was (possibly) the only piece played at all three shows, though each performance was unique. For the first show it was the encore, and a hasty abbreviated ad hoc arrangement, the second show's version started smoothly with just Lloyd Swanton's double-bass, and the third show's version started with a punchy bass and drums duo.
Eno's decision to utilise The Necks was a very wise one. Due to their years of working together as a unit they were responsible for holding it all together. This was reflected by giving the minimalist improv trio ten minutes or so of unaccompanied performance in each show.
Each show also featured a piano duet between Chris Abrahams and Jon Hopkins, playing back to back grands. These moving pieces, all unique, were very slow and closest in feel to Eno's ambient explorations.
All the musicians were exceptional, especially given the groundbreaking (lack of) rules they had to work with.
The music was mostly, but not always successful in the traditional sense of music appreciation. There were some dud notes. The event was ALWAYS exciting. This made the dud notes completely irrelevant.
I think I get what Eno means by Scenius now, that you can take any combination of factors and combine them to create a new scene, even with little traditional preparation. It is this scene that becomes the creator, much more so than the people behind it. The musicians gathered here for these events came from such disparate backgrounds yet due to the commitment of the individuals to embrace Eno's concept something magnificent and terrifying was allowed to be born of them.
I'd love to see these eight musicians get together again, but I doubt it will ever happen. I think Eno's point was that you can do this with any group of talented people. Hopefully some other festival will give him the budget to do just that in the future. The rewards are immeasurable.