Structures, Melbourne ’66
Melbourne Recital Centre | July 2018

1966 was the year Keith Humble returned to Melbourne after a long stay in Europe. The improvisations and graphic scores of the mid-1960s were regarded by the conservative elements of the contemporary music scene as being too experimental. Structures presented some of these exciting works, and reproduced an atmosphere established by Humble at the Grainger Museum workshops, where composition was presented as a process rather than a product.

Ensemble Density offered an insight into the world of the Melbourne conceptual art and music scene of 1966, and an introduction to what happens when the lines between performer and observer are blurred. I left inspired, wondering what else might be possible.
CutCommon Magazine
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Image: Rooney Second Landscape / Photo: Chrissy Chan

HUMBLE Music for Monuments

The score of Keith Humble’s Music for Monuments (1965-67) consists of a set of instructions and suggestions as to how different sound elements can be created and combined. Many of these are made by an activity choir – shuffling feet, rattling things, tearing paper, chanting words or numbers, and letting the air escape from half-blown-up balloons.

In our performance of the work, Ensemble Density director Charles MacInnes directed the audience to create some of these sounds, and others were recorded from workshops with primary school children at the Grainger Museum the week before. The live and recorded sounds were arranged to form a basis texture over which Ensemble Density soloists improvise. The Grainger Museum Frozen Improvisations (more information) workshops were run as part of the "Synthesizers: Sound of the Future" exhibition, curated by Dr Heather Gaunt.

ROONEY Second Landscape & Duos / McKIMM Folium

By dividing Ensemble Density into three separate trios, this suite tells the story in sound of how a mainstream jazz quintet evolved into the Rooney-McKimm-Clayton improvising trio. These beautiful images (or “graphs” as the group called them) provide ideas and starting points for free improvisation, with many other musical decisions made by listening and reacting to sounds and movements in the room – accidental or otherwise.

McKimm’s recent compositions are conventionally notated and primarily guided by melody, yet these grew from an apprenticeship of changing musical perspectives expressed in the open spaces, swirling lines and floating notes pictured here.
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Image: excerpt from Folium by Barry McKimm

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Photo: Chrissy Chan / Image Design: Charles MacInnes

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Image: excerpt from Folium by Barry McKimm

Video includes explanation of compositional process

MACINNES Gazebosplayed

The idea for Gazebosplayed came from a conversation Charles MacInnes had with a saxophonist who was part of a project ensemble run by musician and psychologist Jeff Pressing at La Trobe University in the mid-1970s. Each player in the group was assigned a specific note or rhythm to repeat and extend. In this adaption, different symbols, notes or instructions on cards were given randomly to members of the audience. Listeners decided whom in the ensemble was given which card. Within the resulting musical constraints an entirely improvised work was created and performed.

A gazebo is a temporary structure, you are neither inside or out, there is no clear entrance or exit, and at the end of the day it is packed up and put away.

Sessions, New York ’57
Melbourne Recital Centre | February 2018

Sessions recreated some open rehearsals that took place in 1957 in New York where a group of musicians was guided through a graphic score by pioneering electronic composer Edgard Varèse. Featured in the concert were works by composers who had a direct relationship with that event: session organiser Earle Brown, audience member John Cage, and jazz bassist Charles Mingus.

VARÈSE (reconstructed by MacInnes) Jazz Sessions

In 1957, Earle Brown organised some jazz musicians to play one of Varèse’s experimental scores. The players included Art Farmer (trumpet), Teo Macero (tenor saxophone), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), Don Butterfield (tuba), Eddie Bert (trombone) and Charles Mingus (bass).

Recent research has shown that the score Varèse brought along was almost identical to that which he used the following year to create his Poème électronique for the Brussels World’s Fair—in each case, fixed sound objects became the springboards for musical development and extension. Musical director Charles MacInnes has reconstructed this score through a combination of surviving facsimiles and recorded archives, and has filled in the gaps by following the contours of the electronic work.
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Photo: Chrissy Chan

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Photo: Chrissy Chan

BROWN 4 Systems

“As you walk into a museum and you look at a mobile you see a configuration that’s moving very subtly. You walk in the same building the next day and it’s a different configuration, yet it’s the same piece, the same work..” (Earle Brown on the work of Alexander Calder)

CAGE Seven

Composed during the last years of Cage’s life, the Number Pieces are examples of time bracket notation. In Seven all but one of the twenty brackets for each of the seven instruments is fixed, and the number of sounds provided varies from one to five depending on the instrument. The players are making choices about the placement of the events, but these take place within a tightly organised structure.

Cage provides the following instructions to the percussionist:
"Use four different frictional sound producing means: long bamboo or other sticks, metal rods or thick wires, chairs or tables etc. moved while in contact with the floor; plastic cups or pots against walls or doors; cymbals, gongs, piano strings, etc. bowed; bowls including Japanese temple gongs, and goblets, set into vibration around the edge; etc.."

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Photo: Chrissy Chan

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Photo: Chrissy Chan / Image Design: Charles MacInnes

MINGUS Weird Nightmare

"Weird nightmare ... you haunt my every dream ... weird nightmare ... "

Melbourne Fringe Festival | Scrap Museum — Bakehouse Studios, Richmond September 2017

Among the best improvisatory music and compositions for improvisers I have heard over the last 35 years: evocative, introspective, inspiring and refreshing at a time when I thought I had already heard it all.
Dr John Whiteoak (music scholar and author of “Playing Ad Lib: Improvisatory Music in Australia, 1836–1970”)

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Image design: Chrissy Chan & Charles MacInnes

In the distance we see an indistinct building – is it boarded up, or was that perhaps a flickering light or a curtain being quickly drawn?

C. J. Dennis’ 1917 satirical poem The Glugs of Gosh eerily predicted some of the greed and political ignorance that surrounds us today. In this musical version, a violin imitates the lines of the poem, interrupted by an amplified cello improvising on some of D. J. Trump’s well known statements (“I know words...I have the best words”). The vocabulary, repetition and tone of these two original voices combine to form a surprising musical poetry.

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photo: Chris Tse

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Sorgenbrecher Bar in Hamburg St. Pauli is a popular spot for artists, musicians and other bohemians.
In a haze of conflicting hallucinogens, one such musician ended up there late one night to drown various sorrows.
Amid the calm hysteria inside, he hears the sound of a single, callow trombone.
“Oh, that’s one of Henry’s tapes; I think it’s Freddie Freeloader slowed to half-speed”.

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Photo: Glenn Taylor

The first room is dark but the echoes suggest it must be a large ballroom of some sort. Down the end of the passage is a mirror room, and even our whispered voices reflect sharply off the walls and floor. Upstairs is the library with books and newspaper cuttings piled to the ceiling. Opposite that is a curious collection of gramophones and reel-to-reel tape players running simultaneously…

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“Any reading of these [open] works is an improvisation; one moves through the work not in straight lines but in curves, swirls, and across intersections, to words that catch the eye or attract attention repeatedly.”
Lyn Hejinian quoted in “The Material of Poetry” by Gerald Bruns

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Photo: Glenn Taylor

Recordings by: Kevan Atkins

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