Trippy chill-out on bean-bags provides classical food for thought.

The Edge, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
May 15, 2015

The second main event in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra mini-series celebrating new music saw a subsection of the orchestra doing their thing confined to a small room with a bar and beanbags, while a pair of Melbourne-based hipsters spun the electronics. Too pop? Not really classical music? Rubbish. Having just emerged from a formal presentation of some ‘real’ new classical, the connection to this blissful hour of chill-out was immediately apparent and left you plenty of room to mull over what we miss sitting upright in rows in the stuffy, starchy concert halls of today.

First the music. Tim Shiel has been a staple of the Melbourne electronica scene for a decade, collaborating and touring with Gotye among others while producing couple of hit albums along the way. This concert was a reworking of his recent sound design for the iOS game Duet (named one of the most elegant games of 2013 in The New Yorker) and came in the form of six or seven seamlessly woven tracks (or maybe it was eight or nine – it was that seamless) performed by Shiel and Brisbane-based producer, composer and arranger Ryan Walsh. The able backup came from around 20 of the trendier looking orchestral musicians from the QSO.

Duet is a game of reflexes which sports a minimalist visual aesthetic perfectly matched by Shiel’s minimalism-inspired sound world. With an enhanced, big-screen video for the occasion by Jaymis Loveday, the experience was very much an immersive one. “To lie flat on the back”, as WH Auden so adroitly identified is possibly the best way to reflect on a whole raft of issues and the impeccably performed mix of live electronics and intelligently put together orchestral enhancements proved the perfect accompaniment.

As Loveday’s geometrically based graphics wove their hypnotic patterns and the musicians grooved out in style, I found my mind drifting to the pleasures of listening in the prone position and was delighted to see the impressively mixed-age crowd in the packed performance lounge were enjoying pretty-much the same experience.

But was it classical music? Well, yes and no (and to be honest, did it even matter?) “Patterns always emerge, even in chaos”, a reassuring female voice told us, and that was certainly true of this gig. Yes, it was classical – there were 20 top class classical musicians giving it their all, and the music had definite reference points for followers of the Terry Riley school of minimalism – but it was also pop (ie. popular), in some ways ‘contemporary’ music in the truest sense.

Having just emerged from an ‘old-skool’ classical concert of ‘new music’ across the road, as I listened to some of the same string effects put to good use by Ryan Walsh, I couldn’t help feeling that the likes of Lavista and Piazzolla might work even better in just such a relaxed environment as this. Indeed, it was Ryan’s inventive orchestrations that kept a concert that was essentially all on one pulse feeling sufficiently varied, while Shiel’s contribution leant it a funky, trippy, clubby vibe in what was a genuine fusion.

Engaging, crafted, dynamic, creative and thoughtful, this was a great concert-cum-gig-cum-whatever you want to call it. With pop up events happening across the festival courtesy of Kupka’s Piano, The Australian Voices and the Rafael Karlen Quartet, this is just the kind of savvy programming that gives classical music a good name. More please.

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