Review of "Airwaves: 100 Years of Radio" by
Maths-wise putting Loops and Topology on the same gig is apposite,
and ditto music-wise. The two groups, Topology for contemporary
classical quintet, Loops for this week's Jazz, are way over the
goodness threshold. They can play (what feel would you like)
and the main composers Robert Davidson, Jonathan Dimond and Jamie
Clark cover all the genres I care to remember-as well as their
own. And for the Biennial ('for' as in 'commissioned by') both
groups have collaborated on Airwaves: 100 years of Radio. That's
radio from Johnny Howard, 'Love is never having to say you're
sorry', through Bob Menzies 'Lovin' Liz', to Ernest Shackleton
and 'All my Friends are Yesterday'.
75 minutes of radio archive history. FM clarity, AM telephone
bandwidth. Old timers scraped out of mouldy shellac grooves.
Naïve racists on rusty tapes. Databases of dickheads, geniuses,
opportunists, and self-promoters. Arranged in reverse chronology.
From now to then, from us to them, a salad of history where before
White Australia was Belsen, before Clinton was Ghandi, where
men had to walk on the Moon before Cathy could run that great
400. But the vocal text isn't about cheap moralisms. It's stochastic
history not storyboard history.
And over and under the 'Voice Portraits' plays the music. A series
of episodes and programme pieces to reinforce or foil the text.
George Bush whingeing about Saddam and damn that's some funky
bass. The Goons bubble up and Max Geldray lives again. Dad and
Dave ride on the back of Click Go the Shears. Sometimes the musical
quotes were right there on the staves; cut and paste, a straight
up arrangement. But most times the references were oblique, witty,
laugh out loud nostalgia. Not that the music was all quotes and
ironic degree by a long shot.
But it was very episodic, sounds then pause, sounds then pause.
Shorter snippets at the beginning, longer monologues at the end.
(Greater production and availability of radio texts now as against
way back then? Market driven sound bites versus having something
to say?) An episodic and programmatic structure risks sounding
contrived, but here the musical mix and match sat perfectly with
the mix and match of the spoken texts.
At the beginning I think of a happy John Zorn, then associations
disappear pretty quick as I get caught up in the individual personality
of the piece itself. The sound is excellent, right volume, right
balance on the instruments. The performers play to a click track,
they've each got headphones on. I'm not surprised, the music
often complex, the timing always precise. Strange, abstract rhythms
suddenly synch perfectly to all time favourites. 'Now is the
time.' 'I have a dream.' 'Turn on, tune in and drop out.'
In Airwaves, music effortlessly holds the mirror to the musicality
of language. And it is not just that either. Airwaves is a big
piece, chockerblock, a must-have for the collection when the
CD comes out. Play it entire or dip in and out. Don't play it
in the car while driving. Too distracting.
This page published
on July 25, 2001in Real Time