Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Sydney Morning Herald
Inspired by the baron of the bizarre
August 4, 2010
Banal and bizarre . . . the Escalators' leader, Kynan Robinson.
Avante garde jazz group the Escalators get their lift from filmmaker David Lynch, writes Bernard Zuel.
Kynan Robinson found a kindred spirit in the filmmaker David Lynch. The Melbourne musician, who has played jazz, electronic and between-the-wars blues, and the American creator of bizarre and beautiful films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet andMulholland Drive and the TV series Twin Peaks have never met, but they have similar structures, obsessions and a thing for bacon.
Robinson's group, the Escalators, is an eight-piece avant garde jazz ensemble that includes a DJ manning turntables and sampling. What else sets them apart are live shows where their slowly evolving, sometimes disturbing and opaque music is married to set designs and film that play in a similar sandbox of mood, repetition, beauty and what they like to call Lynchian weirdness.
The group's album is called Wrapped in Plastic, an echo of the most famous line from Twin Peaks, which Robinson began watching again as he composed. But the Lynch connections go back to what Robinson calls his ''rules'' for composition, both in music and the films he makes and commissions for Escalators shows.
''For me Lynch is someone who really investigates the idea of normal, starting with the cliches but going down into it so thoroughly that it starts to become abnormal," Robinson says. "I would apply that to music, composing cliched parts for various instruments but then have them repeat those parts over and over again, get them to sit right on that point of normality and if you just keep doing that it then starts to create a sense of oddness about it.''
In Lynch's world the banal and the bizarre co-exist, making true the observation that there is nothing more odd than the "normal" way people behave.
''That's exactly what I was looking at. That dual structure that Lynch does, that was another of my rules," Robinson says. "We have dual narratives running through - even though the music is non-narrative, it's stasis - there will be dual ideas that might run simultaneously that don't appear to relate to each other.
''The other thing about Lynch, he operates obviously in the subconscious but he also operates a lot in memory: how memory works, the decay of memory, how memory can create truths or lies which become truths. When you bring a turntablist or someone sampling in you are already working with the ideas of memory. So those are the three big things in regards to Lynch [and Escalators]: normality; the idea of dual-ism; and the human memory thing.''
The Necks, the Australian trio who also straddle the area between jazz and art music, in recent years have begun using visual elements in their famously improvised shows. The films made by percussionist Tony Buck ran the risk of ''defining how one might think'', as Buck acknowledged. However, as he told the Herald: ''The stuff that I do with video kind of operates in the same sort of timeframe, with the same ambiguity and sense of slowly unfolding, as the Necks music does. I really liked the idea that they are parallel, quite separate things [and] the video material that I use is either quite ambiguous or it's very, very simple, very slowly moving, in a way like moving paintings."
Rather than moving pictures, Byron Bay musician Gyan three years ago toured with the Melbourne cartoonist and commentator Michael Leunig, who sat at a desk set up within the semi-circle of the band on stage and his drawings, inspired by the music played around him, were projected onto a screen. "I don't want to shove that meaning or fix that meaning but to be abstract, to have vision, it can take you deeper with the music,'' Gyan says. ''Sometimes I like to throw some imagery behind because to have your senses all met can be brilliant."
Speaking of all senses, the Lynch-Robinson bond extends to the olfactory. "I reckon there are certain scents that are associated with David Lynch, too. Fried bacon is a really strong association with Twin Peaks," Robinson explains. "If you release that into the audience it will do something. We are trying to create an atmosphere within the space where we control everything in the space we perform in. You're not just getting onstage and playing music but the visual thing, the scent thing, the lighting that we've designed, also work under the same rule structure for the same aim."
Smells like teen spirit. Or bacon.
Recital Centre Salon, Friday 30 July
Review by: JESSICA NICHOLAS
(filed: Sun 1 Aug 2010)
Rating: * * * 1/2 (three and a half stars)
Taking their aesthetic cues from cult filmmaker David Lynch, the Escalators aim to envelop the listener in a world that is as much about texture and atmosphere as it is about music. The effect is amplified when the ensemble performs live, allowing bandleader/trombonist Kynan Robinson and his creative team to incorporate lighting, set design and video into the performance.
At the Recital Centre Salon on Friday, the musicians were dressed in anonymous business suits – with the exception of DJ Element, who was ensconced within a semi-transparent, gauze-like tardis. Fluorescent rods were suspended vertically above the players and audience, and a large screen projected snapshots of suburban familiarity: streets, shopfronts, window displays.
The music (composed by Robinson) did not draw directly from Lynch’s films, but incorporated ideas and techniques derived from the filmmaker’s approach – in particular, his exploration of memory, normality and parallel narratives.
Some of these devices translated into striking musical motifs. Drummer Joe Talia maintained a swift and quietly insistent cymbal pattern for a full half-hour, creating a mood that was simultaneously hypnotic and simmering with unresolved tension. Talia’s role was central to the evening’s success, as was that of DJ Element, whose sampled effects (some identifiable, others elusive) provided an enigmatic commentary on the live music.
The use of repetition – fragmented horn progressions; rippling piano motifs – was mostly effective, though one or two compositions remained trapped in a holding pattern for so long that I struggled to stay engaged. Still, the Escalators have developed an intriguing artistic concept, and I look forward to hearing more as they expand their collective vision.