Chris Abrahams; David Toop, Scanner and I/O3; Andrea Belfi
(Day 1 of Openframe presented by Room40 at Café Oto. Thursday 4th November 2010. Review and pencil drawings by Geoff Winston)
The celebration of the 10th anniversary of Lawrence English's Brisbane-based Room 40 music/arts organisation - the name referring to the section of the British Admiralty involved with cryptography during WW1 - was heralded by a triple bill of exploratory music, culminating in a set on solo piano from Chris Abrahams (above), the keyboard player of the Necks.
Abrahams has talked in a recent interview about the compexity which comes from just "concentrating on getting the piano to do things," and his minimalist explorations did indeed reveal dense patterns and thought processes. Abrahams hardly moved, focusing intently first with one hand, then with both, on the rhythmic possibilities of a single, softly played mid-register note, summoning morse code-like patterns; these were augmented with lower bass notes before being further struck in sharp repetition.
His compelling concentration saw a return to the single note and to a slow, deliberate pace with the inclusion of a second note in close tonal proximity. A single bass note then became the focus, before the merest hint of a 12-bar blues. The right hand moved down the keyboard to produce lower register flurries which were the prelude for the deliberate build-up to a deluge of echoes bouncing within the body of Café Oto's metallic-toned piano. As the pulses gathered momentum, Abrahams tested his skills in maintaining the flow of multiple beats of Nancarrow-esque complexity, ending the set hunched somewhere over the lower registers, having exposed the enthralled audience to his very personal, uncompromised musical statement.
The first set, from Andrea Belfi - above - (percussion /electronics), also skimmed the Necks' musical pond as he lightly struck small hanging gongs with mallets. His kit is a mixture of conventional drums and a variety of small items positioned within striking range, including two small speakers hanging from a frame over the toms.
Quiet resolve gave way to interruptions from sampled flute and recorded voices, and a jazzy scraping beat before locking on to the pounding of the urban engine room. Solid beats, radiophonic beeps and hums were mixed in with his modulated playing in an adventurous and sensitive set.
David Toop (electronics and flute) and Scanner (electronics) collided in an enjoyable electronic jam with Brisbane's I/O3, led by Room40's founder, Lawrence English and Tam Patton (electronics) with Heinz Riegler (guitar). They started out from ethereal atmospherics, which were intermittently punctuated by hip-hop grooves, feedback, and church organ drones, then moved up the gears to suggest a relentless and thunderous factory treadmill and the threatening buzz of a swarm of bees. The session ended indeterminately, with Scanner breaking in to a laugh when everybody realised that was it!
But it is the richness of Chris Abrahams' stripped-down delivery which stays uppermost in the mind.