The space is stark as we walk in. I feel like it’s trying to evoke the abandoned arthouse-warehouse thing, but it’s actually captured something far more intriguing: the subversion of what was obviously once an open-plan office space to become artistic and jagged. The space holds two stages, a few glass-panel offices full of visual art, and a modest man-behind-a-counter-with-an-esky bar. It feels sparse and open, like a house missing its furniture, and Dots+Loops projects their eclectic work over this familiar-unsettling scene. It’s perfect.
As I walk in, partnered with a friend who’s actually studied music, I am accosted by what I can only guess is random bursts of staccato sound made by violins and a clarinet. Ken Thomson and the Black Square Quartet were nearing the finale of a riveting piece that was as inaccessible to me as it was interesting to my buddy. He later tells me the sounds are “atonal” and “serialist”, which my unaccustomed ear misinterpreted as miraculously planned randomness.
Atonality refers to the lack of a consistent key. You know how singing the last note of a pop song makes the song feel finished, and the note feels like the “right” note to finish on? Atonality is the active rejection of this – there’s no key and no central tone. Serialism is a bit more complicated and the combination of the two made for a challenging listening experience. The piece was jarring, swooping and halting with beautiful harmony but no predictability. The performers were energetic and emphatic, their sudden strains strange and wonderful. Without a discernible chorus, a time signature or a key, I was lost, and it was exhilarating.
As the performance wrapped up, more experienced audience members were already dragging stools along to seat themselves at the second stage, located on the far side of the slightly L-shaped room. I understand the need at most multi-act shows to have multiple stages – bumping in the next act is much easier when the audience is busy watching a performance somewhere else. Unfortunately, the space wasn’t big enough to have a whole audience’s worth of seats permanently set at both stages, necessitating standing or BYO chair adventures ranging between stages.
At the second stage, Rob Knaggs stepped up with an electric cello, a beautiful creature of black wood and metal that evoked the fullness of a symphony cello with the sleek reinterpretation of a sci-fi film. Accompanied by keyboardist Tobias Broughton and drummer Guy Webster (who, quite unfortunately, struggled to play in time), we experienced a set of rock-cello ballads, rising swells of musical pieces augmented by projections of video taken in the Knaggs’ most recent AIR location in Canada.
Knaggs played with gusto and precision, carving gorgeous melodies along well-constructed, surprising and interesting compositions that integrated the other instruments well. There were plenty of rock’n’roll moments satisfyingly played out on cello, this most classical instrument – watching someone slide down the neck of a cello as if sliding into a guitar solo (with considerable distortion to match) is unexpectedly kickass. However, in combination with the huge projection behind the artists (and over the drummer’s face), I felt a bit like I was watching a rock version of a Sigur Ros film clip. The imagery was stark but bland: picture close-up footage of a campfire, or dogs pulling a sled through the snow, or people’s feet walking by a beach. I felt like it was supposed to evoke the musical subject matter, rousing emphatic or nostalgic emotionality, and didn’t miss the mark by much.
Before we left, we caught Figbird, a trio of musicians who came together to play some seriously gorgeous pieces. A harp, a flute and a violin is a combination I didn’t know I needed in my life. These three musicians (and their cameo egg-shaker-ist) create such lilting, ethereal sound I couldn’t help but enjoy it. They opened with an original, moved on to a wonderfully arranged Björk cover and premiered a new work by Indigenous Australian artist Brenda Gifford. They opened the set by saying it was the first time this year they’d played together, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled in the new year to see if they reunite sooner than they did this year.
We unfortunately didn’t stay for the “local post-genre club-focused acts” purported to fuel the “afterparty” set later in the evening, but if the earlier acts are anything to go by, I’d expect to be excited, confused and amazed in turns trying to dance to such riveting post-genre work.
I really enjoy being thrown into an artistic experience I have no formula for, and post-genre music, by necessity, seems to create this exact set of circumstances. It forces an opening of curiosity and perspective. Is music still music if one rejects a central tone or key? A melody or chorus? The usual instruments in their usual styles? Dots+Loops provides excellent answers to all these questions, bundled together into one odd, eclectic, at times mesmerising evening.
Kelsey attended Dots+Loops “Nonstop” on Saturday 7 December, 2019.
Dots + Loops is
Artistic Director | Kieran Welch
Associate Director | Flora Wong
Marketing Manager | Emily Kuehner
Nonstop included performances by:
Ken Thomson (USA)
Erik Griswold + Louise Curham present Yokohama Flowers
Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed ft. Kyla Matsuura-Miller
Brisbane Music Festival stage takeover ft. Alex Raineri
Sage, Briar String Quartet + Flowerhead
Black Square Quartet
Figbird perform a new work by Brenda Gifford
Dots+Loops Performance Fellows