Live, Music, Reviews

MONA MOFO 2017 – the primitive beginnings of electronica (Hobart)

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A number of years ago professional gambler and arts aficionado, David Walsh, created MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. This year marks the ninth running of MOFO, MONA’s Festival of Music and Art. Current MONA exhibitions can be viewed by MOFO patrons, along with some other art in places especially for MOFO. Essentially, it is a music festival so this review covers a generous selection of the acts who played over the weekend.

Violent Femmes bass player, Brian Ritchie, the curator of the festival told Daily Review one of the themes this year is primitive and early electronic music making. “Thus theremin, onndes, megaphones, CellF analog synth and MESS vintage electronics,” he said.

I’m not a musician and came to the more experimental acts at MOFO as a passionate lay music lover, although one with a broad and open mind (and ear). I suspect music lovers like me get at least as much out of events like MOFO as people who listen to a lot of experimental/ world music and virtuoso musicians.

FRIDAY

Nadia Ratsimandresy

11.30am, The Void, Mona

Nadia Ratsimandresy is a French musician who has made her life’s work the mastery of the Ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument invented in France in the late 1920s. She achieved advanced diplomas in Ondes Martenot and Musical Acoustics from the Paris Conservatorium.

This performance was held in ‘The Void’ in the MONA galleries, ‘The Bottleneck’, might have been a more apt description as she played just outside the entrance to the galeries where entry was timed, so people were walking through Nadia’s audience. A shame.

Ondes Martenot has been used a lot by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood since Kid A when they got weird. The compositions were ‘spacey’ and ‘hypnotic’, imagine a more densely composed, Everything in It’s Right Place by Radiohead and you’ll be close.

At times the sounds reminded me of theramin and another bit echoed the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, alien calling theme. My favourite movement was a low-end and off kilter synth march, something Skinny Puppy would be proud of. It was an incredible performance.

Carolina Eyck with Jennifer Marten-Smith and Jim Moginie

3pm, Main Stage, Mona

Carolina Eyck is a German musician who performs classical compositions on the Theremin. She does improvise on these works with other musicians and today she was joined by Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie on guitar and Jennifer Marten-Smith on piano.

Theremin music is associated with ‘spooky’ horror movie soundtracks but that is not what Carolina Eyck and co, produced at all today. Most pieces were melancholy and sparse. A nice change up in the set was Eyck holding a note for an extended period while Moginie lashed out with some heavy guitar.

In the middle of the set Eyck described what the Theremin is and how it works which was a nice touch and towards the end she announced that a ‘surprise’ was coming before a rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee was launched.

Pantha Du Prince

6.15pm, Main Stage, Mona

The MOFO literature describes Pantha Du Prince’s work as ‘electronic experimental music combining elements of house, noise, minimalism, and electronically altered field recordings’. I understand that definition and you could describe his set as that, but I must admit that this guy is not my cup of tea.

For me it sounded like New Year’s Day ‘come down’ music produced by, I dunno, Generic DJ 101. And the video playing behind him reminded me of my Aunty’s screensaver. Ouch, I know, but there it is …

Puscifer

8.30pm, Main Stage, Mona

Judging by all the Tool shirts and the hordes on the grassy knoll in front of the main stage, Maynard James Keenan’s (of Tool and A Perfect Circle) Puscifer were the weekend’s main attraction. I think Maynard is a very talented and intelligent guy and a great singer, but he is less able as a composer and a comic. His video played immediately before Puscifer (main picture above by Rémi Chauvin) hit the stage urging all the ‘dummies’ to turn off their phones wasn’t very funny or clever.

Puscifer’s early music consisted of quirky electronica and novelty songs, mixed with some pulsing industrial rock and on their latest album, Money Shot, the latter dominates and the lyrics lament the folly of Homo Sapiens. If you like Puscifer, I’m sure you thought the show was a masterpiece but I found it all a bit ‘samey’ after awhile and the alternating female on female and male on male wrestlers didn’t add much. Was it supposed to be equal opportunity exploitation? Page 3 Girls and Page 4 Boys?

SATURDAY

True Strength

2.30pm, Turrell Stage, Mona

True Strength was one of the many revelatory sets of the weekend. They played on the scenic Turrell Stage, situated on the Derwent, without walls, giving you a 360 degree panorama of the stage, the audience, the river and the surrounding hills – an incredibly beautiful setting.

True Strength are said to be at the vanguard of the ‘folk revival’, whatever, I love them. Their music flows from Alexander Garsden, from Melbourne, on guitar and Ida Duelund-Hansen, from Denmark, and it was the most affecting folk set I’ve heard in … I don’t know how long. This is not simple ‘60’s’ folk music, the unique arrangements evoke many moods, especially a ‘sweet melancholy’. The lyrics not being in English add to the exotic atmosphere. Beautifully done.

Circuit des Yeux

3.30pm, Main Stage, Mona

Circuit des Yeux is the stage name of compelling minimalist performer Haley Fohr (from Chicago). This was my second favourite performance of the weekend and the biggest revelation. She has been compared to Diamanda Galás, which is fair enough, but I would add PJ Harvey to that comparison as Circuit des Yeux is not as melodramatic.

Her powerful and deeply sonically resonating voice washed over me in waves of haunting and heartbreakingly raw emotion with her guitar a quiet accompaniment. Like True Strength, Circuit des Yeux’s performance showed that you do not need to understand lyrics to songs to feel them deeply (in the case of virtuoso performers).

tētēma××

7.15pm Main Stage, Mona

Tetema were my highlight of the Festival. I arrived early on Saturday morning to catch them going through sound check and it seemed like they were unsure about a few technical hitches. Boy, did it come through by show time! Tetema is the brainchild of Australian composer Anthony Pateras, who over several years, collaborated over the internet with Mike Patton (vocalist and composer who needs no introduction does he? Well, I don’t think he does MOFOs!) to eventually produce and release the album ‘Geocidal’ in 2014. This was the duo’s first live performance and for it built a band which included Will Guthrie on drums, Erkki Veltheim and a trumpet player made an appearance.

The set opened with the first three tracks from Geocidal – ‘Invocation of the Swarm’, which is indeed a swarm of wild percussion and minimal other effects, ‘Pure War’, which is a noise fest not unlike Patton’s work with Fantomas, although ‘Pure War’ is a song, not a short-assault-of-audiocide!

Tetema played most of Geocidal, included some improv, a cover, and some new work in progress perhaps? It was all first class stuff. The ‘Patton Army’ went home happy.

Photo Credit: Mona/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Photo Credit: Mona/Rémi Chauvin
Image Courtesy Mona, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

SUNDAY

Will Guthrie / Anthony Pateras

11am, Nolan Gallery, Mona

Obviously Guthrie and Pateras were tucked into bed nice and early after their work with Tetema, as they were first up in the Nolan Gallery as a duo at 11am. Guthrie and Pateras’ act consists of Pateras operating the Doepfer with Gutherie following him on his drum kit which included gongs and brass or copper bowls.

Pateras played with his back to the audience behind his Doepfer facing Gutherie, the better for them to communicate via signals in what was obviously an intricately put together set. They played without a break for 30 minutes, it began slow and ‘pulsey’, but one section included an extended ‘industrial’ march that reminded me of Einstürzende Neubauten or even a sped up Godflesh! I hope those comparisons don’t offend the guys, they were magnificent!

Mdou Moctar

1.30pm,  Main Stage, Mona  

Brian Ritchie told The Daily Review, that Mdou Moctar is his favourite artist on the bill and I can certainly see why. Another glowing review from me! If you want me to spew condescension and hold forth on the death of culture, send me to review a ridiculous bloody dance festival.

Mdou bases himself in Agadez, Niger and composes Tuareg music (traditional Berber music from various regions of West Africa) with a western style rock band and boy do they rock! Mdou came on at 1:30pm on the main stage and it was getting warmish (by Hobart standards) and hundreds of punters were getting jiggy down the front. I was standing further back under an umbrella but I couldn’t stand still.

Most would recognise his singing as being of a traditional type from that part of the world, and most would say he sings very well. However, his songs are played in an Arab style in a highly proficient, shall we say prog-rock manner. Mdou and crew have not only mastered Tuareg music, they’ve mastered western rock and put them together! Because of the state of the world – I found the experience more than a bit moving actually. God Bless ’em! Just to show I can still play ball, I’ll add this – Mdou Moctar are the real Secret Chiefs 3!

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

3.15pm, Main Stage, Mona

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (USA) is another synth expert. This time on the 1960s-era Buchla synthesizer – chosen by Ritchie, obviously because he likes her work and it fits right in with his theme. I was not so impressed. She is very talented, no doubt about that, but her dreamy, ambient bleeps, recalling Kraftwerk on valium perhaps, didn’t work on a festival main stage on an increasingly warm Hobart afternoon. In another setting, doubtless she’d kill it, not for me at this venue and timeslot though.

Alim Qasimov Ensemble

5pm, Main Stage, Mona

The Alim Qasimov Ensemble (Azerbaijan) is headed by Alim Qasimov on vocals, seconded by his daughter Fargana and an incredible band playing traditional Azerbaijani music, with improvisational flourishes. The performance began with a film subtitled ‘Alim and Fargana’ and featured them at home and around their native surrounds. The music was often upbeat and induced dancing in some punters and was often haunting as Alim wailed from the heart.

*Sorry, I didn’t catch the ‘Gurge doing Velvet Underground. Too knackered. Play Tu-Plang then Velvet Underground straight after on your stereo, with a belly full of beer served in $10 recyclable cups. That’ll do.

*Shout out to the poor guy shucking oysters all day in the ‘Oyster Bar’. I do not know if that is a common gig in the seafood industry. All I’ll say is that I hope he was paid ‘properly’.

*I bought a MOFO peak cap on Sunday cause the sun had come out, but I gave it away to a couple in my grumpy fatigue on the ferry back to Hobart cause on the back was printed, ‘I don’t believe in sin – David Walsh’ .

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