Argo is the name of a vibrant new concert series in Brisbane that brings contemporary classical music into the popular forms of electronica, dance music and ambient music. Formed in 2015 by composer friends Connor D’Netto and Ben Heim, it shifts between different and often highly unusual venues, and sets out to serve on one hand as a vehicle for fellow composers to have their work performed, and to provide audiences with an immersive form of musical experience drawn from the electronic scene.
A key part of what Argo does is incorporate elaborate live video projections into their performances. For this they assign the task to a professional video artist who as part of the artistic team gives the visual element a fully integrative role – so often this can be a tacked-on afterthought in new music concerts. A good idea of how Argo achieve this, and the kind of music they perform, can be viewed in a clip on their Facebook page.
Venue choice is another central element. In each concert, Argo sets out to create a multi-sensual platform tailored to different spaces, as D’Netto explains. “There is a genre or style called ‘classical music’, and there is a way of experiencing it. All I’m doing is presenting another way that is equally valid. One way is going to a symphony concert, which I love, but another is going to a weird underground venue, which is very, very different, and engaging with different audiences who may be used to immersive electronic music.”
Such a venue is Spring Hill Reservoir in Brisbane, where Argo held one of its concerts, FLOW, last year. In this fascinating Gothic-looking interior they had violin, cello and guitars (electric and acoustic), the players starting at different parts of the space and then coming together. Another concert last year, MEDITATIONS, had pianos, flutes, strings and surround sound electronics spread around inside St John’s Cathedral – “I love it for its beautiful vast acoustic,” says D’Netto.
This year, they start off in the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art with SATURATION, a concert for acoustic sextet and electronics and visuals by local video artist Kit Mason. For this, D’Netto, who now runs Argo solo (Heim is in London studying for his Master’s), says he is building “a sculptural projection surface that will hang from the roof over the audience” onto which Mason will project images live during the performance.
Two new works will be performed. One is Heims’ ‘Ballad for Piano and Electronics: Ambivalent Heartbeats’ by Heim. In this, “the piano will be hooked up and effects taken up from bits of the music to create vast sonic landscapes around it,” says D’Netto. The other is ‘Music for Flute, Piano and Apparitions’ by Thomas Green (aka Praxis Axis) in which he “lets himself go wild – the electronics are samples of the piano and flute but torn apart”.
The flautist, Tim Munro, is formerly from renowned Chicago-based Eighth Blackbird. Other works in the concert will be Philip Glass’ Music in Similar Motion’, and Australian premieres of John Luther Adams’ ‘The Light Within’ and Tristan Perich’s ‘A/B/C/D’.
Argo has three aims, D’Netto says. One is to involve wider and more diverse audiences, “particularly younger people and those who may not have any previous experience in classical music”. Another is to connect the classical community better with new music, by “challenging conservatism and opening up vastly different opportunities”. The third is to enable composers, particularly young composers and “those who do more innovative things that may not fit into preconceived notions of new music”, to have their music performed.
“The idea is to overcome preconceived notions of what people may think of new music, and about going to classical concerts. For composers, it is about offering further choices over constraints they might normally face.”