The Australian experimental music community is a unique bunch of dreamers and innovators who are bold enough to push boundaries and challenge our preconceptions about music. They dare us to think differently about sound and experience it in entirely new and profound ways.
As the late American experimental music pioneer and theorist John Cage once said, “If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical, it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience. I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones”.
With that mantra in mind, check out our selection of top Australian experimental music releases for 2017:
J.Campbell – A Death in the Steelworks (March, Summer Isle)
Newcastle’s Jason Campbell draws on his hometown’s industrial history for inspiration, and if you’re familiar with his Collector alias, you already know he produces some of the most electrifying industrial techno in the country. For Campbell’s first release under his own name, he leaves the techno behind. Instead he reflects on Newcastle’s blue collar past and the steelworks era through a haunting mix of acoustic instrumentation, human sounds and field recordings taken from a former BHP Steelworks site.
Shoshana Rosenberg – A Gold Ring in a Pig’s Snout (January, Tone List)
This Adelaide-based composer uses sound to navigate and explore her relationship with God, gender, sexuality and mental illness. Her practice also champions the uniqueness and complexity produced by untrained musicianship and unpredictable sound sources. Through experiments with the bass clarinet, chanting and traditional Klezmer music, this emotionally charged EP conveys a powerful message about womanhood. It was made possible by Tone List’s commissioning project for women in experimental music, supported by Tura New Music.
raven – the night is dark, the night is silent, the night is bright, the night is loud (October, Art As Catharsis)
Sydney’s Peter Hollo is no stranger to exploratory music. When he’s not busy playing in Tangents, FourPlay String Quartet or hosting FBi Radio’s Utility Fog, this eclectic cellist crafts his own blend of bewitching music. In this long anticipated LP, Hollo presents us with a captivating exploration of experimental music, drawing from styles as diverse as neo-classical, ambient, drone, noise, breakbeat and post-rock. This unique fusion results in a highly absorbing and atmospheric sound journey that tugs at your heart strings.
Gail Priest – Heraclitus in Iceland (November, Metal Bitch Recordings)
Gail Priest is a sound artist currently based in the Blue Mountains. As a longstanding central figure in Australia’s experimental scene, she has written extensively about sound and media arts for RealTime magazine and she also established Audible Women, an online directory for women who make music with an experimental and exploratory bent. After a 4 year hiatus, Priest released a stunning new solo album containing field recordings of in and around Olafsfjordur, a coastal town in Northern Iceland. Combined with vocal and instrumental improvisations, the manipulated field recordings take the listener on a journey through untold folktales, forgotten ghost stories and suspected alien invasions.
Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism (February, Room40)
The head honcho of experimental music label Room40 released another solo record this year, and it’s one of his most ambitious albums to date. Cruel Optimism is a meditation on how power consumes, augments and ultimately shapes two subsequent human conditions: obsession and fragility. This highly evocative protest album communicates through swells of ambience, drone, noise and textural decay. The record also features contributions from Mary Rapp, Norman Westberg (Swans), Chris Abrahams and Tony Buck (The Necks), just to name a few.