Artist/s: The Splinter Orchestra
Category: Electroacoustic, Improvisation
Label: Splitrec (Splitrec 27)
Reviewed by

“A bright sunburst of sound – sonic journeys with Splinter Orchestra.”

Maximillian Alduca (double bass), Laura Altman (clarinet), Drew Bourgeois (percussion, shakuhachi), Romy Caen (harmonium, electronics), Marco Cheng (acoustic guitar, voice), Jim Denley (wind instruments, voice, objects), Joseph Derrick (trumpet), Mel Eden (voice/electronics, objects), Peter Farrar (alto sax and PVC pipes), Andrew Fedorovitch (alto sax, voice, objects), Cor Fuhler (guitar and objects), Prue Fuller (in spirit), Adam Gottlieb (guitar/objects), Melanie Herbert (violin), Sonya Holowell (voice), Axel Powrie (flutes, objects), Shota (umofos – unidentified musical objects from outer space), Bonnie Stewart (percussion), Jack Stoneham (alto sax), Tony Osborne (vocals/electronics), and WeiZen (little critter, objects, voice)

The Splinter Orchestra at Lake Mungo

Splinter Orchestra is a Sydney-based electro-acoustic improvising ensemble (21 members are listed for this set of recordings) and this is their second release. I was a member of Splinter for several years. It was a learning experience that changed the way I improvise, listen, and think about sound. More often than not it was also an opportunity to play your instrument in a different way, to experiment.

It is in some ways impossible to put words to a recording of such spatiotemporal and sonic immensity. Impossible, also, to avoid thinking, as you become really immersed in this recording, that every sound captured here is incredibly beautiful. Mungo is truly a recording – an inscription made by sound events in a particular space-time. The structure of this release is a wonderfully evocative and playful weaving around these ideas. Three ‘movements’ (divided evenly onto three discs) are titled as times of the day – ‘Sunrise’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Midnight’. Each movement is made up of one or two pieces named after the places/spaces where they were made.

Mungo reflects what it is like to play in Splinter, not necessarily what it is like to be in an audience listening perspective. There’s mystery in these soundworlds. One listens to this recording and is immersed in its secret, luminous, phantasmal fragility. It is both very ambient and extremely attention grabbing. Super melodic but also utterly textural. One worries about not being able to concentrate, to take it all in. Then one gets swept back up by the twittering machine.

Any type of listening you can muster will work for Mungo. At no point did I think – ‘this is really dragging on’, despite three of the four pieces running for between 30 minutes and an hour – in total around two and a half hours across the three discs. There are periods of overwhelming beauty here, but more often I feel like this music accompanies you. You can be in it, be with it. It’s not demanding but it is as engaging as you let it be. (The experience of listening to Mungo on noise-cancelling headphones, as opposed to a more open listening-environment, is highly recommended. But then again, listening with an accompaniment of the ambient sounds of wherever you might be is a very splinter way of doing things).

It seems pointless to attempt to apply distinctions of genre and form onto this music. Is it music? Noise? Is it composition? Free improvisation? Soundscape? Has this music been made for Splinter, and/or the listener? All of these concerns are in equal parts provoking and beside the point. Listening to Mungo, I begin to realise that the questions posed by this recording are actually part of its strength. The question that keeps coming back is – how did the location of this recording affect the outcome? In a lot of ways I feel like the thing about Splinter is that it creates an environment of ‘being-with sound’. We as listeners, together with the players of Splinter, are all in relation through sound, we are connected. (These ideas are informed by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy).

Simple white packaging and photos of Splinter in situ give Mungo something of a documentary feel. Are we listening to a journey into ‘the centre’, of sound – of this continent, of a sound-making community? Some of the sounds that emerge from the players of Splinter are truly amazing. Lights on the horizon. Whisperings in the dark. Conversations on the micro dissection of space/time. Interjections from birds, insects, the wind. You wish you could stay in a particular ‘scene’ for longer, but these movements move on, constantly. Instead of having to decipher the largeness of this ensemble as a quite sizable whole, this recording splinters splinter.


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