Taming the beast

• American composer Alvin Curran is set to harness the sounds of Fremantle Ports | Photo supplied

• American composer Alvin Curran is set to harness the sounds of Fremantle Ports | Photo supplied

Electronic music pioneer in Freo for Totally Huge

Alvin Curran is still keen to “tame the beast” of a “human museum of sound” more than 40 years after pioneering live electronic music.

Since the early 1960s the American has created more than 150 compositions and sound installations which incorporate everything “from synthesisers and taped natural sounds to rock and classical instrumentation”.

John Cage

“I’m not about entertaining anyone,” the now 74-year-old says slowly in his comforting, warm-as-honey world-travelled accent.

“I’m more about bringing together in the pure John Cageian sense this mass, human museum of sound which is out there and trying to tame it into a new beast.

“That is, it is already is a beast so I want to make a mythical modern beast out of it.

“There are sounds out there which are absolutely amazing that you can’t bring from the outside to the inside, without recording them and sampling them and playing them back.

“I have been literally bringing the environment and the ambient and oral world to my music as if it is an ongoing symphony. There is no beginning nor end to it.”

Curran—co-founder of the avant-garde group Musica Elettronica Viva in Rome in 1966—is performing two free shows this weekend at Fremantle’s B Shed and Victoria Quay as part of the Totally Huge Music Festival.

On Saturday afternoon Curran performs Maritime Rites “a rich collage of maritime sounds—harbour sounds, fog horns and music from ports rivers and lakes”.


He rounds off the festival at B Shed on Sunday at 8pm when he presents Beams, with an ensemble musos from the WA Academy of Performing Arts.

“This is not only primeval avant-garde it is an antediluvian ritual—cabaret songs and dances with basketballs which inspired the Dadaists, the modernists, the punks, the mayors of the city of Darmstadt, the merry-go-round walk-in-place of Thelonius Monk, the whole 20th century experimental surgery of chance operations and detuned pharmaceuticals,” he says.
Curran says getting musicians to lay down while performing or bouncing basketballs is anything but


“It represents a challenge, a sculptural choreography for them to make music while lying on the floor,” he says. “It’s a very simple piece of music theatre—structured, spontaneous, improvised music, based on simple instructions and modules.

“My music is made with anything you can hear and I love the sound of basketballs.

“The balls themselves when they bounce even randomly make marvellous instant music and this is what it’s all about.

It’s about instant music.”

The festival’s Fremantle program includes two sound installations at Kidogo Art Galley on Bathers Beach: Miriltones is the work of collaborating Dutch artists, Peter Bosch and Simone Simons, and Australian Tim Barrass’ Greenwash, which Curran describes as a “solar wind chime”. Entry to the sound installations is free.

Totally Huge artistic director Tos Mahoney says the program focuses on “new muisc and sound art featuring electroacoustic practices”.

“‘Real’ instruments with electronic and/or computerised sound—which might be considered to sit between high art and pop culture. “Audiences will find there are many opportunities to really engage with the works, many connections to be made, and directions to take— both aurally and visually.”


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