Experimental as anything


Experimental music - remember that? only just?...Join the crowd. Experimental music has lost its insecure foothold in most people's memories, or maybe interest just waned. It enjoyed brief popularity in the early 80s with groups like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and Severed Heads (the latter two have since become more conventional, the former - defunct).

These bands were and are, quite well known. However, if you were to mention bands that the loop orchestra count as their contemporaries, you would stump quite a few of music's most ardent fans: Nurse With Wound, Hafla Trio, Lustmord, and Soviet France from the UK; Controlled Bleeding, Negativland, Boyd Rice, and The Mnemonists from the USA.

The loop orchestra began in 1982 as a group of 2MBS-FM midnight to dawn announcers, Only two original members remain - John Blades and ex-2JJJ-FM announcer, Peter Doyle. The current line-up also contains Anthony Maher, Richard Fielding and Ashley Blower.

The group was involved in experimenting with the tape medium, all performances they have done to date have been individual concepts. From 1982-1984 the group did three live-to-air performances on 2MBS. These consisted of tape loops and cassette loops mixed together in a live montage of loop and sound effects. One of these was released on a cassette called The Men Of Ridiculous Patience, which came out, as the name implies, long after the performance.

In 1986 the loop orchestra was invited to play in the sound-works section of the sixth Sydney Biennale. Their piece was called Their Eyes Follow the Reactions.

John: "It was taken out of Marshal McLauhan's writings about TV and media and is theory was that when kids start to watch TV, the main things they watch are the reactions of people. And this piece was using the peripheral sounds on TV. We picked three programs on one particular evening - News Overnight, Terry Willesee and Prisoner - and we recorded bits of sound, bits of music, a trolley being wheeled, the noises between words but no words at all. They were mixed together and some of them doctored."

This was followed by another radio piece - Hypnotique and then a second live performance.

Peter: "We were asked to perform at the Dome (in the Gunnery, Woolloomooloo, Sydney). Only two of us could make it, due to study commitments, girlfriends, heroin addictions, etcetera... So Ashley and I did a piece called Shredding The Evidence, not long after the Oliver North incident, when the girl destroyed all the evidence. The sounds for that particular performance were all of paper being crushed - sped up and slowed down and so on. In the Dome, that sounded wonderful - it didn't sound like crushed paper, it sounded like drums. A few people there said it sounded facistic because it sounded like marching feet."

Their last piece to date was, again, a live performance at Sydney's First Draft gallery in July. The show was entitled Suspense.

John: "The concept came from the fact that we're all interested in the use of sound and music in horror and suspense films and the way sound is constructed. The scores were usually terribly inventive soundscapes. The suspense aspect of the film noir40s period is a very black and white thing - man's desperation against society. The musical scores got those films composed by people like Hans J. Salter, were an integral part of the films - you couldn't have the films without the music. We decided to create a performance experimenting with those techniques. We used 60 black and white slides of suspense aspects from early film along with tape loops of typical suspense scoring."

There have been seven performances in total over a six-year period (their eighth will take place at Street Level gallery in Penrith at the end of September).

Why such a low profile?

Peter: "To me. It's not professional attitude we haven't got. I mean we'd love to be famous and rich, have nice cars and nice girlfriends. We've all got jobs - bar the anarchist, Richard...he refuses to work - so time is difficult and getting these people together is difficult also, and the fact that there's not many places we can play - not the fact that the Tivoli's been pulled down - it's just that our type of music is not what you'd call popular."

The Loop Orchestra started up their own record label this year, endless Recordings. The label has released its first record, Ten Dubs That Shook The World by Sheriff Lindo & The Hammer.

Why weren't the Loopies the first artists to be released?

Peter: "We always had the idea that we'd like to release all our material on vinyl independently of other people. We then realised that Anthony (fellow Loopie) had these dub musics that he'd been working on for some years now which were already finished, recorded and sounding fantastic. The Loop Orchestra hadn't sufficient material done on professional equipment, so we decided to release Anthony's stuff under the guise of Sheriff Lindo - to great commercial success I might add, we've sold 100 copies! It's getting quite a bit of attention here and there, suprisingly."

John: "The question might arise as to why we would release dub music, because it isn't entirely representative of the work that we do, but what it does represent is a lot of experimental techniques in sound which reggae producers have been making since the mid 70s. As a result dub is no longer exclusively used with reggae."

Are there currently any other experimental outfits in Australia?

Peter: "A Melbourne band called GUM whose work, in conceptual terms, runs along the same lines as The Loop Orchestra - except that they use records which they warp, scratch, cut up, and they actually do loops on vinyl as well. When they perform live they use eight turntables in the same way as we would use tape machines. We're planing on doing a performance with them, either here or in Melbourne, fairly soon. They've also released an album which is extremely clever and very well crafted."

Do you see a brighter future for your artform?

Peter: "No, although John Cage once said 'Today's avant garde is tomorrow's popular music.' and it's true, it does happen - just not with our avant garde."

John: "I think with his work, it has a lot of similarities with performance art and the early ideas of the futurists and I think it will always remain the avant garde."

On that note...

Peter: "Aren't you going to ask us about the groupies, then?"

Vivienne Lawrence
RAM Magazine, 1988