As I walked into the NOISE I was handed a blindfold. There was a lot of dry ice in the air, it’s stale and off-putting odor instantly reminding me of high school dances. My friend and I sat at a table in the Sound Lounge, a venue that tries to be a jazz club like you see in the movies, but that is just way too contemporary to pull it off. I had no idea what to expect.
In reviewing the NOISE I am confronted with an unusual problem. Nothing they ever play is repeated. Their recorded works are improvised in the studio, sometimes with images or words to prompt them, but never the product of writing. The same is true of their live shows. Classically trained violist James Eccles tells me that he counts among his personal influences Sigur Ros and Radiohead.
Sections of the gig are hypnotic and spellbinding. In other sections I am completely disoriented. Without their two violinists who are away on tour, the cellist, Ollie Martin, and violist, James, are joined by an electronic musician and a guitarist. The music that emerges is at different times reflective and cantankerous, timid and boisterous, old and new. Listening to the NOISE is an almost meditative process. Blindfold on, you are transported away from the gig to visit whatever memories, images and emotions are inspired in you.
It is unclear whether the NOISE will ever pay all the bills for James Eccles. When I spoke to him, his passion was for doing something new, something that fulfilled him creatively, and not for adding zeros to his bank account. He spoke with fondness of the creative process, something so rewarding for him that it makes working for other people as a session musician and teaching worthwhile, in that it allows him to do what he loves.
He also speaks with passion about the need for Australia to help encourage and facilitate the work of new musicians. As lovely as it is for Australian orchestras to play Beethoven, Eccles wants us to create their modern equivalent. How we get there is, for James, different than what I would have expected. He was sad to see the ANU School of Music close last year, but thinks it’s closure is part of a broader failure to appreciate and value new music. Music schools, he says need to teach artists accounting and entrepreneurial skills, in order for them to survive in a world where only 4% of tertiary graduates make their money by just playing music. For the artist who wants to challenge the status quo, he sees this as necessary to survive in a culture that is inhospitable to the new arts.
Having lived in Berlin for 6 years, James recalled playing Beethoven’s ‘9th Symphony’ on Re-unification day. For the German people, the Symphony is not meaningful purely because it is beautiful, but because it is part of a broader cultural history. The impression I got was that James wants to write the Australian equivalent, but would be almost as happy to see it happen.