February 2015

“Two tones walk into a bar…”

Arek Gulbenkoglu
By Jon Dale

Like many of his peers—Australians like Adam Süssmann, Matt Earle, Peter Blamey, Rosalind Hall and Dale Gorfinkel—it can be hard to pin down what Arek Gulbenkoglu does, or where he sits. He sits close to, but not quite within, various fields—EAI; minimalist improvisation; extended technique playing; radical approaches to the guitar—but it’s fairer to discuss Arek’s playing via broader terms. That way, the richness of his deceptively minimal approaches can flourish. At times, as mentioned in the interview transcript below, he inches closer to conceptual art: consider recordings like Points Alone, or his recently released album, The Reoccurrence, as artist’s music, but not ‘art music’ (and certainly not sound art).

On the topic of The Reoccurrence, a project Gulbenkoglu completed after this interview, Arek has provided further notes:

There are essentially two key themes.

There is no/little notion of instrumental imprint or technical virtuosity. I have tried to side step what is an extended technique to something more obtuse. I have tried to capture sound at various levels of granularity and materiality, from the micro to the macro. From a knitting needle resonating against a snare drum stand, to the 1961 wood and steel modernist staircase at my house, to the sounds of interventions in large environments/ spaces where my actions are possibly futile and/or irrelevant…

The second theme is our ability to perceive and comprehend the patterns we hear and see in our everyday actions… Life forces/urges us to do things repeatedly. When you do the same thing again and again, your ability to notice changes is heightened. This alters the way we experience sameness and change. Has x actually changed? Why has x changed? What does this mean? I believe the sleight of hand can be more powerful than a grand gesture…

The following interview moves backward from that moment, tracing Arek’s solo music, his collaborations with various players—Süssmann, Gorfinkel and Hall—and his “early days” in free improvising quartet Dworzec. But we start at the very start, while sharing pints at The Victoria Hotel, in Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria.

We could just talk about your music, but that is only part of the story. For me, part of this [interview] process is to figure out how you got to that point. The first time I heard of you making music, and the first time I met you, was via Dworzec [1]. But it’d be good to know about what came before then: even down to simple information like, where were you born, what’s your family situation… You’re of Armenian descent, correct?

Yeah, from Istanbul, Turkey. We came to Australia in 1982, so I was about 5½, 6 [years old]. I went to prep not knowing any English. I remember sitting there and looking at the soles of people’s shoes, and the patterns on them, because I didn’t really understand what was going on.

In terms of music, my family’s not a particularly musical family. Though, actually, my dad’s an architect, my mum’s a psychologist, so I’m interested in those general areas. Where I draw my ideas or ways of thinking and doing music [from], other musicians or records in this broad area of experimental music are probably the least obvious or useful reference points for what I do. Retrospectively you can join some dots, and say that having those interests and those professionals within my environment growing up, no doubt has some sort of influence.

Well, they’re both about structuring or figuring out the structure of internal environments.

Definitely. A lot of what people do in our area of music is about creating things that are internalised in a way, because this is a lot about people [working] within whatever means they have. I’m interested in people, within whatever means they have, creating something which is some sort of world within itself.

Someone who we know who I think is a pretty explicit case of this is Julian Williams[2]. You see it through several mediums. You see it through his music, you see it through his plays, [and] you see it through those ’zines, From The Same Mother: you go back to those and this is like a psycho-geography of someone, laid out for you. What I find interesting, irrespective of the particular nuances in the genre, is that world.

Another person who, you wouldn’t in any superficial sense draw a line with what I do—well, maybe you can—musically, is Matt Earle [3], with Muura. You listen to that and it’s like: That’s a galaxy for you. There’s a sense of a world and a logic and something of itself. You take it or leave it, but it’s its own thing. I think that thing about creating—you have your own environment, and you communicate out from that, and you open that up to people, [and] if they want to engage with that or not, it’s neither here nor there, quite frankly.

That’s probably a commonality across a lot of artists that I find interesting. That sort of singularity in terms of their own vision, and there’s a certain sincerity and—honesty’s not the right word… You can tell if something’s of trend, versus stuff that is like, Wow, you can see a five, ten, fifteen-year trajectory.

The work isn’t currying favour.

It is what it is and it doesn’t seek to appease anyone in terms of what’s in or out. Julian and Matt, I don’t know why they’ve come to mind, but they have come to mind, which, listening to my music, you probably wouldn’t go, “Oh, those two…”

It’s a sobering way of creating. It’s interesting too: I don’t think it’s geographically specific that they’ve come to mind, but I think in some ways, understanding where they are in terms of their location and the cultural context [is important], too. Maybe I can appreciate them in terms of that question of being authentic or honest. But I don’t think you necessarily have to have a close sense of the geographical or cultural context to be able to sort through it all, I think that still comes through in people’s music and art, more generally.

What were the stations of your various epiphanies [musically, in particular]? Was it something you discovered by yourself, or by that stage were you part of a broader socio-cultural web?

One thing that was pretty influential was the free noise scene of the mid to late ’90s, in New Zealand. It’s probably pretty unfashionable now. This is probably what [you and I] bonded over, in terms of that post-Xpressway [4] scene. I remember hearing that stuff, and I’m guessing it’s what people listening to the Sex Pistols thought: “I can do this”. I just remember thinking those records, like Flies Inside The Sun [5], a lot of stuff on Bruce Russell’s label [6], was just mysterious and beautiful and ‘other’. I’d obviously been exposed to a lot of alternative music, but that was that next step, I guess, where the structure totally breaks down, where you go from a gradient—and I always find the structure of music quite interesting—[to the point where the music] went off the edge. That was a really pivotal time for me.

Being someone in Melbourne and getting those [Corpus Hermeticum] catalogues via mail, and seeing all this stuff that you could order: that was a great experience of consuming music. I remember being so chuffed, one of our achievements was getting one of our records into one of those catalogues, because those catalogues were brilliant. So that was probably a milestone. I don’t know if you’d call it an epiphany. A lot of those guys referenced more classic—I remember from there, getting AMM’s The Crypt. That was a hub point for going off on various threads.

I remember buying Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures on LP and just going, “Wow, that’s an incredible record.” Another record of that period, probably a bit later, that I thought of in terms of what I was doing at the time, which was not sort of an epiphany but sort of parallel, but he was doing [it] a lot, lot better than I was doing it, was the first Kevin Drumm record [7], on Perdition Plastics. I remember listening to that and going, “This is just fantastic.”

This is also the same time as Dworzec is happening?


When did you start to actually make music with Dworzec? Because you used to play French horn…

Yeah, I played French horn at high school.

So how did it come about that you, Ant and Henry started making music, and then why did you switch to guitar?

I’m not sure. I just remember us playing in Henry’s little house in Carlton, and it was so small that to record, someone would literally be in the hallway, and their amp would be at the end of the hallway, and then someone in another room, and then someone in the lounge room. It’s this ridiculous configuration. That’s what springs to mind. I can’t remember what the conversation would have been to say, “Let’s get together,” because I can’t remember who had what instruments.

Sometimes that stuff just happens naturally anyway.

Yeah. I’ve got a feeling we used to just get together and play and mess around with making sounds. That was literally as organised as it was. We’d just get together and make some sound, and at a certain point we started recording it. Lou came along a little bit later.

But obviously at some point it started to gain some momentum, because there was the 7" [8], so at a certain point you thought, Okay, this is a going concern, we’re going to make records and document this, as opposed to just…

Yeah, totally. I don’t think there would have been too much science to that at all. It’s that whole thing of, at that time, creating a little world. I remember we thought a lot about the packaging, the format: those sorts of things were always pretty important to us.

Well, if you’re presenting a world, you may as well present it well.

That was the idea. Definitely. Sorry about that, I just don’t remember the details.

Sometimes this isn’t the stuff you remember, it’s the epiphenomenal stuff you remember, or the weird little moments. I found out about Dworzec through Mark Harwood [9] at Synaesthesia, as I think many people did, I would imagine.

Mark was pretty incredible in terms of being supportive. It was also him being a physical location for all this weird stuff that previously you had to work really hard to get. That was really what he provided to a lot of people to Melbourne. It was pretty incredible, in retrospect. Especially considering nowadays, there probably isn’t an equivalent, is there?

Not to Synaesthesia, anyways. There are record stores, some of which do a fine service of being a community hub, but it’s a different community and different spirit to what Mark was doing. Mark was really at the frontier.

And Mark does have that thing where, I don’t know if research is the word, but he always seems to find stuff. He’s incredibly knowledgeable and he uncovers a lot of things and opens a lot of avenues for people to dip into different things. I don’t know how the access would be there otherwise.

How did Dworzec change and develop for you? For me there’s a very clear shift. The 7", the 10" [10], and the first CD [11] are of a piece. They seem to be a very familiar—they sit together for me as the documentation of a period of work, and then that second record on Metonymic [12] is way removed. Wednesday feels far more considered.

I think that’s probably right. With any sort of music or practice you do, hopefully it’s a trajectory which is getting, maybe not better, but there’s some sort of development. That record was probably the peak of what we did, and those earlier records I haven’t listened to in almost 15 years, and probably would be a little bit embarrassed to hear them now. But it’s that thing where it’s a bit like…

You don’t want people showing you your baby photos every day.

Yeah, or showing you your haircut from that period. It made sense at the time. (laughter) I think it’s probably a conclusion, or the outcome of a lot of playing. Although having said that, I’ve got a feeling there was a bit of a break: around that time, people had moved overseas, and that sort of thing.

That music is what it is, in some ways, and I can only talk in a partial way with respect to that music.

How about where Dworzec sat, if you feel it did relate to other things that were happening in Melbourne? Because to me, the thing that intrigued me about Dworzec was that it seemed like a satellite. It seemed out of nowhere; these records just appeared.

We were talking about Julian, for example: I can understand Julian’s history, from the Perth thing, to the connections with people like Guy Blackman [13]—that whole world, which is like several worlds wrapped up into one, Chapter Music, From The Same Mother, all that stuff. Even looking at someone like Chris Smith [14], even if he might seem like an outlier at first, well you know, he was in Golden Lifestyle Band [15] with Pat (Ridgewell) [16], it was Guy Blackman who told me to buy Chris’s first single. He was obviously in that world. Dworzec to me fell far outside of any frame of reference I had for what was happening in Melbourne.

Probably socially, that’s right. A lot of this stuff’s very socially based. We were just doing what we were doing. We were aware, or became aware of those people. That was a really fun scene, back then… We were very tangentially part of that scene, I would have thought. That was a good time to be… Young and free in Melbourne, I guess. (laughter)

I was unpacking some boxes, and I found a CD and it was a live recording someone had done of a Dworzec show from 1999 or 2000. And it was actually really good, because for the first five minutes, all you can hear is people talking over us, really loud. (laughs) So yeah, we were part of that scene, but the format we had to work within was a pub format. And people thought we were wankers. Nowadays, you have a lot more stuff in galleries, and more appropriate spaces.

During that period, too, we were playing relatively quietly, and that didn’t really work well. Having said that, we had so much fun playing, and we had a subset of people who were interested. But yeah, we weren’t really connected in with the sound art crowd.
There were some good gigs, and some lovely people along the way, too. Again, I feel a bit weird talking about this, because it was a very collective thing, but I’ve got only one perspective.

Of course. But it’s also a fundamental part of what you have done. So of course you have to talk about this.

Although, not to disregard it, but I’ve got to say, it seems a long time ago.

What you have done in the past however many years, I can see is borne of certain things within Dworzec, but it’s fundamentally different. But even if what you do afterwards is 180 degrees removed from it, it’s still in response to certain experiences and sets of conditions you came across in Dworzec. I can see that in some of the approaches to the instrument you had in Dworzec, which fed into your earlier solo music.


That’s one thing I want you to talk about—your approach to the instrument, and how it’s developed over time. And of course, your instrument has shifted. You play snare drum, now, right?

I remember when playing and recording with Will Guthrie [17], about ten years ago now, and I was playing prepared guitar, and Will was using a lot of electronics and his table-top set up, and he made the point, “Oh, you’re more of a percussionist than I am.” And in some ways—I’m still using all the same preparations I had for the guitar. I’ve changed the resonating object, but it’s ostensibly the same toolkit.

This is what I was going to propose—you actually play your preparations. They’re your instrument.

I think that’s spot on. There has been that progression, but it’s people looking at it a bit inversely, in terms of whether they see the primary instrumentation as the thing, or whether it’s the preparations.

At the same time, there are sets of things about both the guitar and the snare—those instruments still dictate certain parameters that you need to work within. And also…

And I can’t actually play both of them, too. That’s a commonality. (laughter)

What is the process of finding the preparation you use? I would find it hard to believe it’s pure chance, but I could be wrong.

I think it’s partially chance. I’ve always been interested in objects, the three dimensional aspects of objects. I don’t know if it’s a sort of thing on sight, where I get a sense of, “Oh, that could be interesting.” I learned very early on that you don’t go to music shops, you go to hardware stores. A lot of it’s just trial and error, Jon.

But you do hunt out and look for specific sounds. There’s nothing arbitrary about the outcome. It’s not like, Here’s a preparation, what sound eventuates, is what eventuates. It’s not that at all.

No, it gets workshopped and refined over time. I know what a certain chain of resonance or chain of action will yield, but how I come to that I guess is a bit of experimentation.

So, there are those refinements, obviously. If I were to ask you to articulate what are the parameters…

I don’t think I look for anything in particular, Jon.

That’s bullshit. You do look for something. Maybe you haven’t articulated it. I say that because your sound is not interchangeable with any number of other players. I can tell when it’s you playing. There’s a specific voice there. I don’t like the terms we use, in relation to this stuff. You’ll have to excuse me for being a bit glib and saying things like ‘voice’. There’s a certain spectrum of tonality that I associate with, or that means I understand that you’re playing.

I accept that proposition, and I think that’s a good thing. I can’t articulate what that defining of parameters is. It’s a bit like, when you hear Rowland S. Howard [18], you know it’s him. So you go to someone and say, “Why do you like that particular guitar sound, or why does your voice sound like that?” I don’t know, Jon. It’s certainly not conscious, but maybe there is some sort of aesthetic that I’ve gone towards.

But you wouldn’t feel comfortable articulating what that aesthetic would be?

Can I be as glib as to say that if it is anything, maybe it’s the fact that what you’ve just said, which I take in a really positive way, which is that I’m not copying or it doesn’t sound like anyone else? I don’t think it’s that conscious in terms of that I’ve heard everything and everyone and I’ve decided I’m going to be someone different. Maybe part of that parameterisation is kind of going, Okay, I don’t want to be in this space or that space. And let’s face it: we’ve got the guitar and the snare drum, which are probably the most popular instruments…

Well, they’re very culturally loaded instruments. There are sets of meanings that come with both of those instruments.

But yes, I think the advantage is that I can’t play both of them. (laughter) But it’s an interesting question. I’m happy to hear your observation; it’s not something I can define.

That’s fair. Let’s go back a bit to—we’re talking chronology, which we had been, and I’m wondering if a way to tease out some of that stuff is to think about that first solo record [19], which Caleb [20] released. What was the intent with that record? That is a very consciously constructed record. Totally, absolutely, beautifully constructed record. There’s not one move in there that feels inessential.

Do people think of that as an improv record?

I think they do, but most people don’t listen.

That was edited and constructed very iteratively. Everything is purposeful and intended and in retrospect it sounds a little bit too so. But again, hindsight. I put a lot of effort into that. James Wilkinson, who engineered that, was pretty invaluable in that process, so again, you can only do those things where you have people working with you in that technical sense. We’re talking about this pure sound stuff, [and] part of the process, which is pretty integral, is how you record it, how you present it, how you master it. That’s an element I like to play with in various formats.

That particular record was incredibly thought through, multi-tracked in certain sections, mastered in a very meticulous way. That’s James’s work, in that respect, with what I wanted to do.

What did you want to do?

I wanted something which took the instrumentation but really worked in terms of something which was very close and tactile, and where the instrumentation almost was irrelevant, once you were listening to it through speakers: it was very close, and a very immediate experience. That was one objective. I think one common thing across, especially the later period, has been how the experience of listening to music works and working within the bounds of that experience, in terms of what is recorded, and how things are recorded, how things are presented in a format, in packaging. It’s that experiential aspect of it that I’m most interested in, rather than, “he plays guitar,” or “he plays snare,” or whatever. That’s a second order issue, as far as I’m concerned.

I think of what I’m making as this thing, and in that particular instance, it was about having immediacy with the speakers, and not having space, and just presenting something that [dealt with an] incredible economy in terms of sound and experience. I think we’ve both discussed a lot of the Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Schimpfluch-Gruppe material, which people probably don’t really think of as a reference point.

It makes perfect sense to me. I was going to ask you about that. What attracts you to that work? The incredible economy in the editing?

The editing, and the fact that the seams, the edits are part of the experience. There is obviously a whole other dimension in what is produced which is almost benign and invisible in the recorded document. And I find that incredibly interesting. I think a lot of the interesting recordings of art, where you’ve got that very European tradition of sound art, which I’m interested in too, are where you have documents of particular happenings or physical manifestations, and that are documented in something that is a partial view. It’s not inferior, just different. So it’s about transforming that action into something different.

Again, it’s not necessarily about my interest in them in terms of the sonic material or the performative aspects, but it’s more the tangential processes. I like drawing those links and taking things from other forms and informing what I do. Not in a one-to-one sense. Probably—again, it’s stuff that people probably don’t draw lines to. Which is fine, which is good.

It was interesting, though, when you brought that up. I remember you discussing a fondness for the bleak narrative of their work as well.

Yeah. And theirs is probably a different starting point. In some ways I’ve taken a process element of theirs and used it in a way that is far less bleak, obviously, but which I’ve found instructive in terms of what I’ve been doing. That’s what I’ve always been interested in terms of various bits of art, or other things around us, like design, I’m more interested in that, rather than sitting in a room, listening to every improv record that’s come out in the last year. I’ve just got no interest in doing that. (laughs)

One thing I remember noting earlier today, when I was taking notes for what we could talk about, is that my understanding of you is that of someone who doesn’t listen to very much music. Or who perhaps is very particular about what is listened to, and the context in which it’s listened to, and perhaps even the amount of times it’s listened to. I don’t know if that’s fair or unfair.

Yeah. I don’t think that’s unfair. I do listen to music. I probably, like a lot of people, went nuts when I was a bit younger when it came to getting up to a certain pace, almost making up on the history in terms of going back, and incrementally I’ve kept tabs. I think it’s important to listen to things—there are certain things which, I guess, this is going to sound a little bit inconsistent, but the records I really like are the records you listen to once and go, I don’t ever want to listen to it again, but I love the fact that it exists, and it is what it is, and I can understand why.

Then there are those other records that just draw you in, and listening to it once or twice doesn’t do it justice, and they’re like puzzles, where you have to listen to them for a while to digest them. Maybe I aspire to either pole, and people go, “I never want to listen to that again,” or they go, “I don’t understand what the hell this thing is, and I need maybe to listen to it more.” I guess that’s maybe what I aspire to, and where I spend the time. Not to say that I’ve got a lot of records that I’ve only listened to once, but there are certain records where you understand what they’re trying to do.

So, what are examples of those? Jon Abbey said, “Influences are a good place to start,” but I feel like saying that influences aren’t really something for you. If you’re influenced by anything, it’s a process, or a practice.

Yeah. All good art has a good concept. It can be very simple, but it has a rigour about it. I like stuff that has rigour. People influence me indirectly. In terms of records… Probably someone like, I don’t know whether you rate him actually, but Peter Blamey [21], he’s incredible. You watch his tactility with whatever he uses, which is very electronic means. I don’t know if you’ve seen that motherboard stuff he’s been doing?

I’ve never seen him play; I’ve only heard him.

It’s just absolutely incredible. It’s tactile—his interactions with his instruments are something where you go, “Wow, that’s incredible.” He’s such an incredible person anyway, so it’s hard to disentangle. But again, whether that’s an influence… But stuff I’ve seen where, it’s not directly translatable in terms of a sound, but again, maybe a process thing in terms of the tactility of the interaction.

The work opens up a possibility you weren’t aware of.

Totally. So, influences…

Part of the reason I brought that up is that I think that’s one of the least relevant things for you.

I think that’s right. It’d be interesting to know what people think are the influences! (laughs) I’d be curious. I think your observation’s right. Look, Harry Pussy is an influence [for example].

If only conceptual art didn’t have such a bad rap. Because for me what you do is classic conceptual practice. It’s just those terms have been so cheapened by overuse, and countless bad faith artists that do terrible conceptual art. But that’s where you’re positioned to me, much more than even within the realm of, whatever the fuck, EAI, blah blah blah, these worlds that you have been connected to in the past, where there are certain sonic signifiers that can be read through that framework. I can see how certain things you’ve done in the past can be read via EAI, whatever, but to me that’s not what it’s about.

Without the tarnish of ‘conceptual art’, that’s what I’m interested in, and that’s what I find liberating, in terms of its not being part of a genre like [EAI]. There’s some commonality, and there are a lot of different aspects of those scenes, but I also look at a lot of other things, whether it’s music or not music. And to be honest, a lot of that stuff is—I find it really boring, you hear the same timbre, you hear the same production, you hear the same instrumentation, and it seems have gotten into this, from what I’ve dipped in to, it’s almost reached this prog-rock type apex. You’ve got session musos and composers and fifteen million tracks of field recordings on top of this and… (laughter)

I love the idea of that stuff being the progressive rock of its time. Which now you say it, makes more sense…

Maybe I’m like The Saints [22]. (laughter) I’m Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper [23] up in Shitsville, Brisbane, churning out something badly recorded. I’m just not really interested in this polished stuff.

One thing I was thinking a little earlier—well, it connects with what you’ve just been saying, as we’ve been talking about your approach to your practice, and to what you do. How do you grapple with when you are placed in a room with another individual, and you’re going to play with that other individual? Which doesn’t happen that often, these days, I gather, but you have developed a strong-ish relationship with Dale Gorfinkel [24], as a musician, and Rosalind Hall [25]

Yeah, probably less so with Rosalind.

But you’re comfortable in a room with them.

Yeah, definitely.

And in the past, Adam Süssmann [26], and maybe Matt Earle.

I don’t think I’ve ever played with Matt, maybe I played with him once. But yeah, Adam. And not for a really long time.

I know there are points where you’ve been asked—and I’m as guilty of doing this to you as anyone else, of the kind of, we’ll put you on stage with someone else and see what happens. Which is something you sometimes learn the hard way, both as someone organising an event, and someone playing. So I’m interested in you talking about this, because to me there was a specific point, I can’t remember when it was, when you said to me, I just don’t want to do that anymore, it doesn’t help me in any way.

In some ways, it’s quite a utopian and meritorious ideal. It’ll produce what it’ll produce, but you’ve also got to recognise that, you know, the reason why we’re not friends with every person in this beer garden is the fact that… Well, in an ideal world, we all get together, hug and sing “Kumbaya”, and all that, but… (laughter) I think it’s important to have some commonality but also some tension there.

Those certain relationships have been—I’ve been fortunate in that, as I’ve said, I’m not someone who pursues these things but I’ve had people call me up, like Dale when he moved to Melbourne called me out of the blue and said, “Look, do you want to come round to my house and we’ll play some music.” That was really important for me at that point in time, and Dale’s probably influenced what I’ve done, and maybe vice versa. That’s been a really good relationship. You get to a certain point, and you evolve. The same with Rosalind. I’ve played with her far less, but she’s someone I saw play, and I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty incredible.” That’s one of those things where you can see some, not direct commonality, but something in common there.

But yeah, again, it’s a nice seventies hippy ideal, (laughter) that we can just put these people together, but it’s only the notion in and of itself that’s good.

So what is it about Adam and Dale and Ros? If I were to ask you why you think it works so well with those players… Maybe there’s something common to all of them, maybe there’s something specific to each of them. What do you think that is? I mean, other than that you’re obviously comfortable with them all as individuals. They’re all good humans—that helps.

It does help. Maybe it’s a function of their personalities in terms of the space they give to other people. What’s interesting with improvised music, putting aside the genre-based things, is that it is very direct: people’s personalities are maybe more correlated or identifiable through that genre than maybe other genres. Or it can be. I think maybe with those guys, maybe it’s an aesthetic sensibility that is pseudo-compatible, and combined with their personalities, they’re all people who are… They have a very strong aesthetic spine, all of them, but they also at the same time have an openness to what they do, to let people in.

You can have both of those things. Not many people do.

That’s right. It’s a pretty incredible thing about those three. Again, in those recording and playing situations, it’s about that relationship, rather than what the constituent elements bring to it, it’s about how that tension congeals, or it doesn’t. So, how you work in that in between space comes back to a lot of the judgement and sensibilities, or whatever you want to say about those individuals. It’s about thinking on their feet, and it’s about judgement. I don’t know how you quantify or qualify that in any way.

My sense of it is that Adam really helped push you to certain extremities you wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

Oh yeah, I think so. And again, with those relationships, it’s never 50/50, and it’d be boring if it was 50/50. With some of those playing situations—I remember we supported Taku Sugimoto, during his not-playing-music phase, (laughter) and Adam and I, we just pulled out this noise set. I remember Caleb saying, “That was a noise set,” and again, I’m not sure who drove that. It was a really great show: it was one of my favourite gigs in terms of playing with him, along with the Sonic Youth support[27], where again, there was a really beautiful tension, and coming together of different things, in a splintered way.

It’s like a conversation: you don’t start every conversation the same way. Someone starts a conversation, and where you go with it is a case of not necessarily imposing a particular view of the world. And this whole 50/50 thing is pretty much a fallacy. I think it’d be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

It’s impossible when it comes to playing music together, anyway. Who’s going to measure that? So you’re starting from a negative anyway.

I was thinking that Adam seemed to be the player that pushed you the most. With Dale—I could be very wrong in saying this—but with Dale I felt quite often when you two were playing, that there wasn’t that traditional responsive improvisatory thing, or the juxtapositionary thing, that bullshit, to me it felt like you were playing along two parallel lines. It’s a separate and together thing, there’s none of that kind of traditional ‘responsiveness’.

And to demystify things, in the most extreme case, the recording we did, for logistical reasons at RMIT when Ros recorded us, we couldn’t hear each other. So it’s literally, we played in separate rooms, and just put them on top of each other.

Which was kind of my suspicion!

But that was an outcome of having played together for a number of months. I think Dale is genuinely someone who is interested in a lot of different sound art forms, not necessarily an improviser. He’s interested in kinetic sculptures, field recordings, environmental performance, integrating dance with music, so he’s got an incredibly broad and nuanced view of how sound can interact and work. So, that call and response stuff certainly was not a modus operandi, and in a functional sense, it simply couldn’t be, for logistics. (laughter)

I would have been surprised if any of your playing at all had been that traditional call-and-response model. But within those two relationships I see two very distinct…

Yeah, definitely. And it’s about changing to the particular—it’s about the relationship, it’s not about what you bring every time, it’s about responding to the context, and if there is anything about being a good improviser and collaborator, it’s about not necessarily yielding 100%, but also not necessarily imposing yourself, or not bringing the same schtick to a particular scenario. It’s about understanding what you can or can’t do, or don’t do. I think a lot of the prerogative of people these days should be about—not doing stuff should be as important as doing stuff.

And not doing stuff is often far more important than doing stuff.




Release Year Label
“Shore” 7" 1998 self-released
Kairow lathe-cut 10" 1998 self-released
“Untitled”, from Red Wine For Grapes CD-R 2000 From The Same Mother
Dworzec CD 2000 MPS Recordings
Wednesday CD 2001 Metonymic
“07:59”, from Motion—Movement In Australian Sound 2xCD 2003 Preservation
“Sunflowers (Excerpt)”, from Outer01 CD-R 2003 Outer
Points Alone CD 2005 Impermanent Recordings
Untitled CD-R 2006 Document
Untitled 3" CD-R 2014 self-released
The Reoccurrence CD-R 2015 self-released
Lovers 3" CD-R 2002 Realistic!
w/ T. B. Egg Through The Range Of Exposed Parts… 3” CD-R 2002 Realistic!
Untitled CD-R 2008 The Rhizome Label
Green Beret CD-R 2008 Sabbatical
Vibraphone/Snare CD-R 2010 Avant Whatever

About the Author

Jon writes for Uncut, FACT and Red Bull Music Academy. He teaches across sociology and criminology in the School of Social & Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and in Media & Communication at Swinburne University of Technology.


  1. Gulbenkoglu’s first group, more of which later.
  2. An Australian musician, writer, and auto-didact, Julian Williams has been in more groups than you’d care to mention—a short list includes Solids, Above Ground Pool, The Hi-God People, and The Inevitable Orbit. He also runs a record label and edits a ’zine called From The Same Mother, and works within theatre. At the moment he is living the peri-urban life in Castlemaine, Victoria and presenting a killer radio show on local FM. He likes The Beach Boys.
  3. Matt Earle is an Australian musician who has been the central node for a particularly compelling, provocative thread of Australian noise, rock, improvisation, what-have-you for a good decade now. Originally based in Sydney, he has since relocated twice, to the Blue Mountains and then to Brisbane, where he’s opened a record store and performance space called Real Bad Music. In the Blue Mountains he was involved with the Akemi performance space (in an old fish & chip shop). He’s run the Breakdance The Dawn label for a number of years now, and the number of projects he’s involved with is quite extensive. For a good start, check out his solo work as Muura; his electronics duo with Adam Süssmann, Stasis Duo; and any number of his great rock groups. I have a particular soft spot for Moss Eisley.
  4. Xpressway was Bruce Russell’s first record label, which was extant in New Zealand across the late ’80s and early ’90s. It released many cassettes, a few records, and pretty much changed the game for underground music in NZ, especially after Flying Nun kind of jumped the shark.
  5. Flies Inside The Sun were a most excellent NZ free noise group, around the Peter Stapleton & Kim Pieters axis, with Brian Crook and Danny Butt. They released one album, An Audience Of Others (Including Herself), on Kranky, and subsequently many others on their own label, Metonymic.
  6. Arek here is referring to Russell’s second label, Corpus Hermeticum.
  7. The self-titled one, with the puke green cover. Recently reissued on 3LP by Thin Wrist.
  8. “Shore” 7" (1998, self-released).
  9. Beyond being a diamond geezer, Mark Harwood is probably one of the most significant figures in Australian experimental music and culture of the past two decades, largely through his tireless efforts running the Synaesthesia record store in Melbourne, its mail order arm, and a little later, also a record label. He has since relocated to London and is now busy bringing Graham Lambkin books and weirdo European art music to the masses via Penultimate Press, while also making music as Astor.
  10. Kairow lathe-cut 10" (1998, self-released).
  11. Dworzec CD (2000, MPS Recordings). Whether the label was named after the legendary jazz label of the same name is open to conjecture. (Alternately, I forgot to ask.)
  12. Wednesday CD (2001, Metonymic).
  13. Guy Blackman is an incredibly important figure to a particular sector of the Australian underground. Originally from Perth, he published several ’zines—Salty & Delicious and Peace & Quiet—and has been running an independent record label, Chapter Music, for over two decades. He has also played music solo, firstly as Riot Guy, and then under his own name, and played in a number of groups, perhaps the most significant of which would be Sleepy Township and Minimum Chips.
  14. Chris Smith is a guitarist, originally from Geelong, Victoria, who lived in Melbourne for over a decade, before relocating to the Gippsland. He has released relatively few records, but his body of work is extremely significant to many in Australia and elsewhere. Check out Cabin Fever (1998, Avalanche Express), Replacement (2000, Death Valley) and Bad Orchestra (2007, Death Valley), the latter of which has recently been reissued on Ben Chasny’s Hermit Hut imprint. Some of his early music was compiled by American label Emperor Jones on the Map Ends: 1995-2001 CD (2002).
  15. Golden Lifestyle Band was a fantastic group from Geelong in the late ’90s, who gifted the world such figures as Chris Smith, Dion Nania (Panel Of Judges, The Hi-God People, Free Time) and Matt Nicholson (Function).
  16. Pat Ridgewell is one of Australia’s finest songwriters. You can hear plentiful evidence of this on the three albums he has released under the name Small World Experience: Too Far Gone To Sell It (1991 rec., 1996, Slow Tapes); Shelf-Life (1994, Either Way); and Side Projects (1999, Chapter Music). He also passed through the ranks of Golden Lifestyle Band. Other, earlier projects include Dog Fish Cat Bird and Curiosity Shop. You can also hear him on Dragster’s self-titled album from 1996 (Hoppel Di Hoy/Little Teddy).
  17. Will Guthrie is an Australian percussionist who is now based in France. He has released many superb records over the years, but may I particularly recommend Building Blocks (2003, Antboy Music); Spear (2005, Antboy Music); Body & Limbs Still Look To Light (2006, Cathnor); Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones (2012, Antboy Music); and his two albums in his trio with Adam Süssmann and Matt Earle. The Gulbenkoglu/Guthrie duo recording never saw release, which is a real shame.
  18. Just for the record, this is not off the top of Arek’s head. Rowland S. Howard’s Teenage Snuff Film was playing in the beer garden of the Victoria Hotel by this stage.
  19. Points Alone CD (2005, Impermanent Audio).
  20. Caleb Kelly ran the Impermanent Audio performance series in Sydney, and associated record label, for a number of years across the noughties. He’s now an academic at the College Of Fine Arts in Sydney and making a name for himself writing about sound art.
  21. Peter Blamey is a fantastic musician from Sydney, who has spent a lot of time working with electronics. He has some connections with the Breakdance The Dawn crew, and released a fantastic solo CD, Salted Felt, on Impermanent Audio. He’s also released a number of CD-Rs for Anthony Guerra’s Black Petal imprint, under the Geodesic Domes… banner. As to whether I rate him: very much so.
  22. That I need to even write this footnote is telling, in terms of colonial imperatives in rock history, but The Saints were an Australian group, based in Brisbane, whose ‘(I’m) Stranded’ single from 1976 and its attendant album are the foundation on which most great Australian rock music was subsequently built. The original line-up of The Saints, spearheaded by Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper, released three astonishing albums—(I’m) Stranded (1977, EMI), Eternally Yours (1978, EMI) and Prehistoric Sounds (1978, EMI) before imploding. Bailey continued on with the name and occasionally released great music—1980’s Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow has its moments—but it’s never been the same since. (They have a new double-album, King Of The Sun/King Of The Midnight Sun, out on Fire Records, for those interested.)
  23. Kuepper is often considered the heart and soul of that first Saints line-up, though to be fair, they wouldn’t have had half the impact if Bailey wasn’t their singer. Having said that, unlike Bailey, Kuepper’s post-Saints music has been uniformly excellent, first in his group Laughing Clowns, and then over numerous solo albums. There are a number of compilations around, all of which give a good sense of his mercurial genius. Look out for those albums by The Aints, too—Kuepper’s early ’90s group, reconnecting him with the fire, volume and attack of the original Saints.
  24. Dale Gorfinkel is an Australian artist who is maybe best known for his extended technique work with the vibraphone.
  25. Rosalind Hall is an Australian artist who works predominantly with the saxophone, and for a time, collaborated with AV artist Marco Cher-Gibard.
  26. Adam Süssmann is an Australian artist who worked with Matt Earle for many years in Stasis Duo and various other projects, and who has recorded with Arek on several occasions. You can hear much of his music on the Breakdance The Dawn imprint, and also on the Document imprint that I believe he co-ran with Earle for some time.
  27. I think this gig was on the Sonic Nurse Tour, 06/15/04, at the ANU Bar in Canberra, Australia. I wish I’d been there.