Preview and Q&A with Bianca Gannon
By Sue Barrett
From time to time, music emerges that touches souls and captures hearts with its atmosphere, improvisation and unexpected and/or improbable sound combinations.
Australian trio Impermanence has just launched a double album, with // without. The trio consists of Bianca Gannon (piano, mixed Indonesian gamelan); Josh Holt (double bass, bass guitar); and Elliott Hughes (trumpet, augmented trumpet).
Described as a “fusion of neo-classical, experimental art music, and freeform jazz”, Impermanence’s music brings to mind the rural isolation of a country like Ireland – sometimes ethereal; sometimes stormy; sometimes uncomplicated; sometimes complex.
Bianca Gannon grew up in Ireland and studied in Wales.
In what ways has living in Ireland and in Wales influenced your music?
In this trio, I’m not sure that my Irish heritage comes through in an obvious way, though the ubiquity of music in Ireland – diverse music – has certainly left its mark. I did my music degree in Wales and learnt a lot about various forms of music, particularly art music, and music from around the world, such as gamelan from Indonesia. I was deeply drawn to the otherworldly resonances and syncopated interlocking rhythms of the gamelan pitched percussion orchestras. A few years later, living in Ireland again, I had the opportunity to join a gamelan. An Irish woman had been studying in Indonesia and brought back a full gamelan set – which was the one we were using at University College, Dublin. Later the Sultan of Yogyakarta gifted a gamelan to An Ceoláras Náisiúnta (National Concert Hall). From there, I embarked on the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship – intensive cultural study in West Java, followed by many more study trips and collaborations across the archipelago.
What brought you to Australia?
My partner – Josh Holt – is from Australia and he’s also the bass player in our trio.
Tell us about Impermanence’s album, with // without
It’s an improvised, double album. Disc 1 (with) includes electronic components. And Disc 2 (without) is without electronics. You’ll hear a lot of different sounds and emotions. Our music is quite organic – it moves in and out of groove, in and out of time. It can be free and floating – ethereal. And, at other times, it has a pulse and time signature – it can get quite rhythmic. I think overall the music creates a feeling of space and expanse. We first improvised the music and afterwards christened the tracks.
How did Impermanence come about? And did you set out to have a trio with this combination of instruments or was it just an happy coincidence?
Elliott [Hughes], our trumpet player, and I met at the Australian Art Orchestra’s Creative Music Intensive residency in Tasmania, where we were put in an ensemble with a bunch of musicians from Sydney. When we got back to Melbourne, we continued to play together. Then we became participants in the Lebowski’s Development Residency in Melbourne – a six month residency. One day, Elliott was rehearsing at my house and Josh joined us on bass, which was another piece of the puzzle, another layer of unity.Elliott invented the augmented trumpet – he uses a trumpet with a device he 3D printed that attaches to the valves and tracks finger movement. It’s extraordinary the sounds that he’s making in real time – at times like an orchestra of the future and at other times quite an electronic sound – with beautiful, unique timbres.
What does it take for musicians to successfully improvise? How does Impermanence approach this?
A deep knowledge of your craft and of your instrument, as well as a healthy dose of reckless abandon. Curiosity. Really, really listening to your band mates. Letting go of your ego a little bit, at times. And a bit of risk taking. But certainly we do prepare for gigs, we do rehearse. We try to approach performances as a stream of consciousness, playing in the moment. In a performance, we might play for 45 minutes straight, continuously. But in our rehearsals, we typically play for five or ten minutes at a time, then discuss and then try new exercises (for example, duos, flipping the roles of the instruments). Each piece of music is a once-off. So for the album, like our performances, the music was totally improvised on the spot, with no preconceptions. The start of a piece is always a surprise – whoever is feeling ready jumps in and starts. Often a set is one continuous work. And sometimes themes from the beginning return later, re-orchestrated with a different instrument or in a different key. We all try to centre ourselves a bit before performing. Elliott and Josh both close their eyes a lot – I think they really like to go within. Personally, I like to watch them quite a bit – I feel it gives me more of a sense of what they are going to do and allows me to better synchronise movements and synchronise rhythms. We play together as an ensemble, but at times there’s a soloist or just two people playing or two people playing accompaniment and one person playing a melody.
What were some of the challenges in recording the album?
We recorded it in different booths, thinking we could manage the sound better. But in the end, that didn’t fully work – some sound still bled through. Being in different booths made it really hard to hear each other. We’re also used to being very close together when playing, but I think we could really draw on that connection and intuition despite our physical distance in the studio.
Tell us about your upcoming listening parties
For the listening parties, we are going to be playing music based on the album. The first night is Disc 1 – with. And the second night is Disc 2 – without. BUT…we play improvised music, so the listening parties, and then the live launch in August, will probably be the only times we play with // without to an audience.
COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on live music. How have you spent the last three months during the lockdown?
Asides from moving my piano teaching online, I’ve written a lot of grant applications and a lot of job applications. I’ve also been working on the art for the successful applications. It’s been busy, but also quite tough – mourning the loss of our industry and the unknowns of what the future holds. It was very natural for me to go to the piano and improvise and process my emotions. I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to make new works and polished compositions ready to share with the world, but by necessity that’s what I’ve ended up having to do. It was great to create work, but it felt like an enormous amount of pressure – having to be creative, to be innovative and to use this challenge as something positive, when it’s actually really a difficult time.
What’s coming up for you over the next 18 months?
There’s the launch of Impermanence’s album, with // without. And we are hoping to be able to do more gigs. In December, we are due to play at the International Society for Improvised Music conference at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. I also have a couple of commissions. At the end of 2019, I won the Pythia Prize for composition – which means I’m writing a piece inspired by the bushfire crisis for Rubiks Collective. I’m also writing a piece for myself as Artist in Residence at the City of Greater Dandenong. The piece is based around the Irish word for hug – Croí Isteach – which literally means to get into the heart or to bring your hearts close – so it’s a sonic hug for the pandemic times.
Redefining the idiom: Impermanence trio premieres new music
with // without is the mesmerising new offering from Australia’s rising stars of improvised music, Impermanence.
The Melbourne trio launched with // without, a double album, with two live-streamed Listening Parties.
Described as “one of Australia’s rising stars”, “where jazz meets sound art”, Impermanence are a Melbourne-based improvising music trio who traverse form and genre. with // without captures their cinematic and evocative sound, coalescing ancient and futuristic with tradition and invention through their unique instrumentation:
- simultaneous piano + mixed Indonesian gamelan (Bianca Gannon)
- double bass + bass guitar (Josh Holt)
- trumpet + augmented trumpet (Elliott Hughes)
Their seemingly through-composed long-form free improvisations incorporate neo-classical and jazz references with ritualistic rhythms and a glitchy new music edge. Ethereal lyricism layered with pulsating difference tones, unique timbres, orchestral textures and extended harmonies resonate in an expansive timelessness.
Elliott Hughes’ invention, the Augmented Trumpet, incorporates a 3D-printed motion-sensor that uses the normal movement of the trumpet’s valves to control and synchronise the electronics with the acoustic sound. The resulting sounds are captivating.
Gamelan specialist Gannon performs simultaneous piano with gamelan (Balinese pitched percussion instruments with beating difference-tones that create an otherworldly warbling effect).
with // without is supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.
Impermanence ‘With // without’ Album Launch
WHO: Bianca Gannon simultaneous piano + mixed Indonesian gamelan
Josh Holt double bass + bass guitar
Elliott Hughes trumpet + augmented trumpet
WHAT: with // without double CD, improvised and recorded at Newmarket Studios, February 2019. Disc 1 includes electronic components (Augmented trumpet and bass guitar) and Disc 2 is acoustic.
Cost: Digital $12, CD $25
with // without is available for purchase and streaming on Bandcamp and spotify.