Peking Spring Festival: Decibel, Pollen Trio @ The Street Theatre, Canberra (14/05/11)

On a frosty, chilly Saturday night, the Peking Spring Festival was brought to a close in the rather quaint Street 2 at The Street Theatre.

The festival, presented by HellosQuare Recordings has had somewhat of a monopoly on live Canberra performances for the past three weeks, with shows featuring HellosQuare artists, plus guests taking place at venues such as the aforementioned Street Theatre, Smith’s Bookshop, ANU Bar, Bar 32 and The Phoenix. The aim of the festival was to showcase the very best in creative and experimental music, and if the final show on Saturday was anything to go by, the mission has well and truly been accomplished.

After milling about in the cosy foyer and trying to warm up blue, freezing hands, the crowd was ushered into the small theatre in order for the night to get under way. Upon sitting down in the rather intimate setting, I marveled at how nice it was, just this once, to get to see a gig without having to stand on tired feet while jostling with intoxicated fans. After all, every now and then it’s nice to indulge your inner grandma.

The night’s entertainment began with HellosQuare old hats Pollen Trio. One of the label’s first bands, Pollen Trio, are locals who play experimental jazz that is best heard to be appreciated. With an organ, a trumpet, drums, and other bits and bobs, Pollen make music that on paper sounds like a cacophonic mess. But on hearing, it becomes apparent that the seemingly random and dissonant sounds are in fact, an intricate moray of melody and disconnection. What begins as a mess becomes atmospheric; what sounds like randomness becomes organic, and what is at first disconcerting ends as spellbinding. Their half an hour set was enough to lull the crowd into a hypnotic, other-worldly state that was difficult to shake when it came time for the interval.

After enough time for a drink and a chat, the theatre once again filled up for Decibel. Hailing from Western Australia, Decibel is a five-piece experimental orchestra whose complex creativity and vision make for one intriguing listening experience. The band uses an array of instruments such as the cello, flute and sax, plus a magnetic pitch creator called The Infinity Machine, and works side by side with a computer program to create pieces in which the listener is challenged to find beauty and sense between the conventional notes. The role of the computer is to give each member of the quintet a particular part of a particular song. Thus, no two shows by Decibel will be the same, with the computer giving different instructions each time. From the opening bars of Improbable Games to the haunting finish of Ever Present, Decibel captivated, mesmerized and challenged, leaving behind some pretty skewed perceptions of how music can be created.

In a testament to the fact that music doesn’t always need lyrics, Pollen Trio and Decibel played sets that were impressive, haunting and not soon to be forgotten by all who were in attendance.