MUSIC OF TRANSPARENT MEANS
Music of Transparent Means performing at The Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide, 2004. Photo by Kirsty Battersby.
Music of Transparent Means (MOTM) was a malleable large-scale minimalist orchestra, and my chief project in Australia from 2002 to 2007. Initially created as a platform for my tuned wineglass inventions, MOTM grew to incorporate instruments such as prepared guitars, woodwind, strings, percussion and brass, and featured as many as 21 performers at a single time.
MOTM performed in Adelaide and Melbourne at venues such as De La Catessen Gallery, Bakehouse Theatre, EMU Studio, Big Star Basement, Jade Monkey, Nexus Cabaret, Tea House Gallery, Exeter Hotel, The Wheatsheaf, SEAS Art Gallery, Queen's Theatre and Loop Bar, and also released three CDs on the Vanished Records label, Selected Live Recordings (2004), Deep Golden Flourish (2004) and Chord From The Second Delphic Hymn (2007).
MOTM was born of a deeply-held (and at times controversial) philosophical sensibility that has remained central to all of my work since. My program notes for the 2004 Bakehouse Theatre season summed up this philosophy well: "Music has never been handed over to us from the possession of sound. Sound has always retained the right to destroy music, in the same way nature always retains the right to destroy buildings of human creation, to reclaim the materials from which we have painstakingly 'composed' our surroundings."
Obviously, this was a deliberately extreme statement, and a way of asserting that music was not just the result of "us" employing sound to express ourselves, but also the result of sound employing us to express itself. I felt there was a tendency for us to totally miss the latter part of this equation, which to me was its more interesting side.
It seemed to me, the forces or "energies" (for want of a better term) that music engaged with, although hard to pinpoint, reached far beyond the fixed categories and media of human presentation they filtered through. I felt that through our perceptual habits (fueled in part by compositional habits) we got so caught up in the particularities of these media—composers, styles, instruments, musical syntax, extra-musical messages—that we put ourselves at real risk of shutting out the broader expressions of the very energies operating through them.
Whether we realized it or not, there was an entire world unfolding behind the veil of our clunky preoccupations.
In extreme cases, such as Jean-Jacques Nattiez's musical semiotics (which I felt described a popular sensibility), these energies were not just inadvertently missed, but actively downgraded. Here, musical sounds were characterized explicitly as empty symbols awaiting the redemption, or as Nattiez put it "consummation", of our willed meaning. In other words, sounds were deemed valuable only insofar as they were able to retrieve confirmation of our already-established investments, rather than approached as the mysterious entities they were—entities which could actually reveal new realms to us, and show us the transparency and incompleteness of the messages we projected upon them.
What Nattiez (and I assumed others) saw as an empty symbol, I saw as a profound opening—a condition of sound not to be dealt with so expediently and incuriously. I wanted a listening that preserved and revered this opening, not simply "filled it in" with ready-formulated meaning.
The goals of MOTM then essentially centered around the exhaustion of perceptual habits. Given the pervasiveness—and to a certain extent, unconsciousness—of our expectation for music to render the themes, forms and meanings of habitual response, exhaustion was considered an important stage to reach. Only by becoming exhausted with the cultural categories normally sought and emphasized in music, could we really be given an opportunity to move beyond them.
Extended duration, high volume and sonic saturation were frequently employed to this end, almost as musical parallels to photographic magnification, in which normally reliable shapes lost all recognition, making way for the exposure of finer details and processes operating under the surface.
Structurally, this orientation often manifested in an extreme and gradual reduction of composed information, in an attempt to encourage listeners to let go of any habitual impulse to find within music a willed message or shape. Works such as Rose Street Womb, Chord From The Second Delphic Hymn, and the frequently-performed Emerging Like an Infant From the House of Truth all exemplified this approach.
Also tackled were hurdles of a more sensory (as opposed to cultural) nature, such as the perceived separation of elements within sound itself. Examples of this approach included Mountain Piece 2, which tested the line between rhythm and texture, and Disappearances, which tested the line between harmony and timbre.
Importantly, MOTM was never an "airy" minimalism. It encouraged in a very practical sense the deepest perceptual engagement accessible through focus and the forceful obliteration of meaning.
--Alex Carpenter, 2012
The people who performed in MOTM between 2002 and 2007 were (in chronological order): Alex Carpenter (wineglasses, percussion, guitar, keys, vocals), Alice Rae (wineglasses), Russell Goodwin (wineglasses, guitar, percussion), Daniel Binks (wineglasses, guitar, trumpet, bass), Clare Butler (wineglasses), Sam Carpenter (wineglasses, percussion, keys), Cambell Davison (wineglasses, guitar, keys, percussion), Paris Downes (wineglasses), Melinda Graefe (wineglasses), Aleks Habus (wineglasses, guitar, percussion), Josh Hartshorne (wineglasses), Stephanie Kabanyana (wineglasses, percussion, clarinet), Tim Martin (wineglasses, bass), Daniel Mohor (wineglasses, guitar, percussion, keys), Beatrice Stevens (wineglasses), Lindsay Stevens (wineglasses), Tamika White (wineglasses, guitar, percussion, keys), Kirsty Battersby (wineglasses), Luke Harrald (wineglasses, guitar, percussion, keys), Belinda James (wineglasses), Angus MacGillivray (wineglasses), Matthew Timmis (wineglasses, guitar, percussion), Melissa Ballantyne (trombone), Zoë Barry (cello), Kate Ben-Tovim (saxophone), Gabby Bond (viola), David Brookes (saxophone), Karen De Nardi (viola), Andrew Ellison (trombone), Lily Gower (saxophone), Rebecca McLoughlin (saxophone), Allye Sinclair (cello), Kim Chalmers (percussion), Tristan Coleman (percussion), Barry Cree (percussion), Adrian Hurley (percussion), Nigel Koop (percussion), Alex May (percussion, bass), William Menz (percussion), Patrick Vaculik (percussion), Natasha Wrobel (percussion), Jason Behrndt (saxophone), Kym Gluyas (saxophone, keys), Patrick Gluyas (saxophone, keys), Greg Osman (saxophone), Mark Smith (trumpet), Tom Szucs (clarinet), Josh Wilmott (trombone), Poppi Doser (keys, vocals), Luke Altmann (keys), Jon Dale (guitar), Stuart Earl (saxophone), Daniel Varricchio (guitar).
• Some succinct expressions of MOTM themes: On Listening and Expression, Part 2 (2010), Interview on Radio Adelaide (2005), Interview about Mountain Pieces (2007). More on writing page.
• A timeline of MOTM activities, with links to various documentation (including audio) for most events, can be found in the event archive.• Selected reviews: Sonoloco Record Reviews (Ingvar Loco Nordin), RealTime, Issue 59 (Jonathan Marshall), RealTime, Issue 69 (Stephen Whittington).
• Video was an integral part of many MOTM shows. The videos most frequently used were: Studies in Dynamic Photography (Study 1, Study 3, Study 4), Rose Street Womb and Chord From the Second Delphic Hymn (presented here as a re-creation/demo of the dual-screen installation designed for side-wall projection).
 As my main focus since 2007 has shifted to my audio and video delay systems, this overview is written in past-tense. MOTM is, however, an ongoing project.
 Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music, trans. Carolyn Abbate (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990) 128-9.