Erewhon Calling, edited by Bruce Russell in association with Richard Francis and the Audio Foundation - review

by Gary Steel / 17 January, 2013
At its best, <em>Erewhon Calling</em> does what music writing should: fires you up to discover new music, writes Gary Steel.
Erewhon CallingA survey of experimental music-making in New Zealand is long overdue and Erewhon Calling achieves its purpose simply by being. Our sonic adventurers have made lasting impressions in foreign territories but have remained steadfastly invisible at home, and this slim (191-page) volume of essays addresses that problem, adding considerably to the documentation of experimental scenes throughout the country. So why does the above read like faint praise?

Purporting to be about “the full range of ‘non-standard’ audio practices in contemporary NZ culture … from the borders of composed art music, through improvised noise … every genre, every scene, every permutation of unconventional audio practice in-between”, the book, in fact, largely comprises essays by a small connected contingent of noisemakers revolving around, or in awe of, editor Bruce Russell.

Refreshing and notable exceptions to this rule are veteran sound art innovator Phil Dadson, whose diary excerpts give a genuine if fleeting insight into his mindset and musical modus operandi; a chapter tracing the arc of jazz-based improvisation in Wellington; and an illuminating explanation of the self-generating Auckland improvising collective Vitamin S.

The big failing of Erewhon Calling is its inability to see the big picture and to engage critically with the culture. Notated experimental music is barely mentioned, viewed as merely a nasty aftertaste of the power and privilege of the empire; musicians who have bothered to acquire instrumental skills, the better with which to articulate their ideas, are seen as power-mongers.

Russell, through his work with the Dead C and his labels Xpressway and Corpus Hermeticum, is a demigod to many in the contemporary New Zealand noise scene, and it would be churlish to deny his influence, both locally and internationally. But that influence pertains to a particular school of lo-fi , untutored sonic warriors, a generation schooled on rock but who have escaped the confines of song and structure.

As a marketing tool for that aesthetic, Erewhon Calling works a treat, but when Dunedin musician Peter Stapleton is reduced to writing about himself in the third person (“with Stapleton’s drums adding extra intensities”), one longs for journalism.

At its best, Erewhon Calling does what music writing should: fires you up to discover new music. It’s an important assertion of activity that deserves recognition, but it’s only the start of the conversation.

EREWHON CALLING: EXPERIMENTAL SOUND IN NEW ZEALAND, edited by Bruce Russell in association with Richard Francis and the Audio Foundation (Audio Foundation/CMR, $45).

Gary Steel is a music writer and journalist.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Marlborough Book Festival is about wine, food, and books, too
76476 2017-07-22 00:00:00Z Books

Marlborough Book Festival is about wine, food, and…

by Sally Blundell

In a region recovering from earthquakes, Marlborough’s book festival is growing each year.

Read more
Psychopaths: Mean, bold, disinhibited - and more likely to be a man
76732 2017-07-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

Psychopaths: Mean, bold, disinhibited - and more l…

by Susan Strongman

Does your ex drink too much, act impulsively and seem to fear nothing? Turns out, they could be a psychopath.

Read more
5 lessons from the Lions tour
76743 2017-07-22 00:00:00Z Sport

5 lessons from the Lions tour

by Paul Thomas

Time’s running out for Sonny Bill, why we need to tame a bunch of angry young men, and the forgotten art of kicking goals (and winning games).

Read more
Meat substitutes' rise a danger to NZ farmers - KPMG
76765 2017-07-21 14:23:44Z Business

Meat substitutes' rise a danger to NZ farmers - KP…

by Alexa Cook

New Zealand farmers could be under threat from a rise in plant-based products that mimic animal products such as burger patties, KPMG says.

Read more
Where to stay and what to eat in Marlborough
76726 2017-07-21 10:25:58Z Travel

Where to stay and what to eat in Marlborough

by Lauraine Jacobs

If you want to support quake-affected Marlborough, Lauraine Jacobs has a few ideas.

Read more
Recipes: How to create the taste of Marlborough
76720 2017-07-21 10:10:10Z Food

Recipes: How to create the taste of Marlborough

by Lauraine Jacobs

Just like wine, food can develop a taste of its own according to where it grows.

Read more
Dunedin has sandbags ready as city braces for deluge
76714 2017-07-21 08:37:01Z Environment

Dunedin has sandbags ready as city braces for delu…

by RNZ

With up to 200mm of rain set to hit Dunedin, and memories of 2015 floods still fresh, the city's mayor Dave Cull says it's ready for the downpour.

Read more
School donations would be scrapped under Labour
76711 2017-07-21 07:40:06Z Education

School donations would be scrapped under Labour

by Mei Heron

Labour would give an extra $150 per student to every school that agreed to stop asking parents for so-called "voluntary" donations.

Read more