V/A Midday Moon: AU & NZ Ambient 1980-1995Various Artists
Midday Moon: ambient and experimental music from Australia and New Zealand, 1980 - 1995
Album notes from Sanpo Disco; a.k.a Rowan Mason: Midday Moon is a survey of ambient and experimental music that emerged from Australia and New Zealand between 1980 and 1995. These recordings are sourced from micro-labels, private pressings, theatre soundtracks and artists’ unreleased archives.
My intention was to explore the local expression of ambient music from the early '80s onward. This was a time when synthesisers and early workstations were entering the consumer marketplace, affording new environments for music to be conceived and created. These shifts paved the way for ambient music, described by Brian Eno as music that evokes ‘a surrounding influence’, that ‘induce(s) calm and a space to think’ and, most importantly, music that is ‘able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular’. Eno coined this term and sought to define its limits more clearly, distinguishing the music from more commercial approaches, like muzak, which preceded it. I wanted to find music from Australia and New Zealand that fulfilled his criteria. Little did I know this would be a long journey taking place almost entirely at my desk, diving the depths of the internet.
Pairing the words Australia and ambient in my browser returned images of vignetted rainforest photography and stock photo CDs found in therapeutic gift shops. Ambient often gets lumped together with new-age records, that typically view natural landscapes through a sentimental touristic lens. Such albums are filled with crystalline sounds evoking a calming simplicity, placid and placeless. But as I scrolled deeper a richer and more diverse ambient genre began to form. I found music that crafts a unique cultural geography of landscapes and atmospheres: real and imagined, natural and man-made. Some artists turned their attention to the singular acoustic ecologies of overlooked spaces around the country. Others fostered interests in non-Western music cultures and instruments. The common thread that binds them is their use of new technologies to conjure interior and exterior regions, through acoustic and synthesised sounds.
I hope Midday Moon is experienced as more than wallpaper, providing space instead for contemplation and intrigue. John Elder’s Again, weaves street sounds, conversations and tape loops to evoke its environment. In composing his work, he gives the listener a sense of being there. ‘And being there’, he says ‘is what my work is all about… I’d like to call it soul or even spiritual music in the sense it has the spirit of the place that we are visiting’. Similarly, Sam Mallet’s Westgate Bridge at Dawn strangely recreates the experience of moving across one of Melbourne’s most recognised industrial landmarks. Not Drowning, Waving’s oeuvre includes numerous meditations on the unsettling beauty of the Australian bush and outback. Ros Bandt’s compositions reflect different integrations of acoustic, live electronics and sonic manipulation. And Bandt’s practice has taken numerous forms over her extensive career – such as on her album, ‘Stargazer’, where she explores the resonance of a hollow concrete cylinder, five stories below ground. Thankfully we were permitted to include the track ‘Starzones’ from this project.
Many of the artists included here found stable incomes producing musical pieces for art exhibitions, films and theatre productions. Examples include Blair Greenberg’s compositions for Dance North in Townsville, Beyond the Fringe’s Guitar Fantasia originally produced for dance-theatre production The Dove and Sam Mallet’s ongoing work for Anthill Theatre. The title of this release was actually inspired by Trevor Pearce’s work for a theatre production of the same name (unfortunately I’m unable to include it). These opportunities springboarded artistic expression. However, without such opportunities, nor a clearly defined home or unifying scene, numerous artists worked like outsiders, contented to create music for a relatively small community of listeners on private and independent labels. Helen Ripley Marshall’s Under the Sun is a prime example of this, as is Tom Kazas’ first solo album Deliquescence. It was released while his 1980s psychedelic rock band The Moffs were still active. At the time, it was described as ethereal psyche, no doubt drawing connections to his band’s sound. More accurately, Kazas embraced ambient music as a vehicle to explore atmospheric, instrumental and experimental music, and as a reaction to the limits of rock music at the time. John Heussenstamm’s music took a similarly unanticipated turn. After working predominantly as a blues, soul and jazz guitarist for artists like Deniece Williams, John moved from the United States to Perth and released three ambient albums for his own record company Hammerhead. He was attempting to tap into what he felt was fundamental to his music - that ‘music is spiritual, the more closely related to the heart it is, the more classic it becomes... it expresses something eternal.’
I would like to express my gratitude to the artists who contributed to Midday Moon for agreeing to share their music, and I hope the compilation enables them to reach a new audience. Ironically, though I spent many hours glued to a computer screen in an attempt finish this, I hope the compilation itself offers listeners a chance to move away from their screens. I hope that while listening you can connect to the present, quiet your mind and soothe your senses – and take a journey to a place, real or imagined. Rowan Mason, Melbourne, June 2018