Gian Slater’s Next Chapter – US & OTHERS
Blank Tape’s relationship with Melbourne based vocalist Gian Slater started about 5 years ago when we were booking adventurous and eccentric music in various venues around the inner north of Melbourne. Since then, Gian has explored music in an abundant array of manifestations and genres and has grown into unique musician recognized the world over. Slater’s next artistic exploration brings together her INVENIO Singers and Speak Percussion to perform US & OTHERS. Slater composed the music and also directs the performance which harness’ the power of 18 voices alongside an arsenal of percussionists resulting in devastating beauty and colour. Her score draws from influences across genres and decade including Steve Reich, Bjork, Carl Orff, and Square Pusher. With an element of choreography US & OTHERS explores notions of community in the modern world and the paradoxes of human interactions and relationships. Gian took a sec to answer my questions regarding the project and the upcoming performance at the Malt House in Melbourne.
Oh, did I mention Gian possesses one of my most favoured contemporary voices?
1. Could you explain the project a little and what it’s about?
Well, I formed the Invenio singers last year for the MJFF composers commission and we performed my work ‘Gone, without Saying’. I saw an opportunity to pull together some of the best contemporary singers around town and compose music that both challenged them and worked with their strengths. I am very interested in aspects of the voice that are primal and experimental. Wordless singing, extended techniques and improvising. The group has been a great success and has since performed a number of times in various settings. I wanted to compose a new piece for this year that included SPEAK Percussion. Percussion seemed the obvious choice, in retaining this primal sensibility as well as compositional intricacy. Eugene Ughetti and SPEAK came to my mind as a really exciting partnership. The show ‘Us and Others’ is a reflection on ideas of community. I often think about the differences between my grandparents sense of community and my own – I am inspired by their selflessness but find it difficult to embody that in the world I live in.
The piece uses intricate layering of parts, textural landscapes and different combinations of players throughout to abstractly explore and reflect on these ideas. The piece is an hour long show, that incorporates a through composed score, choreography, lighting and costumes.
2. You have a history in various styles across many forms and ensemble sizes. How is this project a departure from anything you have done before?
I have never composed for a percussion ensemble, so that was the biggest departure for me. I have also incorporated some subtle choreography in this show, which is new to me too. I am really interested in the theatrical possibilities when presenting music, without it being ‘musical theatre’ and I guess this style of choral writing really lends itself to moving around and using the space to bring out the ‘story’.
3. Was this a collaborative process or was it a solo mission?
It has been a solo mission in the composing and creation of the show, but I have had the great support of my partner, Chris Hale, who has been my daily advisor with this piece. His wisdom and investment have been invaluable. Eugene Ughetti, of Speak has also been very helpful and supportive – giving me tips and advice for the percussion writing and concept. The singers are also extremely invested and supportive and without that, there would be no show!
4. What’s your opinion on the state of the Melbourne music scene?
I love the scene in Melbourne. I do think that we value creative and new music, despite the obvious obstacles. There is a genuine feeling of support in doing you own thing, especially between peers and I am very grateful for that. I think Jazz/improvised music has taken a bit of a hit with audiences, specifically in original music, but I am heartened by the organizations and groups that are trying to address this – Lebowski’s, Blank tape, Something we know, Melbourne Improvisers Collective. I think making new music anywhere in the world is challenging, but if you feel supported by your scene, then it gives you enough fuel to keep going.
5. Do you feel the city nurtures projects like yours which tend to explore music beyond modern and commercial standards?
Again, I feel very supported by my colleagues and peers and that is really important to me. I try to insulate myself against aspects of the Industry that can get me down at times and am incredibly envious of people who are able to self-promote. At the end of the day, I would love to have a bigger audience, but it has never been my priority to achieve that and so I am content with chipping away and taking small steps.
6. You have done a lot of travelling and have studied with some amazing international artists. How have these artists and locations influenced your music?
I have spent quite a lot of time in New York and I really love it there. I have studied with Theo Bleckmann, my idol and mentor, whose influence and support of me has given me confidence to move forward in what I want to do. I also have some great friends are colleagues in NY that have been immensely inspiring and encouraging. Musicians go to New York to be surrounded by the most exciting musicians from around the world. It is a meeting place for Jazz musicians that share a common language and love of music making – and audiences are prepared and open to hear something new. At least that is my perception of it!
7. What else are you working on at the moment?
I just recorded a new trio album with Christopher Hale and Nathan Slater. We have been playing a lot over the last few years and it is a really special group to me. The fact that Nathan, my brother and Chris, my partner are in the ensemble, is a bonus. They are my favourite Melbourne musicians and I am really honoured to play with them. The new album will be out at the end of the year.
8. What local music are you listening to at the moment?
Chris is finishing his album actually, so we have been working on that. It is sounding really beautiful and I can’t wait for people to hear it! Also – a singer in my group, Jenny Barnes just released her album ‘Secret Trees’ and it is really inventive and gorgeous!
9. Do you feel Melbourne is developing a musical identity? Particularly in your idiom?
Yes. I am an optimist! I think if musicians continue to create honest music, then it is a movement that can’t be ignored. Having said that, I’m sure that we musicians will have to continue to find creative ways to get our music out there. Through my teaching at VCA, Monash and NMIT – I have seen some amazing musicians coming through, that are developing their own music but are also of the generation that accepts the nature of the industry now and know how to work it.
To catch this special event probably best click here and book your tickets for either Thursday the 8th or Friday the 9th of October.
Old Friends by Invenio