BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
A silent audience in a sold-out concert hall. The occasional gum wrapper unravelling; a few coughs disrupting the mood. No clapping – no expression of any emotion – until the music concludes.
Is this the essence of classical music performance? If so, Dots+Loops certainly has something to say on the topic. Attend a Dots+Loops event (founded by Brisbane violinist Kieran Welch) and – with an open bar, and the chatter of friends having fun – you’ll experience classical music like never before.
This May 19, Dots+Loops will feature Melbourne’s Solstice Piano Trio. The group performs its first interstate gig and showcases music from Xani Kolac.
Xani has shared stages with popular acts such as Clare Bowditch, Tim Rogers, and has performed with Kav Temperley on RocKwiz. So why is this indie/pop artist interested in the presentation of contemporary classical music? Let’s hear it from the composer herself ahead of the upcoming Dots+Loops event.
Hi Xani! How did you get involved in the Dots+Loops event?
Solstice Trio first approached me two years ago to compose some music for them to play. I was so honoured and totally overwhelmed, but it gave me a chance to try something very new. I composed my Miniature – four short musical explorations. Solstice Trio performed these miniatures a few times and then told me about their upcoming performance as part of Dots+Loops. I was thrilled that Solstice wanted to play my piece! I then added a fifth movement and the miniatures in their new entirety will premiere at the festival.
Tell us about your musical background and how you realised you were interested in composition.
I began playing violin when I was seven, focusing mainly on classical repertoire. It was my mum who broadened my musical interests leading me to explore Irish fiddle music, Argentinian tango and later, jazz. When I was beginning high school, I got right into music and began writing my own songs using violin and on a guitar. I would record my ideas on cassette and then use a second cassette record to overdub additional parts. What I was writing back then was pop-punk.
After studying jazz and improvisation at the Victorian College of the Arts for three years, I then went on to do my Honours and Masters degrees experimenting with effects pedals and songwriting. It was after playing my arrangement of Little Red Corvette at a Prince tribute night that I really decided I wanted to be a songwriter.
As a contemporary violinist, what appeals to you about crossing into the realms of contemporary classical performance like those put on by Dots+Loops?
I love writing pop songs. But before I sang my own songs, I would write instrumentals for drums and violin for my duo The Twoks that followed pop song forms. I love writing melodies and hooks and countermelodies for any instrument. I felt that contemporary violin is still fairly rare in pop music and sometimes I would feel out of place. However, with The Twoks, I’ve been able to cross over between contemporary classical worlds and pop/indie.
My favourite memory was putting on a show called The Twoks + Strings, which featured a 12-piece string orchestra performing with us in a pub. I had the chance to arrange my music for strings! And at the end of the day, that’s the sound I hear in my head whenever I’m writing anything: strings. Contemporary classical performance means a chance to explore acoustic qualities of sound and to create something new.
How have you found your own fans and audiences respond to your ability to cross between genres?
I don’t know, to be honest. Some of our audience members make a point of letting me know that they enjoy it. But sometimes, I wonder if it can be confusing for people. It seems like there’s such a focus on branding in the music biz and sticking to a sound. I think all of my work inherently sounds like me, despite delving into different genres a lot of the time.
You’ve worked with some impressive popular artists such as Clare Bowditch and Tim Rogers, showing your enormous variety of skill. So what is Xani? What is your natural sound, which is the closest to expressing your own musical self? What do you connect with on a personal level?
Wow. This is a great question! I love it. I wonder sometimes if my genre-crossing and diversity comes from a thirst for more work. The more diverse skills I have, the more work I get, and ultimately, the more musical experiences I have! This is definitely how I feel it works when you’re a freelance violinist. However, that seems to feed into my own music as I continuously evolve and get inspired by new things I hear or learn.
When I think about ‘my sound’, and the essence of all my work, I think a few elements are consistent. These include a love for producing extraneous sounds. I love the subtle sounds of slides, fingers on strings, bow hair rustles and breaths. I have listened to and been influenced also by a lot of epic, cinematic music like Sigur Ros, Astor Piazzolla, and Muse, and I find myself including those dense, descending bass line soundscapes a lot. And then finally, I love rhythm. I listen to a lot of big band music like Benny Goodman and Count Basie and I absolutely love drum solos and percussive breaks. I enjoy how every instrument can be played percussively, and often tap and hit my violin to create those sounds.
Talk us through your Miniatures. What inspired these pieces, featuring on the Solstice EP?
My Miniatures were initially inspired by the note G. I had been listening to Chambers by Chilly Gonzales and loved how he made instrumentals sounds so pop. I wanted to incorporate a lot of melodic elements that were ‘pop’, but in a contemporary classical way. The first Miniature is essentially a percussive and rhythmic exploration of G. Because this piece is devoid of conventional melody, the counter-rhythms needed to create sonic interest. I wanted to build anticipation before heading into Bb major. I also wanted to feature each instrument and take the listener through some different moods. Solstice musicians are such versatile players that I knew I could throw in some more pop contemporary ideas and have them pull them off brilliantly.
What message would you like to send pop music audiences wondering whether classical music is ‘cool’ enough for them?
Nothing and no one in this world is cool. ‘Cool’ is a bizarre concept that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Contemporary classical music is vast and open to everyone. You may just find something you love, and you’ll find plenty of other stuff that gives you a great deal to talk about. I think that every genre has something to offer, and contemporary classical is no exception!
See the Solstice Piano Trio (feat. Kieran Welch, viola) at the Dots+Loops Compulsion concert, May 19 at Lightspace, 30 Light Street, Fortitude Valley. They will also perform the world premiere of Maja Puseljic’s Piano Quartet No. 1. Other featured artists include soprano Lotte Betts-Dean, pianist Alex Raineri, percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson, Nonsemble, and Software of Seagulls.
Image supplied. Credit: Michelle Grace Hunder.