BY HARRY SDRAULIG
Want to hear some new Australian music?
Enter Plait Ensemble.
The group, led by world music specialist and double bassist Elsen Price, is crowdfunding its debut album Chicken Chilli Basil. It’s a collection of Price’s own works, composed for the artists who will perform it. The members of the group are from wildly ranging backgrounds and experiences – so let’s learn about this music ahead of its launch on September 14.
Elsen, tell us a little bit about your overall style and approach as a composer. From my initial listening, your music comes across as eclectic, incorporating diverse influences.
My overall approach is quite simple – I try to consider the special qualities of the musicians I’m working with. To me, the uniqueness of the individual players in Plait is as important as their respective technical abilities:
- Adem Yilmaz is a virtuosic percussionist, and leaves listeners stunned by the mastery of his playing. His strong background in Turkish culture and music is a real asset to the group.
- Armenian pianist Zela Margossian performs with incredible subtlety, incorporating diverse musical influences, from classical and jazz to Armenian folk music.
- Jazz guitarist Nigel Date brings great sensitivity and experience to our distinctive sound, while vocalist Linda Taylor has an incredible technical ability, which strongly influences how I perceive and write for the voice.
There is a wonderful sense of discovery in the compositional process, especially when my music changes within the first few moments of workshopping with the ensemble. I always relish the opportunity to work with musicians and composers of diverse cultural backgrounds.
How has your attitude to composing evolved or changed over the years?
Early on, my music was directly influenced by what I was listening to: rock, metal and reggae. Once I started performing, I tried my hand at writing more complex music. However, a lack of experience (and not knowing the right people) made it difficult to progress very far.
Later on, I co-ordinated a few different groups called ‘noise ensembles’. In this setup, each performer would write a piece of music for the group – we would workshop it, and then perform and record the work live. Throughout this process, I gained a better understanding of working with the strengths and qualities of different musicians.
I’ve also spent time working as an improvising soloist over the last five years, performing at some major festivals while also being involved with street performances, interactive performances in disability and aged care centres, and spiritual events. Working in these different settings has given me a strong sense of how to cater to different audience tastes and expectations.
The double bass isn’t often thought of as a virtuosic instrument, especially in comparison to the violin or piano. I wonder why this is, as you seem to disprove this notion with so many of your performances!
The double bass has experienced something of a renaissance. Bass players are aware how Dragonetti, Bottessini and Koussevitzky have contributed to this cause, along with bassists from the jazz tradition including Ray Brown, Milt Hinton and Ron Carter. From many parts of the world, bass players are embracing all the traditions, reflecting the diverse nature of the instrument and pushing it to new heights. Edgar Meyers increases expectations with every album he creates, performing with the world’s most respected jazz, classical, and bluegrass musicians (even writing for them!).
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming album with the Plait Ensemble. What is the vision behind this project, and what are your colleagues like to work with?
My vision is to take this project as far as possible, both musically and geographically. I’ve worked with each of the members in settings outside of the group, and I’m very excited to be collaborating with them. With future albums, I hope the music takes on its own adventure, and reflects the development of the group and our players.
New music tends to be difficult simply for the fact it’s never been performed, but with all of our members actively engaged in the music, any problems get ironed out as soon as they are found.
Encouragingly, I’ve already been able to book shows outside of Sydney for after the album launch. Overseas performances are now on the to-do list!
What music do you listen to for pleasure? Do you have any musical idols?
I really like Harry Partch, as both a composer and musician. His overall approach incorporates elements often ignored in traditional Western music including non-Western tunings, ancient instruments, collaborations with dancers, and his unconventional exploration of sound. I love the simplicity yet gripping style of 17 Lyrics of Li Po, and the grittiness and tonal interest of US Highball – his music ought to be much better known. His book Genesis of a Music explaining his work is a tough read, but I hope to understand it one day!
What advice do you have for young performer composers?
I work as a performer and compose only for my own projects, though I did get some small encouragement recently for writing music for a movie produced by Michal Imielski, which received some awards. I’m not too sure about full time composition, though I get to work with some very wonderful composers who always have very challenging things to learn. An emerging composer should try to do as much as possible – it’s a very competitive industry, and every composer finds their own way to navigate it. If you spend enough time being involved in things (even if they are very small and possibly unrelated to where you want to be), you’ll eventually find out where you fit!
Support Plait Ensemble’s crowdfunding campaign, and check out their launch on September 14 in Annandale Arts Centre. Details online.