BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Perth guitarist Jameson Feakes will release his exploratory debut album this month, performing its fresh new music at the Audible Edge festival.
The Tone List release, which comes out on January 19, includes works by Australian and international composers including Clarence Barlow, Josten Myburgh, Eva-Maria Houben, and James Bradbury. It’s guitar notes vs unconventional soundscapes; computers vs improvisation; mixing electronics with acoustic sounds in a remarkable musical journey.
Jameson, who holds performance degrees from the University of Western Australia and West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, talks us through the release on which he worked collaboratively with the composers. You can hear him live at Audible Edge this January 22.
Tell us about Jameson Feakes…how did you get into guitar and improvisation?
I started learning the when I was in primary school from a guitarist up the road from me. I remember he would always get me to write little song or melodies, mainly to reinforce the notes and techniques that we worked on, but also it helped me learn very early on that I could make my own music if I put my mind to it. I think I forgot these lessons when I started taking guitar seriously in high school. Like most young guitarists, I just wanted to play rock music and got an electric guitar as soon as possible, but I was semi-forced into classical-style guitar, which I have learned to love.
Classical guitar leaves very little room for improvisation and by the end of my bachelor’s degree I was quite burnt out on the repertoire – as well as the prospect of music competitions, which I generally oppose. Thankfully, around the same time as this fatigue I was asked by the composer Josten Myburgh, who I studied alongside, to play in his graduation recital. My entire role in this recital was to freely improvise, and this opened an entirely new world for me. I think the timing of this was the most crucial factor. It was a musical freedom that I found during a time where I was questioning my interest in traditional musical trajectories for the guitar.
Talks us through the composers whose works you’re choosing to perform. Have you worked with them before?
Both Josten Myburgh and James Bradbury are long-time friends and colleagues. I think playing and recording music by both was only a matter of time. James’ work is the first piece of his that I have performed. Conversely, Josten and I have performed and worked on pieces together for several years now.
The title track (…until…) is by Clarence Barlow, whose music I stumbled across on the internet. I found the simplicity of his work very striking and one listen was enough to write to him for a copy to perform.
The two short preludes by Eva-Maria Houben are special works for me. Like Barlow’s work, I was quick to contact her after hearing the work for the first time. Eva-Maria is part of Wandelweiser, a collective of composers who focus on post-Cagean music. Wandelweiser has probably been the greatest influence on me as a musician this past year, so I felt it necessary to include music by one of the composers.
How do you go about choosing works that are right for you; that tell us about your identity as a musician?
I think I’m in a state of limbo for my musical identity. What I would consider ‘right’ for me to play probably changes daily. At the end of 2016, I played – attempted? – a piece that was undeniably the most physically taxing, complex, and difficult music I had done to date. A month prior, I played the most minimal, relaxing, and forgiving piece to date. Both these approaches are very appealing to me and it would be unhealthy to ignore that fact. If I like the sound of a piece, or what it symbolises, I will probably try to play it. I reserve choosing what’s ‘right for me’ to the practise room. Aside from that, I play music that makes me happy, with people that make me happy.
What draws you into works like these, which push genre and incorporate electronic instruments?
As a classical guitarist by trade, I rarely got to play with anyone but other guitarists. Working on pieces that incorporate sounds that I’ve never interacted before has been a new and exciting experience for me. Barlow’s piece was so interesting to stumble upon because at a technical level it asks a simple question: in what way can a guitar interact with a sine tone? The other electro-acoustic works by Josten Myburgh and James Bradbury were largely collaborative works. I think the process of working so closely with the composer was what I enjoyed the most – almost to the point that the finished product was incidental (although I adore how both pieces turned out).
The works by Josten and James were written in collaboration with you – what was this process like for you?
As Josten and James are very close friends, collaborating with them was a very natural and enjoyable experience. That being said, their individual approaches to composition are very different. Josten’s work A Window in Sicily probably took a year to get to the version one hears on the album. This was initially a process of me coming in and showing what the guitar could do and attempting to incorporate those ideas into the piece. By the end of this process, the piece had become something bigger than either of us anticipated. Josten was incredibly self-critical of minute details in the work, which is something that I admire in him.
James’ work Traced Over came together much quicker. Prior to me being brought in, James had constructed a Max/MSP as the conceptual basis of the work. The ‘material’ in the work is mostly improvised by myself. Much of the discussion between us concerned structure and the approach to interacting with the electronics. I was humbled by James’ willingness to hand over so much control to me as the performer; it created a work which I have a strong personal attachment to.
What were some of the challenges in producing your new album?
The recording process for this album was very sporadic. I think I started recording various elements at the beginning of 2016, with the final recordings being done probably a week before I sent the album off for printing in December. I’m terrible at completing things without a deadline so most of it was recorded with very little time to go. I thought it would be trickier to present works by different composers together in a cohesive way, but this turned out to be the least difficult aspect of making the album. All my challenges were caused by my inability to plan, which was a great learning experience that I’ll keep in mind for round two.
How would you say your new music fits into the scene today? Do you feel improvised or electronic music is a popular trend? Or is your mission more simple: to be yourself as a musician?
I feel we’ve created a scene for this style of music in Perth (as opposed to trying to fit into one). New music definitely has its cliques and stigma – it’s our responsibility to create a scene that makes it accessible and inclusive. I’ve been lucky to be part of a growing community that focuses foremost on inclusivity and safe spaces. To me, that’s a defining feature of a successful new music scene. To me, it’s clear that people are far more open to new ideas and music when allowed to experience them in a comforting environment. As a performer, I enjoy playing music that aligns itself with that mentality. Perhaps that’s my musical identity?
I’m very thankful for the supportive music community in Perth that I’m a part of. Without it I doubt this album would have been made. It’s a very exciting time for exploratory music in Perth and I’m glad to have had the chance to put my drop in the ocean.
Jameson Feakes will play as part of a triple launch at Audible Edge from 2pm, January 22. For more festival events, visit the website.