BY RACHEL BRUERVILLE
Brisbane’s eclectic indie-classical quintet Topology summarises the wide expanse of work the musicians have created in the past 20 years through TWENTY.
This ambitious new album celebrates the group’s original compositions and collaborations for which it is well known, as well as creative re-imaginings of popular music.
Across two special TWENTY events this month, each spanning a decade of music making, the musicians of Topology show us how far they have come.
We had a chat with one of Topology’s founding members – composer and bassist Robert Davidson – about collaboration, friendships, defining and defying genre, and plans for the future.
Do not fear, fellow music nerds, because Rob backs us up in his belief that “classical training is a cool thing”!
Firstly, congratulations on reaching this 20-year milestone! Please give us a bit of background about how Topology first came to be.
We were all involved in a loose collective of musicians called Music for the Heart and Mind, also a concert series which ran 1990-96. That collective was very creative and interesting, but performances were put together in an ad hoc way. I thought it would be great to put together a group who could rehearse the same kind of repertoire regularly and get organised. The musicians were chosen principally for being friends who would get along, and then we started thinking about what we could do with the quirky instrumentation.
How did you all manage to choose your favourite tracks to go on this anniversary album release?
It was difficult. We had a lot of back-and-forth discussions in person, email, and on shared online documents. We did things like ranked our favourites, tried to represent different albums and kinds of projects, and what would flow well in an album playlist.
Your work has been incredibly varied over the years, and collaboration is a huge part of that – what have been some of your most rewarding Topology experiences so far?
Personally, I found working with the Brodsky Quartet one of the most rewarding, since they themselves are very experienced collaborators and made no assumptions. Both groups approached the collaboration with very open minds and with lots of communication. The whole collaboration actually started with Brodsky violist Paul Cassidy inviting me to lunch at the legendary Ivy club in London (a haunt of people in the performing arts and film/TV), and we had a very convivial, laughter-filled chat as we worked out some ideas.
It was also amazing to perform with TaikOz with their athletic performing style, and to put together the Six Pack Symphony with five other ensembles (Brodsky Quartet, Clocked Out, Wood, David Chesworth Ensemble, Continuum) to create a wondrous orchestra. But every collaboration has had great rewards. I wish I could gush about all of them.
Topology explores many genres and art forms, although all core members have a ‘classical’ foundation of training. Do you feel that genre is still relevant to discuss in 2017, relating to the composition processes, performance, and recording of your music?
We are big believers that genre is very fluid these days, but also it’s interesting to note that classical music is healthier than ever in 2017. There are higher standards of performing, there are an extraordinary number of amazing composers active and making gorgeous music, and audiences globally are huge.
We make enthusiastic use of what classical approaches can offer, such as the organising tools of music notation, particular rehearsal approaches used in chamber music and orchestras, and the huge collection of techniques used by composers in that tradition. My own teacher, Terry Riley, has had an enormous influence not only on classical music, but on many other genres – especially through influence on artists like the Velvet Underground, The Who and any number of EDM [Electronic Dance Music] practitioners. So I certainly am of the opinion that classical training is a cool thing.
I once heard a musician describe chamber music as ‘music you play with people who used to be your friends’! How have the members of Topology managed to maintain friendship over the last 20 years?
We have worked pretty hard on maintaining good communication, including some formal mediation sessions, not to address problems, but to catch them before they surface. We spend a fair bit of time on tour and socialise a lot there, and we spent a lot of time in our early years in rehearsal camps: going away to a nice spot like Bribie Island for four days and just rehearsing all day before going to the beach and hanging out playing board games with wine.
And finally, what are your plans for the next 20 years?
Our education work is definitely expanding, and we’re excited about that. We have lots of new projects planned, with more overseas collaborations and more ways of rethinking how music and theatre can combine. We are welcoming new people to play with us and work with us, and we’re really excited about the new ideas that will come from that.