Panoptique Electrical – Ambient material sees light of day

September 30, 2008 § 1 Comment

Published: The Age, Metro, September 29, 2008.

Panoptique Electrical’s debut collection charts a very different past, writes Dan Rule.

PANOPTIQUE Electrical was never really meant to be. The new solo guise for on-again off-again Melbourne resident, electronic musician and composer Jason Sweeney traces a decade’s worth of ambient material that he never thought would see the full light of day.

“I really wanted to bring all this stuff into the foreground,” says the 37-year-old, from his home in Adelaide. “It was a chance to work on something as a listener as opposed to creating it from scratch.”

In Panoptique Electrical’s debut collection, Let the Darkness at You, Sweeney — who is known for his roles in electronic acts Pretty Boy Crossover, Mist and Sea and School of Two — reworks and re-imagines 19 pieces that were originally commissioned as soundtracks for theatre, dance, short film and art installation.

Over almost an hour and a half, the album ebbs and flows with stunningly atmospheric, computer-born textures, languidly melodic piano and distant echoes of guitar.

“This work had only been heard in the context of a theatre performance or a dance piece or a short film, and usually it’s kind of hidden,” says Sweeney. “It’s just sort of buried in the mix as a texture.”

He felt that although the pieces were purpose-written, “they weren’t necessarily used to their fullest capacity”.

“I mean, some of the piano pieces on the record were mostly written for short film and the filmmakers ended up using maybe two notes from that piece.

“The composer obviously wants all their music in the foreground,” he laughs. “So it was definitely an opportunity to pull out and expose the whole feeling of a piece.”

In the past 10 years, the Adelaide-raised Sweeney has worked on independent films and performances in locales as disparate as Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Wagga Wagga, Glasgow, Brussels and Los Angeles, also completing an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada.

Meanwhile, as one half of Pretty Boy Crossover — the other being Melbourne-based electronic musician and visual artist Cailan Burns — he has released six full-length albums and countless EPs and singles, becoming one of the more respected figures on the Australian experimental music landscape in the process.

Curiously, he never learned music in any formal context. Rather, he took early Cure records such as Head on the Door as a cue, and began experimenting with guitars and various antiquated keyboards.

His eventual start in composition came via his concurrent interest in theatre and performance.

“I think because I know the processes involved in theatre and dance, people seemed to find that quite appealing,” he says. “They realised I had that instinct about how sound can be used in that context.”

The Panoptique Electrical project — which features collaborative visual artwork and song-titles by Sensory Projects label head Steve Phillips — is a chance for the composer to further develop and diversify this creative mode.

But according to Sweeney, who describes Let the Darkness at You as a “kind of sleeping pill”, his objectives are simple enough.

“I just wanted it to be kind of uncompromisingly minimal and somnambulistic and really kind of sleepy, but still actually have a lot of variation going on. I also had the advantage of having all of this material from the last decade, which kind of allowed me to look at the similarities and relativities.”

It was an approach of gathering a collection of this material, reworking it “and then going to sleep every night with it on”, he says.

“And when it didn’t work, I’d go back the next day and reconfigure it again. Oh and I wouldn’t sleep much either.”

Panoptique Electrical plays at the Toff in Town, 252 Swanston Street, Tuesday September 30. Let the Darkness at You is out through Sensory Projects/Inertia. Details: thetoffintown.com

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