Melbourne synth-extraordinaires STATHIS//DAVEY//KIM on chaos, control and Now or Never

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Melbourne synth-extraordinaires STATHIS//DAVEY//KIM on chaos, control and Now or Never

Words by Luke Carlino

Synth-lovers won't want to miss this special performance as part of Melbourne's newest major festival, Now or Never, featuring STATHIS//DAVEY//KIM, Kali Malone and a synth orchestra.

Now or Never is here to celebrate Melbourne’s dynamic cultural landscape while providing artists and musicians a platform to push their craft’s boundaries. This 17-day extravaganza has a jam-packed program, and one part of the over 70 events and experiences is something synth-heads will not want to miss.

Minimalist composer Kali Malone travels from Stockholm to play Melbourne Town Hall’s Grand Organ (which is the largest in the southern hemisphere) with MESS’ (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio) Synthesiser Orchestra led by local synth-lords STATHIS//DAVEY//KIM. Making her Australian debut, Kali will perform pieces from her critically-acclaimed album, The Sacrificial Code.

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We caught up with the local trio to discuss the world-exclusive premiere of their new composition, which has been specially commissioned for Now or Never and how they plan to include the 12-piece Synthesiser Orchestra, historic machines from the MESS collection and the grand organ in all of the fun.

Sooji Kim, Mads Davey and Katerina Stathis are a Melbourne-based collective of three composers who create site-specific large-scale compositions using analogue synthesisers. They met in 2016 during a MESS professional development course and hit it off, “we were possibly some of the nerdiest in the class and, as a result, were invited to collaborate on a project for Mona Foma, which spawned the beginning of this composer collective,” explains Kim.

For this particular performance, the trio will work with the MESS Synthesiser Orchestra, which features 12 artists using a range of iconic synthesisers and the effect of quadraphonic sound to make the experience more immersive, engulfing the listeners from all angles. As Davey explains, this type of performance is given life thanks to initiatives like Now or Never. “We are artists that work with creating experiences, and that is a big part of these festivals, which are starting to think about people experiencing something new and being connected in a moment to create specific memories. That drives a lot of what we do in our work.”

The trio explains the complexity of preparing for a piece of this type, “We’re writing for an orchestra of synthesisers, but each of those instruments could be its own orchestra. Plus, we are in a room that is really reverberant, so the sound continues for ages, so we had to take all of that into consideration.” The goal became an exploration of the extremities of each instrument and how they interact with each other, as Stathis explains. “We wanted to explore the way the sounds clash and how that creates a completely different soundscape – plus, we also have to weave in the organ,” Kim adds.

The composers describe how polarities drove the inspiration behind the work, “we were talking about dystopic to euphoric, beautiful to tense, and otherwordly to grounded and earthly, while exploring humanistic notes like isolation versus connectivity. People will experience things that will be deeply personal, or things that they can connect with other people.”

Anyone who has played with a synthesiser will know they are unpredictable at best, and no amount of setting saves will replicate the sounds you find.

As Kim explains, this has helped form the thematic premise of the upcoming show. “Part of working with synths is being at peace with the amount of chaos inherent in the machines, so you have no choice but to embrace that.” Kim continues, “That is one of the themes that has emerged, the duality of the intense amount of control these systems have but also the unpredictability of what happens when you are playing them, so the duality of chaos and control is something people will witness and we’ve had to embrace during the writing process.

“It’s a bit like life, embrace the chaos and do what you can to have some sort of structure to fall back on as well.”

See STATHIS//DAVEY//KIM with Kali Malone in the main hall of Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday, August 19 at 7.30pm as part of the Now or Never Festival program.

Beat is an official media partner of Now or Never.