Joe Talia - Revox B77 reel-to-reel tape machine and percussion (watch video here)
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I’m beginning my response to this video with a set of instructions that you don’t have to follow.
1. Get a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of wine.
2. Get your headphones.
3. Pull up the video then darken the screen and listen with your eyes closed.
4. Repeat the above with the screen bright and watch the video while listening to the music.
You could of course also listen in the way most of us listen to music these days: on the hop, on a pair of laptop speakers or a mobile phone, and skipping through as we go! This experience of the work of Joe Talia will also be rewarding, but an infinitely richer experience, and even a transformative epiphany may occur if you take the time to dive deep into this music.
What you will hear is an incredibly rich and abstract soundworld created completely spontaneously using a piece of magnetic tape spliced into a loop, a couple of heat sinks taken from old desktop computers which are used as percussion instruments, some bells, and some rattles. You’ll also hear the hum of the machine and the sound of feedback generated from within its circuitry. These sounds are then manipulated and processed live by Talia through the unusual configuration of record and playback heads that provide an array of expressive possibilities never intended by the designers of this machine.
It is amazing to hear all of this without being able to see how the sounds are made. The materials are unfamiliar but there are also melodies and strange loping grooves that unwind themselves as insects seem to buzz around my head. It’s such a rich, unusual world that the pure listening experience is intense and very different from the one had whilst also watching the performance. It is incredible then to turn up your screen brightness and see Joe’s hands at work and get a sense of the visceral material nature of this practice. It’s earthiness.
This is electroacoustic music. It relates strongly to Musique concrète, the ‘tape music’ movement pioneered in the mid 20th Century by John Cage, Halim El-Dabh, and others. It’s also a big part of the sound of the Australian Art Orchestra these days but we don’t often get to hear this element stripped back to its essence.
I asked Joe about the relationship between his practice and Cage’s tape music: “In a sense, yes it relates to that history, but there’s also a performance aspect that feels much closer to free improvisation for me.” He mentions the 60s British free improvisation movement including AMM and Derek Bailey and also contemporary tape improv artists, Valerio Tricoli and Jerome Noetinger: “I remember they both came to Melbourne for a festival about 10 years ago. The day after the concert I was searching online for used [tape] machines.”
This reveals something of the work we are hearing and watching in this video but it also reveals something about more about Joe Talia: his curiosity, his restlessness as an artist.
Joe has several strands to his artistic practice. He is a drummer and for over a decade played kit in Andrea Keller’s multi award winning quartet as well as an impressive list of other projects from Australia and abroad in jazz, art music, and rock. He’s also a recording engineer/producer with an extensive CV, and a sound designer. He is an improviser and autodidact researcher. He’s a low key person and flies somewhat ‘under the radar’ but has had a profound influence on so many musicians and artists.