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Solo Series - Peter Knight

Peter Knight

Solo Series #6 - Peter Knight (watch video here) - trumpet, revox reel-to-reel tape machine, laptop computer.

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Peter Knight’s work has appeared regularly in my orbit. Yet even, say, a year ago, I may have declined the Australian Art Orchestra’s (AAO) invitation to write this piece on its Artistic Director. I’d admired Peter’s projects but I couldn’t see the thread. 

It clicked when I saw the AAO perform with Tasmanian metal artist Striborg (Russell Menzies) at Mona Foma festival this year. Menzies was presenting his new ‘blackwave’ direction  – all icy synth and demonic vocals – with Peter live processing his trumpet and doing laptop effects. While the show wasn’t wholly improvised, its sound was clearly hatching as we watched and it was a lot of fun. 

Menzies is a doggedly solo artist, I believe. Facepaint, capes and bedroom recordings. Despite a not negligible following abroad, he’s never left Australia. Could any other group of highly-trained musicians in Australia have worked such simpatico magic with him? Or is the AAO, led since 2013 by Peter, the group most able to mine what Peter calls “the meeting points”?

From Striborg to the ambient cushioning he constructed for Tamara Saulwick’s theatre piece, Endings, to the AAO as a jazz ensemble playing with Arnhem Land’s Young Wägilak Group at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art – each time Peter or the AAO pop up, it's interesting work that retains its instinctive quality. 

As I write this Peter is at the remote community festival of Barunga performing Hand To Earth with Sunny Kim and Daniel Wilfred because their connection with Wilfred, a talented Arnhem Land singer, deepened since the Hobart shows, cracking apart new musical seams. Of Peter’s work in Daughter’s Fever (alongside Vanessa Tomlinson and Andrew Brooks) with Melbourne folk iconoclast, Paddy Mann, I wrote in each player “rounded out the rare chemistry”.

So I found the thread. Peter says he’s driven by “perpetual curiosity”. I’d say that curiosity is rounded out by his ability to make rare chemistries real. “What links the AAO’s different sounds and styles is an interest in where things intersect and the friction when they collide. That’s relevant to my solo practice too. I think a lot about the trumpet and its traditions and how that connects with an experimental approach to sound and music-making.”

His most favoured antiquity is the “beautiful patina” furnished by the Revox B77 reel-to-reel tape machine. “I manipulate my trumpet using techniques not usually connected with trumpet playing such as digital processing or analogue processing through tape, pedals and amplifiers.”

In Peter’s solo practice, a kind of man-machine meld between the instrument - “I’ve been a trumpet player all my life, I practice every day” – and the electro-acoustic realms of analogue technology occurs. “Electronic possibilities have crept into my consciousness so there’s a kind of symbiosis where they feed off one another. Even playing solo, acoustically, I have this urge to make these electronic sounds with my trumpet.”

Peter’s solo piece here is quietly gripping; hypnotic yet troubled by an insistent unease. I hear something both Andean in its gusts of breath through brass (without the video, I may’ve assumed it was breath through bamboo?) and Amazonian in its insect-like thrum. I hear heat. Because the ticking thrum teeters, as well, on resolving into an image of a suburban lawn as a sprinkler spins; a place that only exists in a dream or a half-recalled memory. 

When he improvises, Peter sets up sound worlds, sets them in motion and sees what happens. “The limitations I set to play within are kind of like a score. I can predict what it’s going to sound like but not what’s going to happen. It’s the same with the AAO. We design spaces things can happen in; spaces to open up potential.”

Kate Hennessy

Solo Series #6
Performance: Peter Knight
Photo: Sarah Walker
Audio and Video producer: Leo Dale