Human Evolution In Music: Kim Moyes on ‘Timeline’ – The Presets With The Australian Chamber Orchestra

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“Ridiculously ambitious ” says Kim Moyes, a member of electronic duo The Presets. A sure-fire way to arouse interest in a concept; and ‘concept’ seems to be the best way of describing Timeline the upcoming presentation by the Australian Chamber Orchestra,  with The Presets.

Directed from the violin by Richard Tognetti, along with Ignatius Jones and vocal director Graham Ross, the team has created a time warp of music through the millennia. Tripping through 42,000 years of music and 230 songs, nothing is out-of-bounds with Mozart and Miles Davis, Bach and Bob Dylan and the music of other unlikely bedfellows. Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes, both classically trained,  who together make up the ARIA Award winning group The Presets will perform with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, a vocal ensemble and a station of electronic devices in this ” journey through the history of music” as described by Kim Moyes when SoundsLikeSydney caught up with him in Sydney,

The story of Timeline began with an idea from Tognetti. Says Moyes “He did an early version of it at a festival in Slovenia, so when he approached us to get involved, he had pretty good sketches worked out, of what his ideas were. The one that jumped out at me was one where he had a piece by Xenakis called Shaar,  going into Bilie Jean by Michael Jackson with the two playing over the top of each other. It was an amazing mix! I’ve always found Xenakis to be a really funky composer and to have that mashed up against Billie Jean made a lot of sense to me.”

“When Richard approached us and showed us the examples it was an offer we couldn’t  refuse. What I got out of it when we started thinking about the project was the overwhelming sense of the journey of human evolution in music and what humans have been capable of”  he continued.

Tognetti himself writes “We cycle through epochs of simplicity and complexity, minimalism and maximalism, the overt personal expression of Romanticism and the formal restraint of Classicism. Each time, it appears we think we confront the new. Timeline shows that we become shocked with the advent of seemingly new forms; shock turns to acceptance, acceptance turns to insouciant overuse and we re-contextualise, (consider the Right-wing banker who loves the Sex Pistols and Bob Dylan; or the Wagner loving socialites – a long distance from Wagner proselytising socialist doctrine) before craving the new once more.”

More accustomed to playing to festival audiences which number in the tens of thousands, I asked Moyes how The Presets would adapt to playing with the delicate sounds of a chamber orchestra in a smaller venue. Moyes agreed  ” We’ve had to factor in a lot of those considerations  –  the way the music will be amplified and the natural reverberation of the room. Normally our music is blasted out of speakers at high levels. With this project we have to figure out a gentler way and a softer  way of doing it. Also there’s a big ‘bleed ‘ of sound in those rooms so a lot of events  that happen very fast can get lost and turn into mush.”

” Even the way it’s going to be performed is very different for us – for example we have to follow a conductor and our computers will have to be in time with the conductor – but we have a classical music background and spent a lot of our youth in concert halls and in orchestras, so it won’t be hard and given the nature of the piece and the calibre of all the musicians, I think it’s going to be a natural fit.”

Inevitably,  I wondered how ever a programme such as this would end – in the present,  peering into the future, or even apocalyptic?  Moyes explains “The first idea to finish off Timeline was that we would end  in the present  with the Number 1 hit of that week in Australia – but there was some trepidation about what that  hit might be and it may not have been the nicest way to finish off the work. In the end we decided  that the most elegant way to finish would be with a brand new work that we have written with Richard called Continuum.”

Endearingly, Moyes confesses “I hope the ACO and their fans don’t hate us! What I do hope is that   people get swept way and that they’re amazed at this collection of creativity. I hope that people will join the dots and see what we’re trying to do. I hope they will disagree with some of the decisions that we made and realise at the same time that it is just our perspective and that there is no  definitive timeline.  It’s not a history lesson; it’ s apiece of music in its own right.” 

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Timeline is on in Sydney from 20 – 25 and 29 May.

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