This one-man orchestra from Australia makes music that has an electronic edge

This one-man orchestra from Australia makes music that has an electronic edge

By ANIRUDH VOHRA | | 29 October, 2016
Orchestra, Australian percussionist, Ben Walsh, electronic music, Remix Experiment, Fearless Nadia
Australian musician Ben Walsh.
It was a Saturday evening at a local watering hole where several people had assembled to enjoy a few drinks and alternate music. The highlight of the evening was a performance by an Australian percussionist, Ben Walsh.
It was a Saturday evening at a local watering hole where several people had assembled to enjoy a few drinks and alternate music. The highlight of the evening was a performance by an Australian percussionist, Ben Walsh.

The one-man show of visuals along with a mix of electronic music and live drumming made the audience around the stage groove to the beats. A similar spectacle was witnessed when Walsh performed on 15 October as part of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF), and a day later at the Club Mehran as part of RIFF Rustle, at the Old Zenana Courtyard in Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.

One of Australia’s most accomplished percussionists and performers, Walsh is best known for having introduced the live drum and bass act with his act The Bird in the late 1990s. Walsh spoke to Guardian 20 about his new project, entitled Remix Experiment.

Known for his high-energy, frenetic drumming style, Walsh is taking a more modern approach in his new work. His latest project Remix Experiment is a multimedia wall of sound and vision, featuring a confluence of jazz-infused heavy basslines, and modern technology. The show involves live, improvised music and presents each performance as unique and one-off.

Walsh uses turntables, vocals and triggering to manipulate the electronics, keeping human dynamics and tempo as the primary focus, and lets the computers listen to him. Interestingly, he uses his new invention the “gravity scratch” — a unique device that allows him to scratch as fast as he can and drum with incredible sensitivity. He also uses video mixing to create an abstract visual narrative to his music. The end result of this one-man show is a heavily percussive, jazz infused, hyper jungle electronic music that’s crafted for the dance floor.

Walsh explained, “I always felt that working with technology will change the music that I make, because when I’m sitting with my drum kit and playing it, it is my artistic side that’s working, for I can hear the sound in my head and I’m playing it. With computers it’s different. You are downloading music, updating stuff and then you get lost. You lose the spontaneity. So I had to redesign a framework where I can be an artist and work with technology.”

Walsh, who has toured India a number of times, last performed a five-city India tour in June 2013. He also performed in Mumbai and Chennai in November 2012 as the musical director of the “Fearless Nadia” as part of the Oz Fest — Australia’s biggest cultural festival ever staged in India.

“My music will fall in the alternate category as it’s about a fusion of drumming, electronics and bass. And unlike other DJs, who have pre-recorded works, I do the mixing on the stage, live. Thus, you will see me telling the audience before  I present a set that, ‘I hope you like the experiment.’ It’s not that all my tracks turn out perfect . At times, the systems go haywire and there are a few misses, but the audience reaction gives me the perfect feedback there and then,” Walsh says, as he  adjusts his hat and reclined on his chair in the conference room of Ahuja Residency, the hotel where I met him a few days back.

“Unlike other DJs, who have pre-recorded works, I do the mixing on the stage, live. Thus, you will see me telling the audience before  I present a set that, ‘I hope you like the experiment.’”

When he was 19, Walsh began his professional career, forming the high energy junk percussion trio Pablo Percusso. Combining musicality with theatre, this group successfully launchaed five years of national and international touring, over 500 live shows and many television appearances.

After providing a percussive backdrop to the enigmatic punk-rock trio Vicious Hairy Mary, he became the brain-child of the electronic live fusion sensation. The Bird is a musical project that morphed from an innovative duo into a multi-instrumental musician’s collaborative. They have performed throughout Australia and Europe for over a decade now, and have become a highly acclaimed live act, producing a solid list of successful studio albums.

“For six years I studied and toured with the Australian taiko drumming group Taikoz,”  says Walsh.  The highlights of this partnership included his performance on traditional bamboo flute of his own composition at Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Walsh had even used a pseudonym, Sound of Human, in between for a while. Talking about it, he says, “I designed and performed several one-man shows under the name, with the first being Human in the Audio Sphere, which was performed in 2000 at the Adelaide and Melbourne Fringe Festivals and won the award for the best musical act. Then after receiving a commission from the Sydney Opera House, I performed the final version over two weeks in October 2001 as part of Sensoh
Festival.”

This was followed up with an autobiographical journey, First Sound, premiering in October 2002 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and Taipei Dance Forum. After a successful debut, he was asked to return to China with additional shows in Singapore, Malaysia and Seoul. The work was chosen as a spotlight performance at the bi-annual International Arts Market sponsored by the Australia Council (Federal Funding Body for the Arts). First Sound made its Australian debut at the 2004 Adelaide Fringe Festival and received rave reviews at the Sydney Opera House and in Brisbane.

Two more one-man shows, Circuit Breaker and Junkyard Symphony, both featured at Adelaide Festival 2005 and 2008, and enabled Walsh to showcase his multi-instrumental talents and stagecraft.

“Electronic music is something that came out of Europe,” Walsh, while talking about India in the world of Electronic music, says. “And as per people, India still is several years behind when one speaks of electronic music. While this is true, to underestimate the Indian music scene would be wrong. As you guys have so much culture, with so many distinctive sounds, so you can fathom the magnitude of electronic music that can be exported from here. And I’ll take pride in saying that I saw the Indian electronic scene grow and turn into this monster it is today.”

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