The Carousel: CultureHUB Review
The Black Box, 19 December ’14
When one sets off on a musical journey, there is safety in harmony. Chord progressions follow familiar patterns, as the melody takes you gently back to the homely root note. A smile is smiled, and off you go on another predictable melodic tour. The Carousel makes you think again. A No Destination sign hangs above this magic bus, and the band steers the attentive audience into uncharted territory.
I believe the You Tube generation is lazy, and will tend to flit between the most instantly pleasing songs. Taking the time to sit down and listen to a challenging album almost seems a thing of the past. The Carousel presents you with a challenge, firstly, the muscians surround you, intensifying the sonic experience in the extreme. Then they set of with a loose sense of direction in their music, weaving the rich layers of sound. This improvisation however, does not always return to familiar patterns of chorus and verse, and causes the brain to search for order like a lost puppy seeking its owner.
I was aware of this inner battle at times, and tried to calm this order craving by focusing on the the live artwork projected onto a large screen. This added a different dimension to the experience and helped me let go and let the sounds wash by, rather than pinning them down with thought. The traditional tension and release structure of music is set to the side at times. Tension without release within this heightened sonic experience can be overwhelming at times, but this too is part of The Carousels musical landscape.
Interestingly the artwork mirrored the music in some ways. I looked for emerging patterns or concepts, and just when I got a sense where the artist might be going, images are blackened out or taped over, like someone stealing a long awaited chorus. There was a sense at times of being toyed with by this mischievous crew.
The Carousel played a number of startlingly beautiful original songs, particularly the song that acknowledged John Martyn, the arrangement and coordination of the 12 musicians is breath taking. The layered acoustic guitar arrangements with harp and violin have a subtle finesse that is amplified in the soft candlelit atmosphere of the Black Box.
With improvisation, the band is unapologetic in taking the audience to musical places that don’t work. Without electronic gadgets to fast forward or skip tracks, the surround sound experience leaves the audience no place to hide. I felt a little sorry for the table on our left, as the band set off with an experimental piece that sent the poor souls scrambling to the door. The experimental arrangements are intriguing. In one such arrangement, a low bass note is sang and held, around which the Moogs’, guitars and violin swirled and swooped with discordant menace, the bass voice holding the sounds together offering up a twisted harmony.
The Carousel often created walls of sound, sometimes caressing and smooth, other times frenetic and edgy. Listening to these sound-scape’s made me think of Debussy’s quote regarding ‘music being the space between the notes’. This presents a unique challenge to the 12 musicians to both find and work with that space, a task made harder by an audience who in parts continued to talk loudly. Chatting with the double bass player outside confirmed that the band struggled to hear its own music over the talking, which is a pretty thankless task for a musician. But persist they did, and they continued to surprise, amaze and shock the audience right to the end of the set.
If this was an album, it would have stumped me. That said, it takes a number of listens to get into a good album, one that has staying power anyway. I look forward with some trepidation to my next visit to The Carousel, a new journey into the unknown, with no fixed destination.