QSOCurrent: Tom Thum, Sampology, Argo @ Brisbane Powerhouse Review

Tom Thum and QSO
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

The thought-provoking and edgy mix of historic industrial architecture and artistic space at Brisbane’s Powerhouse provided an appropriately apposite venue for the particular collision of old and new that is QSOCurrent.

QSOCurrent artist-in-residence Tom Thum, beat boxer extraordinaire, along with composer, conductor and broadcaster Gordon Hamilton and a selection of QSO musicians combined to present ‘Prints of the Pigeons’. Presented to a full-house, this show highlights Tom’s extraordinary vocal range and talents, the ultimate ‘voice as instrument’ show. Interleaved within the programme were pieces performed with various invited guests, including rapper MANTRA, digital percussionist Dave Acosta Atkins, singer and guitarist Jamie MacDowell, and ‘Dusty Fenson’, Tom’s hilarious bush-poet persona, courtesy of spoof radio station WD40 FM!

Having the guest artists on stage was interesting, but Tom’s vocal range and mimicry were by far the most compelling features of the programme. Tom effortlessly moved from operatic falsetto through to drum’n’bass backing, incorporating a vast array of sounds in between, including buzzing flies for looping as background to the bush poetry, and a panoply of instrumental sounds that were often difficult to distinguish from the more traditional instruments on stage.  One of the highlights was ‘Polish your Brass’, featuring bizarre soundbites sampled from a YouTube instruction video, with a huge (fat!) sound boosted by the brass section.

During the interval between the performances, visitors were treated to a free show, ‘Macro: Soundscapes in the Turbine Room’, by Argo – this was a richly textured musical interlude, with listeners becoming immersed in layers of sound, enhanced by the thoughtful positioning of musicians at different levels of the turbine hall.

Sampology is the brainchild of Sam Poggioli. An audio-visual artist, Sam uses sound and image sampling, the latter including a crazy montage of hand-drawn jungle foliage and footage of wildlife, along with looping and direct instrumental play to create unique and surreal audiovisual landscapes. ‘Natural Selections’ uses the sounds and rhythms of the natural world (birdsong, growls, screams, frogcalls, dripping and running water) and African and Latin music. Samples from ’70s motown were cut-up and pastiched using drum-pads and turntables, with ‘80s style ‘scratching’ that not only controlled the sound, but also the video feed to the huge screen which dominated the backdrop to the orchestra. A quirky video cameo by Tom Thum neatly connected the two performances. The overall effect was astounding and energising, and gained a standing ovation from the appreciative audience. 

Thanks to Gordon Hamilton’s accomplished arrangements and scoring, these were shows like no other! With hugely talented beat boxer Tom Thum and multi-media artist Sam Poggioli, conducted and accompanied by Gordon and musicians from the QSO orchestra, this event was breathtaking, unique, and utterly compelling.

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