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Faust + Thymolphthalein - The Forum Theatre (10.06.11)

Beat me and send me back to my cave for not having any inkling of who Faust was before this night. I almost missed out on seeing this band for the simple reason that they played here as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. I have witnessed jazz before (once) and found it the greatest remedy for insomnia ever, apart from the seemingly eight-hour-long, excruciating Elton John gig that I went to many moons ago. Anyway, I read a short description of the band and thought they sounded interesting, so off I went to The Forum Theatre with some degree of trepidation.

Anthony Pateras’s Thymolphthalein opened the evening with their very visual and assonant mix of sounds. They were an apt choice of support for Faust, being highly experimental in their approach to both writing and performing. I can’t say that I understood their purpose or that I would buy their music, but it never hurts to have our perceptions challenged on the odd occasion and I found myself thinking about all the things that music can be when we shake off our limited views of the medium.

This is the 40th anniversary of Faust’s first release, and the first time they have played in Melbourne. I will try not to over analyse what I saw during this gig. The band members themselves say that nothing matters and that there is nothing serious in the music they make, but as we know the most complex meanings can be construed by the simplest creations. I wonder where to begin? On my way home from work I heard a radio DJ say that they’re a band that’s unique and you’ve just “gotta be there” in order to get the gist of what they’re about. I now know what he meant. Faust (the touring version), include two members of the original band that began around ’69 and released their first vinyl in ’71. They have always been sensory performers, with the visual aspect of the music being as important as the aural. To give you some clue about where they’re coming from, Faust were heavily influenced by Frank Zappa’s collages, and their sounds are pieced together just like a Zappa collage, which then comes together to construct a big picture.

‘Zappi’ Diermaier is an extraordinary percussionist who works with power tools as well as more conventional instruments to create a ‘soundscape’. This takes me back to my childhood when I was more imaginative, and I could hear music in the sound of a washing machine, a train running along the tracks and even a vacuum cleaner’s hum. Zappi uses an angle grinder to elicit sound and a shower of sparks that light the stage, a concrete mixer to provide background rhythm, a chain saw to carve and grind, and a power screwdriver on a circular saw blade to invoke a raw industrial base for all the other instruments to layer over. Add to this mix Geraldine Swayne (U.K.) who is a painter as well as a vocalist, guitarist and organist. Geraldine paints on stage using colours and shapes that are influenced by the music. Jean-Herve’ Peron quips with the audience and connects us to what’s going on. Apparently we ‘castrate our words’ here…something he finds quite amusing. James Fraser Johnston plays guitar and keyboards like the devil. The whole cacophony of sounds come together, and rise to a thundering and heart-stopping vibration that almost makes the Corinthian columns at the Forum crack and give way. Other moments are pared back to a single drum beat or are so mellow that you are lulled into a soporific state before being rudely pulled out again by something completely unexpected. You’re left at the end of it all wondering whether the members of Faust are, in fact, musicians or installation artists. With my senses reeling I went home, knowing that I’d seen something unique and probably totally unfathomable and brilliant.

Image: © Mary Boukouvalas for The AU Review