What inspired you to found anon. in 2013?

Thomas: anon. was founded upon our desire to continue performing music since we were moving to postgrad studies in architecture and marketing after completing the Bachelor of Music (Hons) at the University of Melbourne. We needed to take the initiative to create our own platform for performance. But at the same time, we wanted to find a way to share the music we loved and knew well, with the people around us who knew little or nothing about classical music; to show that there could be more to discover from classical music than people think, and that novel, engaging experiences could be achieved without sacrificing the music itself. It is with this thinking, every person and experience we meet along the way that shaped anon. into what it is today.

Bach X Reimagined, NGV, EscherNicole Tj and Thomas Lo. Photo © Eugene Hyland

How did the idea for a project based around the Escher x nendo exhibition come together?

Thomas: Did you know Escher was hugely influenced by Bach’s music? The NGV team approached us with a brief to curate a music program for NGV Friday Nights in response to the Escher x nendo exhibition. Since the exhibition is called Between Two Worlds – representing the original and reinterpretation of Escher’s work in nendo’s own unique style, we wanted to reflect the same idea in Bach’s music. Four groups of artists have been each assigned with a composer, each group will play a selection of Bach’s original music as well as a new commissioned piece reimagining Bach.

What factors governed your choice of artists and composers?

Nicole: With a program and setting like this, the main objective of the live performances is to enrich one’s experience of NGV Friday Nights by providing variety and accessibility.

We wanted to showcase Australian composers, each with their distinctive style – Tony Gould for jazz improvisation strongly tied to classical roots; Benjamin Martin for his contemporary approach, very much to hero the piano; Matthew Hindson for his electrifying and orchestral sound world; Nicholas Buc for his incredible flair in bringing together his cinematic influences and rearrangements of classical works. We took a similar approach with the artists, wanting a mix of styles and instrumentation, and are very happy with the combination of jazz duo/trios, piano duet, Baroque string trio and piano trio.

Both Tony and Ben are composers and performers, and we think there is something special when composers perform their own works. Matthew’s contemporary compositional style juxtaposed with the sound world of the Baroque strings, and Nicholas’ cinematic writing for our piano trio – we’ve worked with him before and love performing his works.

Most importantly, we were looking for musicians who were not only lovers of Bach, but open to and passionate about the conceptual parallels to the Escher X nendo exhibition, and excited about bringing music, contemporary and classical alike, to new audiences in a different setting.

How has nendos design influenced the musical aesthetic of this project?

Thomas: Instead of trying to match nendo’s unique design style, we want to reflect the studio’s contemporary approach towards manipulating a single motif by understanding and mimicking Escher’s own technique. In return, what we get is a multi-faceted style of musical aesthetics that are based on the understanding of Bach’s own music as well as the combination between the musicians, instruments and composer.

Bach X ReimaginedBach X ReimaginedPhoto © Eugene Hyland

What are some of the elements of Bachs music or Eschers artworks – that the music will highlight or explore?

Nicole: The underlying link that holds Bach, Escher and nendo together is the basis of a single motif that’s being cleverly manipulated (repetition, inversion, reversal, augmentation etc.) to form a greater composition in their own mediums – music, visual art and spatial design respectively. Each composer and sound designer has based their work on 1) one or more Bach themes and/or 2) compositional techniques of Bach. For example…

Nicholas Buc – Thomas and I have worked with Nick before and know him pretty well, so we went to him with a brief of putting together a piano trio that showcases Bach works for solo piano, violin and cello (sections from Goldberg Variations, Violin Sonata No 1 and Cello Suite No 1), while bridging them all in a holistic way with his signature cinematic writing for trio. He’s also expanded the fugue in the violin partita into a fugue between instruments.

Tony Gould – Tony is an absolute master with a strong background in classical while obviously being known for his jazz improvisatory performances – so we were excited to see what he was going to come up with. He brings in themes from the Well-Tempered Clavier, develops them with jazz chord progressions, and has written his work for both non-improvised and improvised performance, for “virtually any instrument” to join him on the piano. As such, Tony has lined up six different duo/trio combinations in the six weeks that he’s at the NGV for.

Marty Hicks – We provided Marty with a brief to create a soundscape for the Gallery Kitchen space, not for active listening as such, but for sound to create a ‘subconscious feeling’ throughout the night. His 4-channel soundscape plays through speakers at all times when the live performances aren’t on. He’s picked Bach chorales, taken fragments of themes and chord progressions from this, and applied sound design techniques in a way to deconstruct and reconstruct them into his new work.

What are the challenges of embarking on a project like this?

Thomas: Many! One of the key challenges was to strike the balance between 1) developing a holistic concept for a music series that responded to the NGV Escher x nendo exhibition and 2) enhancing the overall NGV Friday Nights audience experience. As you see, this classical music encounter could be the very first for a lot of the audience and this first impression is especially important in finding the right performers that would showcase the wide breadth of classical music in a way that is both accessible conceptually and musically.

What have you learnt from the performances so far?

Thomas: The performances have been an amazing journey for us, getting to know the composers and artists, their creative process from early ideas in coming up with their new commissions, through to listening and seeing the performers’ interpretations for the first time, experiencing the vibe at NGV Friday Night between great music, food and drinks. It’s been magical. There’s been tremendous interest from the music and design community, we hope that this is just the first series of a collaboration like this, and we are planning to record and take the Bach X Reimagined series for performances elsewhere.

What is the experience like for the audience? How do the music and visual art play off each other?

Nicole: People come to NGV Friday Nights for a Friday night out with friends to wind down and look for a good time, nothing too formal. I think the diversity of programming in the different spaces allows for this – check out the exhibitions, have a wine and dinner while listening to some live music at Bach X Reimagined over some laughs, or head out to the garden for DJs and have a bit of a dance. The Bach X Reimagined program isn’t directly correlated to the artworks in the exhibition at all, though is in the Gallery Kitchen space which has floor-to-ceiling black and white tessellations by nendo.

How do you think presenting music in a space like this changes the experience?

Thomas & Nicole: It changes everything. We noticed in our recent travels that galleries rarely consider music or sound design as an integrated part of the gallery experience, hence we believe there’s so much that music could do to help create a more dynamic experience! Regardless of whether it’s active or passive listening, music has the enormous emotional power, and the ability to subconsciously influence the way you might interact with the artworks, people, space and food. Bach X Reimagined activates the Gallery Kitchen space throughout the night – either through live music or a soundscape. Through this, we hope not only to enhance the audience experience at the NGV, but also present an approachable opportunity to experience some classical music first hand – perhaps it might stay with them and spark further interest in live classical music in the future.

Bach X Reimagined is at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 6