It was an unlikely partnership, but common ground was found in geekdom.
Tom Thum, born Tom Horn, is a vocal percussionist. Gordon Hamilton is a classical composer. They first collaborated in 2015 to create debut Thum Prints, a genre-bending highlight of last year’s QSOCurrent festival. Now they’re returning to the Powerhouse for something new.
“We’re not very ‘down’ guys,” Horn admits of their credibility – way too modestly. It’s the fact that neither he nor Hamilton is willing to be confined by genre that has made their project a major talking point.
Horn is known for his mind-bogglingly wide repertoire of sound effects, imitations and vocal percussion (a 2013 performance at TEDxSydney has logged more than 48 million YouTube hits). It’s a gift that sees him as this year’s QSOCurrent artist-in-residence.
Hamilton has worked as an artistic director and a conductor, well-used to herding precocious talent. “Tom is so, so smart and so, so musical,” Hamilton says. “He's got all these bizarre effects he's worked on all his life, and he's got all these sounds you could swear were coming out of a computer.”
Horn laughs. "Even if I write something totally terrible and shit, Gordon will bring it up to scratch," he says.
Actually, Horn will admit that he initially found collaborating daunting. “We'd record, go away for two weeks and do our own thing, then Gordon would come back with something he'd written,” he says. “Then our writing techniques started to combine more. We went away to Stradbroke Island for a couple of days, and spent some really intense writing time. It made me feel a bit less like a blow-in and more like an actual contributor.”
Since first performing together at the Brisbane Powerhouse they’ve taken their show to the Philippines for the Malasimbo Music Festival in March, then earlier this month to Melbourne for the BBC Proms Australia. Even with an orchestra in tow the latter could have been a stage too grand, but the show was well received.
“It's great to see that old-world classical music establishment recognising that we can make something new – a concerto with beatboxer and orchestra – and that can count as classical music,” Hamilton says.
Now the duo is flipping the script, returning to Brisbane for a new set with some urban music guests. As well as the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Prints of the Pigeons will feature appearances from Mantra, Jamie MacDowell and Resin Dogs’ Dave Atkins.
It’s a mark of their friendship that Horn reckons Hamilton’s modern approach to classical music brings out the best in him. As for Hamilton, he says he’s learned how to just say yes.
"We do come from totally different ends of the spectrum,” Hamilton says, “but all we have to do is find a way of talking to each other, and suddenly we are talking the same language – which is music."