Imagine this: you’re at a bar looking at three men playing hypnotic synth harmonies that you don’t understand, yet somehow relate to. Behind them flickers a tri-panel video phantasmagoria of small dots and pretty colours. It’s big and it’s intense - but of course, it’s a musical arts collaboration about time and space.
Showing as part of Melbourne Music Week, 100 Million Nights is an audio-visual collaboration between the musical duo Canyons and the Sydney painter Daniel Boyd. As Leo Thompson from Canyons explains, they composed the score while Daniel painted and the show was hatched from exploration; which suited them perfectly, as it’s also how Canyons started. “We both met in high school in Perth,” says Leo of his band mate, Ryan Grieve. “We were both at an evolution point where we’d discovered dance music and wanted to make that sound, even though we didn’t have any experience in it. It was the exploration that excited us.”
From those early days the band formed the record label Hole in the Sky, and went on to release an EP that attracted the attention of Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker and cult ’70s rock icon, Paul Roberts from Sniff ‘n’ the Tears. Leo shrugs off any suggestion that this is a praiseworthy feat, explaining that it’s all because they couldn’t sing. “We’d write the music and lyrics but we needed a vocalist, so we got others to do it.” Pragmatism served them well, and their debut album, Keep your Dreams, was a 2011 favourite.
Canyons recently met Daniel Boyd through a mutual friend and they agreed to provide a soundtrack to his exhibitions; a collaboration that eventually became 100 Million Nights. “We were struck by his artwork,” Leo explains, referring to Daniel’s polychromatic canvases of indigenous history rendered in a million daubs of paint. “The first one he gave us to work with had a real galactic look about it. A real sense of scale, like one hundred years is only a blip on the radar compared to the history of the planet”.
With such an enormous subject matter at the heart of their work, Leo admits that he is forced to think about the fleeting nature of his own existence. “Yeah, and sometimes it freaks me out. But I think it’s the right thing to remember. If you’re concentrating on your own problems it definitely gives things necessary perspective.” Is there a time in his life that he romanticises? “Yeah, it’s probably the general sense of being young and feeling like the world is an enormous place. I remember going out on my pushbike and feeling like I could explore forever, but I was probably just one street over from my house.”
Young impressions of time and space are relatable, but turning them into music is harder to pin down. “It’s all instrumental,” Leo says. “There’s some stuff that’s really sparse and bare, but some other sections that are more raucous and demand attention.” Leo pauses before adding, “Basically there’s a lot of ebb and flow.”
The result is like a slower, more enchanting Cut Copy. The dance roots are there, but it’s also got some psychedelic, and perhaps philosophical cross-hatching. Like watching a space documentary to a Klaxons soundtrack – it’s beautiful, but maybe you’ll feel like a blip on a much, much bigger radar.
Canyons and Daniel Boyd will present 100 Million Nights at Melbourne Music Week on November 21 at The Residence. For tickets, click here.