If the concept of Timeline wasn’t audacious enough – a concert that attempts to cover 42,000 years of music in just one performance – then the opening bars certainly are. How else to open a show that claims to have started with the big bang? Why, the noise of that bang itself, naturally.
It says a lot about the innate curiosity that drives Kim Moyes, one half of Australia’s multi-award-winning electro-pop duo The Presets, that he tracked down a professor of physics in Washington whose work helped him to replicate the sound of the aforementioned bang.
“He collected the data from the Planck’s Space Observatory (built by the European Space Agency), the latest data from the cosmic microwave background and threw it into a program – it’s all light data – and it spat out what it would sound like. It’s the sound of the big bang. I wrote to him asking if we could use it, he sent me a couple of versions and I arranged it,” Moyes explains casually, as though he’s discussing what he ate for breakfast.
Fans of The Presets’ genre-bending music won’t be surprised to learn of Moyes’s interest in cosmic microwaves. However, it may raise a few eyebrows when they learn the pair is collaborating with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) on Timeline.
Part of Vivid LIVE, Timeline was conceived by the ACO’s delightfully unpredictable and bold artistic director Richard Tognetti. The ACO had performed a version of the concert in 2011 at a festival in Slovenia, after which Tognetti was pleased to see the back of it, so epic was the effort required to stage such a complex concept. But when it was suggested they resurrect the show for Vivid LIVE, Tognetti leapt on it, bringing Moyes and Julian Hamilton, the crucial other half of The Presets, with him.
“It’s an evolution rather than a different beast altogether,” Tognetti says. “But there are so many refinements. And Julian and Kim have done the most extraordinary job with the megamix, which is from 1945 to the present.”
So what exactly is the show? The posters tell us it’s “42,000 years of music, 213 works, one performance.” On paper it looks like one giant play list starting from the beginning of time and traversing indigenous Australian music to the Hurrian Hymn, the first known written music to Bronze Age sounds, Gregorian chants, homophonic music, the first round (Summer is a Comin’ In) and on to the music of Corelli and Vivaldi and Haydn and Jelly Roll Morton.
But to explain it as simply an electro-orchestral arrangement of those 213 selected pieces of music would be doing the show a great disservice. As Tognetti explains, what they chose to include says as much as what they left out. Just try to whittle it down the last 70 years of music to one song that represents each era and you’ll understand the challenges they faced.
“One of the questions Julian and Kim kept posing was, did it change the course of music? And if the answer was no, no matter how many units it might have sold or how popular it was [it was left out]. It wasn’t just a popularity test, it was about the impact.” So Miles Davis, Nirvana and Gotye are in; Queen, The Rolling Stones and INXS are out. “It’s about the Western music trajectory [albeit acknowledging many other parts of the world]. If it didn’t have an effect on the evolution of music it shouldn’t be in there.”
Anybody who knows The Presets’ backstory will recognise the pairing is not as surprising as it may appear. Both Moyes and Hamilton studied and graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – which is where they met and discovered an obsession with music that was as much about the club scene, and a shared love of Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers, as it was an appreciation for their classical training.
Although the music they produce might seem light years away from the sounds one would associate with The Con, their classical training still influences their work. “The classical arts, whether it’s ballet or painting or music, if you study them seriously at a young age I think they go to the bone and you can never really shake them off,” Hamilton says. “And that’s why this piece was so interesting to us, because it just looked at music. It didn’t look at pop music or classical music. It was all music. Which is something we’ve always been very interested in.”
In addition to its mega mix, The Presets has introduced some interesting instruments, including a theremin (think the overriding sound of The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations] and a power drill, which Hamilton will ‘play’ live on stage. The production itself is being accompanied by a light show directed by Vivid’s creative advisor Ignatius Jones, who has also played a crucial role in the curating of Timeline.
“When you look at [the line-up] on the page, it looks like an encyclopaedic index, but when Richard played it to us we were just floating. It really felt like the evolution of humans and art. It was really beautiful,” Hamilton says.
Timeline plays the City Recital Hall May 20–24 then Sydney Opera House May 25 and 29 (sold out) before touring nationally.