The Australian debut of New York composer/performer/sound designer Sxip Shirey provided ecstatic melody, irreverent electric-acoustic noise on a bizarre array of ready-made instruments, and playful, sexy beats.
It’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped into a parallel dimension when entering Melbourne Festival’s Foxtel Festival Hub: part turn of the century fishing pier, part travelling circus, it’s entirely befitting of the carefully considered cacophony of sounds that New York resident Sxip Shirey delivered in his 70 minute Australian debut.
Shirey launched Thursday evening’s show with the transporting hypnotism of ‘I Live in New York City’. This immersive audio voyage delivered some fat Harlem hip hop, whispers of a secret Jewish orthodox cookie bakery, the unmistakable sirens of a New York City Police Department raid, and tricky accordion style harmonica loops. The crowd were hooked. Toes were tapping, heads were bopping and small smirks of delight were forming as the Einstein-like music man fiddled and fopped, jerked and jangled his plethora of trinkets.
He is undoubtedly part of an über-cool avant-garde posse of sound and story artists who digest the world aurally. Shirey likes to think of himself outside of the vanilla fold where, he told us in an impassioned diatribe, Gen X had been conservatively baking bland music for the last two decades. Instead, his brand of sounds mixes sophisticated composition and melody, exotic samples, and travels to Istanbul, jaunts in Montana and imagined escapades in Iceland. Most cleverly, Shirey’s music intuitively engages the mismatching of a trio of Irish tin whistles (expertly gaffered together), bullhorn harmonicas, wind-up music boxes, miniature hand bells, a glass bowl and marble, and his own beat box vocals – all of which blend in a unique sort of harmony.
A nice feature of this Hub performance was the appearance by festival favourite Mikel Simic, of Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentleman. The couple bromanced it up with an ode to the singing canary herself, Kylie, in a stripped back acoustic take of ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’. It wasn’t without mistakes, but their brother-from-other-mother act and natural charisma held the attention and endearment of the audience well enough.
Shirey was a surprising delight. An orator, an opportunist and an exotic wildman who brought the large sounds of the world to an intimate performance space with flair and fun for one and all.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne
11 – 27 October
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