The Splinter Orchestra, formed around 2002, is a Sydney based large-scale ensemble, consisting of a fluctuating number of members with various backgrounds: improvisation, jazz, classical, electronic, electro-acoustic, sound art, visual art, and environmental sound, acoustic ecology and field recording. Some members are highly skilled instrumentalists, others are conceptual thinkers playing a just found object for the first time. Despite its size (which can be 30+) the Splinter Orchestra usually hovers around minimalism and the ensemble is based on a social, democratic, gender equal, and non-egotistical view towards cooperation via improvisation, conceptual ideas and site-specific conditions. Over the years, the Splinter Orchestra has become a social and artistic meeting point and a way to test and recalibrate one's own ideas. From early 2015, Splinter resides in Tempe Jets Sports Club, near the Sydney airport, and rehearses weekly in various configurations in either their small studio or elsewhere on the premises.
Splinter Orchestra’s primary ethics are innovation, exploration and co-creation. The nature and structure of the ensemble, as a large scale improvising orchestra, is progressive and experimental.
The ensemble has an unconventional structure in terms of instrumentation, as well as having no conductor, no ‘sections’, and a non-hierarchical flexibility that allows members to be constantly evolving.
Splinter is an environment where musicians can explore instrumental techniques and making sound in unconventional ways. It is a space for innovation. Conventional instruments can be rethought with personalised approaches to technique, modifications and preparations. Members invent new instruments and set-ups, using materials such as PVC, foil, old stereos and speakers, power tools, mirrors, buckets, etc. There is also exploration of voice and text in the group.
Our approach to composition is unique. We compose as a group. Our process involves workshopping (playing and listening) and discussion. Recently, our focus has been on new methodologies for ‘spatialisation’ and recording, making music specific to time and space. Our recent release MUNGO, recorded at Lake Mungo National Park, is an example of this.
Splinter has been at the forefront of art music for 16 years and It is one of the longest running large-scale experimental groups in the world. It continues to ask questions about making orchestral music that is relevant to our time and place in Australia.
Our notable achievements and examples of excellence in this field include:
• Performing at Adelaide Festival of Arts, 2016 as part of Tectonics
• The MUNGO project, 2016, supported by The Australia Council
• Numerous ABC TV and Radio performances and recordings since 2005, including Set, and New Music Up Late.
Splinter is more than just an ensemble: it is a community / institution and it is vital to the Sydney creative music scene.
(In 2016 the orchestra travelled to the Adelaide Tectonics festival, to perform a number of their conceptual pieces at the Adelaide Town Hall, and recorded for a number of days at Lake Mungo in Mungo National Park (see photo above). This trip had an enormous impact on their playing, listening and approach to sound, music and silence, about which Cor Fuhler wrote in his paper Splinter at Mungo: the art of communication.
Splinter Orchestra in 2013, performing Jim Denley's conceptual Bike Light Piece, and a poster for a site-specific performance in a garden cooperative.
The Splinter Orchestra celebrated their 15th anniversary with a 5-hour long concert at the NOWnow festival 2016 in Sydney.
The Splinter Orchestra during the very end of Air Hockey (the point when only environmental sounds are left). Lake Mungo, 2016.
Splinter Orchestra at Redfern Park during the NOW now festival 2017 using the playground and surroundings, and with participating children. The orchestra engaged random park visitors as well as performed for a dedicated audience.
Short summary of some of the members:
1. Prue Fuller - voice, small instruments. Art Brut - intelligent and deep listening. Finds ways to make text work in the group.
2. Laura Altman - clarinet. One of the best improvising clarinetist in the world. Stars in Great Waitress.
3. Mel Herbert - violin. Composer usually working in site-specific installations. Her violin playing is naive - she refuses to know the instrument in a systematic way - and fresh.
4. Romy Caen - harmonium, percussion and feedback. The most precise and delicate acoustic minimalism but also attracted to the chaos of feedback.
5. Bonnie Stewart - percussion. Well trained Irish jazz drummer who does delicate lilting things with bodhrán, the floor and percussion.
6 Andrew Fedorovitch - prepared alto sax and electronics - thoughtful, deeply committed ultra minimal sonic explorer. Creates layers you would never expect from a sax.
7 Jim Denley - wind instruments – veteran improvisor. Was present at the first Splinter events.
8. Drew Bourgeois - Philosopher percussionist, exploring far east mysticism, brings a Scelci like intent to the band.
9. Cor Fuhler - guitar and objects. In splinter he plays prepared guitar with all the invention and playfulness you would expect from the master Dutch pianist.
10. Peter Farrar - prepared alto sax. One of the most innovative alto sax player in the world! Has totally transformed the instrument. Long standing member,
11. Jo Derrick - trumpet. Delicate, precise understated, collectively minded trumpet player.
12. Shota Matsumura - trumpet, guitar, percussion, installation artist. Wild, youthful, shamanistic searcher.
13. Axel Powrie – flutes and all manor of media - tireless innovator – you are never quite sure what instrument he’ll play or invent.
14. Max Alduca - double Bass and Yidarki - well trained Jazzer who has found his way to add low frequency events that aren’t lines.
15. Tony Osborne - voice , electronics - performer/vocalist usually associated with performance art/dance/theatre. Has made voice work in the group - many before him failed!
16. Sonya Holowell – brilliant classical singer who is newly coming to terms with her Indigenous heritage.
17. Rhys Mottley - guitar legend picking and bowing new sonorities from a variety of string things.
18. Luiz Gabriel Gubeissi - double bass - deeply committed Brazilian improviser.
19. Alon Ilsar – innovative drummer who has developed a new electronic instrument, the Air Sticks.
20. Adam Gottlieb – acoustic guitar researcher and biodynamic chicken farmer.
21. Alex Spence – clarinetist who spent 4 years studying sound art in Canada, she’s bringing a fresh perspective and some brilliant use of little electronics.
22. Mel Eden – singer/poet who has just returned from studying Pansori singing in Korea. She challenges with other modes of vocalisation.
23. Weizen Ho – normally associated with dance/performance art, she offers little sounds, voice and spatial awareness.
24. Mimi Kind – has studied flute, but is mainly known as instrument builder and installation artist.
25. Jack Stoneham - Young alto sax player with an always positive attitude. Studies jazz at the Sydney Con.
26. Marco Cheng - acoustic guitar, voice. Film maker and mysterious floating spirit of Splinter.
27. Hannah Kim - traditional Korean drum. Makes brilliant use of a simple drum.
28. Sam Gill - alto sax. Jazzer with a very open mind.
29. Clara Pitt - flutes. New to the group but very promising young spirit
30. Ruby Everett - alto sax. Not afraid to wander of and do her thing, no matter what.
Three short excerpts from Splinter Orchestra performing Air Hockey at the Adelaide Town Hall during Tectonics 2016, (filmed by Michelle Baddiley)
Joseph Cummins - Musictrust
“A bright sunburst of sound – sonic journeys with Splinter Orchestra.”
It is in some ways impossible to put words to a recording of such spatiotemporal and sonic immensity. Impossible, also, to avoid thinking, as you become really immersed in this recording, that every sound captured here is incredibly beautiful. Mungo is truly a recording – an inscription made by sound events in a particular space-time.
There’s mystery in these sound worlds. One listens to this recording and is immersed in its secret, luminous, phantasmal fragility. It is both very ambient and extremely attention grabbing. Super melodic but also utterly textural. One worries about not being able to concentrate, to take it all in. Then one gets swept back up by the twittering machine.
There are periods of overwhelming beauty here, but more often I feel like this music accompanies you. You can be in it, be with it. It’s not demanding but it is as engaging as you let it be.
The question that keeps coming back is – how did the location of this recording affect the outcome? In a lot of ways, I feel like the thing about Splinter is that it creates an environment of ‘being-with sound’. We as listeners, together with the players of Splinter, are all in relation through sound, we are connected.
Are we listening to a journey into ‘the centre’, of sound – of this continent, of a sound-making community? Some of the sounds that emerge from the players of Splinter are truly amazing. Lights on the horizon. Whisperings in the dark. Conversations on the micro dissection of space/time. Interjections from birds, insects, the wind. You wish you could stay in a particular ‘scene’ for longer, but these movements move on, constantly. Instead of having to decipher the largeness of this ensemble as a quite sizable whole, this recording splinters splinter.
Julien Héraud - Improv Sphere
“right now, it comes to these discs that make me love improvisation, which make me love experimentation. Because it is a disc that, unlike many others, has its own universe, a personal environment, creative sounds. It is not only of improvisation, concept on space and time, of dialogue with the environment; it is a creative act, a fresh and innovative proposal which gives meaning to improvisation as well as to experimental music. A beauty.”
The 'Splintstallation' at Tempe Jets before and after the concerts. 18/06/2017
In the green in 2017.