June 2006

Arts & Letters

‘SET’ ABC TV

By Celina Ribeiro

In this nine-part series, the ABC hands the stage to Australia’s premier experimental-music acts for live performances on occasional Tuesday nights. It is a great idea; a unique, almost noble quest to expand the audience for avant-garde music through the medium of television. But sometimes, things deserve to be better. This is one of those times. SET is one of those things.

Prior to each performance, host Kate Crawford briefs us on the night’s act. Then it is all about the music: uncut, unadulterated, unencumbered. The musicians play in a large, flat space, with blank walls that are set far back. The staging exudes a visual silence, forming a giant frame for the music. However, what makes cutting-edge music interesting – the passion and the precision – is lost in transmission. Experimental music always teeters on the precipice of alienating self-indulgence, and SET does little to temper that inclination.

The absence of a live audience should mean that the television audience is brought right into the act of music creation. But the artistry of the music is not matched by sophistication in the program’s photography. The editors seem afraid of stillness; the camera shots are a little jumpy. As a result, we are neither drawn into the musicians’ internal world, nor invited to marvel at their mastery of their instruments. What is instead produced is, paradoxically, an almost static half-hour of television so much more about sound than sight that it would make little difference to close one’s eyes for the duration. The television viewers are left ignored: not even a nuisance to the musicians, they are simply a non-entity.

SET ought to be captivating music-television – and the ABC should be commended for offering an alternative to mainstream music-programs – but, at least on early showings, it will only preach to the choir.

Celina Ribeiro

Celina Ribeiro is a journalist based in London, where she co-edits a small magazine. She has written for the New Statesman, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and New Matilda

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