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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | November 27, 2020

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'Thum Prints' with Tom Thum + QSO LIVE at Powerhouse

‘Thum Prints’ with Tom Thum + QSO LIVE at Powerhouse
Claire Matthews

The long wait for live music is over and Queensland Symphony Orchestra, together with beatbox artist Tom Thum, are ready to reconnect with audiences.

Tickets are selling fast for Lights On: QSO + Tom Thum, to be held on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd August at Brisbane Powerhouse for limited numbers.

Featuring original works by composers Gordon Hamilton and Tom Thum, including a world-first beatbox symphony Thum Prints, the concerts will be a cross-genre collaborative explosion.

We had a chat over Zoom with Gordon and Tom on the upcoming shows.

The Creative Issue: How pumped are you to get back on stage and perform to a live audience?

Tom Thum: Yeah, super excited. I’m excited about having a smaller kind of audience, rather than a crowd. We’ve never done Thum Prints in a cabaret style, so it’s going to be great. We’ll be able to explore some of the nuances in our music and be able to talk to the audience more and engage reactions. Not only is it new being back on stage, it’s new performing in this kind of format. It’s going to be lovely.

TCI: How did the idea of presenting a concert with QSO at the Powerhouse come about?

TT: The first time we played with QSO was in 2015, in one of the QSO contemporary music festivals, called QSO Currents. Dale Prescott saw some of my videos online, and thought it could be an interesting concept. He put me together with Gordon in a room under my parents’ house and we went for gold.

Gordon Hamilton: We’ve enjoyed the creative process with QSO. It was their idea, not ours, so it was kinda cool to have someone push us both into this. We didn’t know each other before. As soon as we started working on Thum Prints together, I think we both realised that it had a future and we wanted to keep digging. We’ve since done it with QSO several times, and our album is also with QSO. So we’ve got an album coming out soon, and at this concert we’ll have the launch of our 7-inch EP vinyl with QSO. QSO have been a part of it from the beginning.

TCI: Tell us a little about your Thum Prints beatbox symphony, that you created together with QSO and are performing in Lights On?

GH: The whole piece is called Thum Prints. The weird thing about it is we’ve never performed it the same way twice. I think we’re chasing the perfect version. We find combinations of movements and pieces that fit well together. So, it’s a piece of music that’s always changing. It can go from twelve minutes to an hour, depending on the performance. We tried a dry run of it in Mumbai, India. We did a short version with a specific way of arranging the pieces, so they were all continuous, without applause in between. We’ve extended that out into a fifty-minute concept, which I’m proud of.

TT: Like Gordon said, it’s a malleable kind of project. I think Thum Prints isn’t so much a definitive body of work, but more a concept. It’s like the brainchild of Gordon and I getting together and doing our thing. Thum Prints is the banner, and the works fall under that. It’s whatever we decide to do on the night. It’s a combination of everything we love doing and we’re consistently finding new ways to get across the idea of the beatboxer and an orchestra without it sounding too obvious, which is the challenge.

GH: That’s right, and without it being gimmicky too. It would be so easy to do something like Mozart plus beatboxing, and it might be fun, but we don’t want to go down that road. We want to write original music. The central concept is exploring everything that a beatboxer can do with an orchestra. We try to sculpt out a piece that defines every moment, that’s different, imaginative, innovative, beautiful and noisy and able to move between these freely. We’ve stretched ourselves to find different things, like music without beats or tempo, music where Tom sings or raps instead and there’s no drumming. I guess that’s what Thum Prints is, in a long-winded way.

TCI: What can audiences expect in Lights On? Is there a set program, or will you improvise?

GH: Really well-organised seating. Tom, what do you reckon? Spitty, noisy? Surprising, funny?

TT: Yeah, haha, it’s not too spitty, there’ll be spit guards and a well-sanitised front row! I think the ability to watch what we do in a boiled down, succinct version, but also the ability to see us up close. Usually, we play in big settings. In India, we played to five thousand people, in the previous Powerhouse shows it’s been concert hall capacity seating, whereas, here it’s tables and cabaret setting. So, I think it’s an intimate encounter and exploration with sound. Probably a couple of jokes, probably some canapés… I don’t know what to expect, COVID’s thrown a spanner in the works. So it’s kind of evolving as the situation does.

GH: There’s a set program for this one, orchestras have to know what they’re doing, so you have to be well-organised. They need scores. The scores are actually due tomorrow for this concert, so they’ll get their parts and each musician can practise. It’s all scored out down to the last beat, so each musician can properly prepare, and we can do it on minimal rehearsal. There’s a lot of ways that we can be flexible and the orchestra can be flexible, but one way we can’t be is to add or subtract beats or bars during the performance. There’s no way for a whole orchestra to coordinate that kind of flexibility. In some ways it has to be precise, even though it’s loose in other ways.

There’s parts where we can improvise. Tom can embellish his parts, but as I said, he can’t change the number of beats. There are certain pieces that have controlled improvisations. For example, the musicians of the orchestra are given a series of notes that they can play in any rhythm and repeat over and over, so you get this cloud, this kaleidoscope of harmony.

Our chat with Tom and Gordon continues here.

Don’t miss Tom Thum performing with QSO and conducted by Gordon Hamilton at Lights On.

The Details:
What: QSO & Tom Thum perform live in Powerhouse’s Lights On series
Where: Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New Farm QLD 4005
When: Fri 21 Aug 7pm (Sold Out), Sat 22 Aug 4pm (Available) & 7pm (Sold Out)
How much: Table of 2: $98, Table of 4: $196, Table of 6: $294
Tickets: Here.
More on Lights On program here. Read our article on the program here.

Images supplied.