What happens when musicians split atoms

The Gene Tree Trio in performance: (left to right: Gideon Brazil on Saxophone, Elissa Goodrich on Vibraphone and Adam Simmons on Shakuhachi)

It’s time we learnt how The Gene Tree Project musicians smash atoms.

So far we’ve talked to team members: Composer and Musician (vibraphone), Elissa Goodrich; Evolutionary Biologist, Dr Anna Syme; and Dramaturge, Nadja Kostich.

Now let’s hear from the two Musicians, Adam Simmons (saxophones and shakuhachi) and Gideon Brazil (saxophones and flute), who complete The Gene Tree Project team.

Over the next two articles we’ll learn more about their point of view on the Project’s music making and performing process and how science links with music. In the next article we’ll talk with Gideon Brazil.

But first, we sat down with Adam Simmons for a chat over chai and short blacks.

Adam explained that when he and Gideon joined the team, Elissa, Anna and Nadja had already been immersed for weeks in the studio. With just a couple of weeks until the first performance the two musicians found themselves surrounded by rich conversation and an established cycle of listening, observing and questioning.

From the beginning Adam could see that this project was more than music. “Elissa needed musicians who would play more than just the dots”, says Adam, “While she has a clear idea of what she’d like to explore, there is this freedom as a musician to work out together how to get there”. He adds, “There was the invitation to do things outside what we normally do.”

And thus Adam was drawn into the culture of curiosity that the Project had carefully built from the beginning. Together with Gideon, Adam and Elissa created a trio of three skilled musicians who shared a sense of openness and delight in each other’s work. This happy result was no accident.

Elissa explains that she always prioritises the choice of musicians over instruments. She wants to work with people who will revel in the creative process. This suits Adam’s artistic process, “I like the experience of being engaged, the freedom to explore questions, find answers and contribute. That excites me.” Because Adam believes that it is the fundamental role of art to pose questions.

In a Gene Tree Project performance you see the musicians converse through their music, which in turn encourages the audience to engage through their own questions. Good improvisation allows the audience to see the creative development in the performance. The thinking and the working are on full display.

Adam appreciates watching and playing with musicians who are virtuosic enough to be daring, take risks, and come thrillingly close to failure. The Gene Tree Project musicians use their different skills, experiences and instruments to find out where sounds bleed together and where the music pulls apart. According to Elissa, this was also a crucial aspect in developing synergies between the science and the music when working with the musicians.

Much like in evolutionary biology, there are moments in the music where small or unexpected changes in tone and rhythm create a new species of harmony or discord. The music becomes a living organism, or indeed a split atom, that produces energy and has a profound impact on its environment, its artists and its audiences.

As Adam explains, the beautiful, flawed perfection of good and risky improvisation can only succeed when the musicians have first done the work to develop their skills and build trust in each other.

That is why you can see an essential balance of knowledge, passion, and curiosity in The Gene Tree Project that allows the team to collaborate, share stories, and evolve the ties between the arts and the sciences.

Hear Adam, Elissa and Gideon in performance as the Gene Tree Project Trio at:

Paris Cat Jazz Club – Basement  

6 Goldie Place, Melbourne CBD,

8.30pm, Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

For bookings and info: Paris Cat

Written by Cressida Bradley, with Elissa Goodrich and Adam Simmons

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