Formic Structures

To be honest I’ve always found the music and personality of Jon Rose a bit daunting – he comes across as a real maverick, an out-there inventor of wild multi-media ideas on a grand scale, creator and player of unusual instruments, insisting on his own way of working, and probably not suffering fools gladly as his astonishing thoughts race through the teeming cells of his polymath brain. On the other hand, if he decides he likes you and takes you under his wing, I’d imagine you’re in for a unique experience and an unforgettable ride.

This might be what has happened to Luiz Gubeissi, a Brazilian bass player who Jon Rose met in 2013 at a music festival in Canberra. Luzi spoke no English, but Rose found they shared the common tongue of improvisation. “Communication was only through music…which…is a splendid form,” asserts the Australian player. At one level the album Honey Ants: New Music From Alice Springs (THÖDOL RECORDS THO047) documents their work together in 2021, where they played a mix of all-out free improvisations and some semi-composed pieces too. But there’s more to it than that, as hyperactive Rose is getting his hands on all manner of exotic oddities besides his customary violin, mostly retrieved from his personal collection which he calls the Rosenberg Museum; some, such as the “Well-Strung Chair” are probably devices of his own making. A lot of them are apparently robots or automatons; driven by motors, they can play music with the help of a little nudge from the inventor. (Shades of Pierre Bastien here.) Gubeissi supports and adds counter-point with his acoustic double bass to these musical exploits of Jon Rose, and they produce nothing less than very surprising and vital music, continually wrong-footing our expectations with their quick-witted actions and moves.

In the booklet of notes, Jon Rose tells the background story of how they met up again in Alice Springs unexpectedly, and adds much background colour about the population of this part of Australia, the songs of the pied butcherbird, the local school bands and chamber orchestras, Aboriginal culture and music, the recycling centre that enables much of his instrument-building, and global warming; I mention all these things as it matches my perception of Rose as an experienced and well-rounded maverick (that word again) who is well-informed about everything that’s happening in the world, both parochially and globally. Can you imagine having breakfast with him?! Luiz Gubeissi meanwhile tells his own story of his Syrian family settled in Sao Paulo and how the “frenetic life” in this teeming city, with its melting pot of people, architecture and music, had such a strong influence on him. It was through meeting musicians, and collective groups, that he learned to play and develop his own art; and he was massively encouraged by the great diversity and open-mindedness he found in Australia, which is pretty much why he decided to move to Alice Springs.

Also in the booklet are lush colour photographs of decorated violins owned by Rose, painted by Kathleen Buzzacott. From 21st March 2022.