Treloar at 70

Colbourne Ave, October 13


Phil Treloar. Photo by Norihiro Mori.

Music is nearly always dressed up in the tell-tale padded-shoulder clothes of this idiom or that, conforming to expectations and triumphantly embodying certain skills. Too often these clothes, conformity and skills are the music. Here, for once, was the heart, soul and feeling stripped naked. Look, mum: no clothes.

Phil Treloar – improvising percussionist and composer – is among Australian music’s great pioneers. To celebrate his 70th birthday he reunited with trombonist Simone de Haan, one of the county’s pre-eminent brass players, for the first time in some 25 years. For much of that time de Haan has been inactive due to illness, so for him it was not just a reunion with Treloar, but with music, itself.

Their opening improvisation was loosely inspired by the compositions of Webern and Feldman, and instantly striking was the magnitude of de Haan’s sound: so vast it seemed improbable anything as puny as a human could make it. This was more like the cry of something elephantine, and yet meanwhile a wistfulness crept in, almost unnoticed.

The second improvisation had Treloar bowing a gong to create a kind of tonal centre around which the trombone chanted a lonely lament, and as the drama intensified Treloar had his gong sounding like a choir of ghosts.

De Haan premiered a new Treloar composition for solo trombone called Veshthila, inspired by the Buddhist lesson of “unboundedness”, and taking the shape of three tableaux with a tailpiece. While it included muted and unmuted sections and an extensive use of multiphonics, what primarily emerged was an enthralling dialogue between sound and the serenity of silence, the former carrying the chorus of thoughts and emotions that constantly beset us.

Treloar offered two improvisations for solo marimba, an instrument on which he extracts a round, woody, resonant tone so organic you would swear it sprang straight from Nature. The second of these was a masterpiece of soulful harmonies and rippling melodies underpinned by non-metrical rhythm as pure as breathing. High art. No window-dressing. Exceptional.