The Necks @ MADEIRADiG

“This is a real luxury”

Formed in Australia in 1987, The Necks are one of the best jazz experimental trios in the world that we had the privilege to listen to in Madeira during their thirty years tour”. It’s a portal to another universe, which probably wouldn’t get noticed if they played music that had a faster rate of change. They are Chris Abrahams (piano and Hammond organ), Tony Buck (drums, percussion and electric guitar,) and Lloyd Swanton (bass guitar and double bass).

Elsa Garcia – A lot of people might have already asked you this, but how can three musicians sound like eighteen?

Chris Abrahams – Sorry, have you said eighty or eighteen?

EG – No, eighty it’s a lot (laugh).

CA – I don’t know, it is a very complex question. We kind of make it happen. Something you do with the reflection in the room, the instruments themselves and the physics. Lot’s of complex phenomena, all together, at a point of the performance.

EG – It’s really like magic, like something really close to a religious experience…

CA – I mean…it is for me, that’s true.

Lloyd Swanton – I think also one other possibility is, as the piece goes along, the perception of the listener changes. Some of the things that happen, in a more complex situation you wouldn’t even notice. We find that the slightest change in pitch, or slide, not only can change the pace or the rhythm, but also creates this illusions of incredible depth.

EG – You create different parallel universes to the people that are in touch with your music. That’s why each and every concert of yours is different from others. All of them are one and only experience.

CA – A lot of what we do is very specific, for instance: the auditorium we’ve played last night, was very different of the theatre we played two nights earlier, which was very wide and with very hard surfaces, no sitting…all these things affect not only the way music sounds, but also the way we play.

EG – How was your experience last night? It was your first night in Madeira and in this festival.

CA – It was great, I mean, it’s a wonderful experience to spend a few days here, apart from the world. And the reason we were here was to perform a great concert…so it has been a wonderful experience in every aspect.

LS – I love the aspect of being a small festival, purposely small, for people that come searching for a very specific kind of experience. It’s not like they’re trying to make a lot of money…

CA – Coming from Australia – kind of quite neoliberal and money making – it’s very important. Spiritually it feels really great to be part of such a great experience that is not about money but about art, and giving something back…

EG – Now… thirty years… it’s a lot… and as you’re on tour, how do you describe this experience after thirty years?

CA – Every tour is very good and we are very lucky. We are travelling around and playing music exactly where we want to play. This is a real luxury. Getting recognized for it and being paid for it.

LA – I think specifically, after 30 years, the thing that really wondered us is the fact that we still enjoy it so much. There was no pre-planning of a career in this band. That’s why we had such low expectations for the group that was never any situation where we felt like we hit a dead end and couldn’t go any further. We didn’t have any expectations. We were only three guys in a room that wanted to play music for ourselves… and now we are in the other side of the world doing that.

EG – Now you are adding electronic to the music…

Tony Buck – Not live, in live there’s occasions where there’s a church organ, but when we play live it’s always in a piano, bass and contrabass. When we record an album in the studio, we add whatever we bring. We have some bases of improvisation, we don’t predetermine anything. When we are in the studio it takes a lot of days for something to sort of solidify and from that point we star building it up, so it’s not just improvisation. We do start to sculpt something first.

LA – We always use tools we have at our disposal in the studio. There are two aspects about our band, one is live, the one you saw last night, and the other is the studio, the recordings. There might be some similarity but they are quite different. And for about the last six albums, Tony has played guitar as well as drums…

EG – In your musical universe you have rock, jazz, erudite music…you have a lot in one composition. How is your work progress while doing an album?

LA – It’s different every time and the most significant thing to start is to agree on the time we are going to be in the studio, because we all live in different parts of the world. Chris and I live in Australia and Tony lives in Berlin. So that’s really important. Then if we have an idea we email it to each other and we think about it. Then when we are in the studio we discuss it, try it and may use it or not. After this we spend several days improvising by ourselves or together, and gradually a shape starts to take form. When the recording is over, starts a great thing: the mixing where we get there and we sculpt…and that can take six months or a year later.

EG – You were twice in Lisbon – in Teatro Maria Matos and Gulbenkian. Was it a good experience?

TB – Yes, we also went to Porto, to play in a very old theatre. Incredible. After 30 years it’s hard to remember all the names, so since the mid 90’s we started recording the concerts, and writing down where was it and the date, so we can always consult it.

EG – Tell me about your new album, Unfold?

TB – When we recorded Vertigo we started improvising pieces, short pieces, like we do in concerts, more or less, but with the time frame of twenty minutes. For Unfold we did it every morning for eleven days. And we treated it like a live gig, but in the studio, so it was really well recorded and we had control over that. Some of us would do organ, or percussion, but that’s where we left it and there was no editing or removing or cutting off, like we do in a studio record. So it’s a record that represents the way that we play in a live setting constrained in a 20 minutes piece. But yes, it’s an interesting perspective between the live and the studio band. Basically we try to approach both sides into one single thing. We couldn’t decide between the four pieces, so we ended up with a double album. I’m really happy with it. I think it sounds really beautiful the marriage between the two.

EG – I can’t wait to buy it.

LA It’s difficult to get it, because it’s a double LP and we’re based in Australia. It was a special edition so we didn’t made many. But you can get it digitally.

EG – What’s the next step in your tour?

TB – England, then Scandinavia, Poland and Ukraine.

See also: MADEIRADig 2017

Elsa studied journalism and over the years has taken several contemporary art courses, including Themes in the History of 20th Century Art (Fundação Serralves), a Curatorial workshop at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, Aesthetics (Ar.Co) and History of Photography at the same Institution and a Postgraduate Degree in Curating at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She is a founding member and director of Umbigo magazine, created in 2002, with which she developed several curatorial projects, including the exhibition "Entre Limite e a Audácia" by Miguel Palma at the Fábulas gallery, "The Difference" by Andrea Splisgar at the Palácio de Santa Catarina, the exhibition "Pieces and Parts" at Plataforma Revólver, Lisbon, "Pierre Barbrel – Dissociation" at Espaço Camões da Sá da Costa, "Robe de contact (lys)" by artist Jean François-Krebs at Galeria Sá da Costa. In 2023 she curated the exhibitions "Unwinding" by Theodore Ereira-Guyer and Sam Llewellyn-Jones at Galeria Sá da Costa and "A Face is a Mask..." by Pedro Valdez Cardoso at Brotéria. She was jury and curator of the Contemporary Jewelry Exhibition "On the Other Hand", commemorating the 5th anniversary of PIN (Portuguese Association of Contemporary Jewelry), at Galeria Reverso (Lisbon), Galeria Adorna Corações (Porto) and at the Gray Area Symposium at Galeria Medellein ( Mexico City). In 2018 she was a jury for the ENSA Arte award in Luanda. Also for Umbigo magazine, she coordinated the edition of the book "Coordenadas do Corpo na Arte Contemporânea", a collection that brings together an essay by Bárbara Coutinho and several artistic works, many of them developed specifically for the book, in a set of works that represent a small sample of the concerns philosophical and aesthetic ideas of a group of artists. In 2018, together with António Néu (art director of Umbigo magazine), she created the UmbigoLAB Platform, a networking network for artists that promotes synergy between them and agents in the field (curators, museum directors, gallerists, collectors and institutions).

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