Attending any event by quasi-classical Indie quintet Topology tends to be more of a theatrical adventure than a concert.

Experimental performers with a polystylistic reach, the Queensland ensemble’s John Babbage, Bernard Hoey, Christa Powell, Therese Milanovic and Robert Davidson defy categorisation.

Airwaves, 100 years of Radio, is a tribute and an historical exploration of public broadcasting in Australia. It was fittingly presented on April 17 in the recently renovated Princess Theatre in Woolloongabba, the oldest theatre in Brisbane.

With moody lighting in reds and blues, the seating was arranged in a cosy cabaret setting, although the content was at times harrowing.

Collaboration is important to Topology’s artistic director and composer Robert Davidson and there have been many artistic partnerships with the Brodsky String Quartet, Katie Noonan, The Kransky Sisters, William Barton and Kate Miller-Heidke.

Airwaves came about because of a productive relationship between Topology and Loops, a Melbourne-based trio.

Davidson and Jonathan Diamond, Loops’ creative leader, share an interest in composing pieces drawn from the rhythm and melodic rise and fall of speech patterns.

It’s an intriguing idea and with the help of Loops guitarist Jamie Clark they composed 99 tonal snapshots of the voices of prominent people, many who were cultured and inspiring but also dictators, bigots and racists.

The music was evocative but never overstated, which made the voice sketches all the more powerful and the performance was complemented by seamless archival footage.

Billed as time travel due to the major happenings referenced including the Cuban Missile Crisis and World Wars One and Two, the journeying in Airwaves is also geographical, funny, confronting and nostalgic.

Martin Luther King’s “I had a dream” address boasted a jazz funk groove intersected with saxophone fills. Ghandi’s Spiritual Message featured tabla and Guglielmo Marconi’s speech has a rap momentum.

Hitler’s rousing oratory composed in three keys simultaneously achieves bone-jarring violence with its visceral accents on the Fuhrer’s looped repetition of “Deutschland”. By way of contrast, Princess Diana mutters delicately about her “secret disease”.

When Gough Whitlam proclaims after his dismissal, “well may we say God Save the Queen”, his words are framed in B-flat major with a fairground’s oom-pah-pah teddy bear’s picnic vibe. It’s illusory, but Whitlam appears to be singing on the accompanying film, waiting for his next cue from the band before delivering, “because nothing will save the Governor-General”.

One of the many highlights is That Woman: Bill Clinton, which drives a take on Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop from album Rumours as Clinton denies improper relations with Monica Lewinsky. When this sequence switches to the former president’s admission of guilt, the music thins out, becoming murky and then intersected with Babbage’s solo on saxophone with footage of Clinton playing the same.

To be picky, it would have been rewarding to hear more women’s voices set to music, in addition to Amelia Earhart, Virginia Woolf, Queen Elizabeth II, Germaine Greer and Nellie Melba.

An expansion of the piano’s contribution would also be welcome to brighten and offset the strings, guitar and percussive continuum. As it was, the instrument was tucked in a corner and Therese Milanovic’s keyboard contributions were scarcely audible.

However, the mind-boggling stylistic mix of these portraits in sound – there are John Coltrane, Darius Milhaud and Terry Riley references – and the fluid progression through them with immediate shifts in mood and the necessity for the players to synchronise with a click track, amounts to challenging performance.

This mammoth undertaking excelled through precise and dovetailed teamwork. Airwaves was engaging, enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Working across Queensland and in regional communities is important to Topology and in June the group will pair with First Nations organisation Gaba Musik to present Singing Up Country at the Sunshine Coast Chamber Music Festival. Then in August Topology perform at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville.

In another touring project, Queensland Stories, the ensemble will visit 50 towns and compose and document music pieces reflecting the identity of each place.

Back in Brisbane, Topology Up Close will feature Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal on August 13 at Plant Empire, Yeerongpilly.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard