Mike Cooper and Chris Abrahams play the Sound Lounge. (Music review)

I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful gig here in Sydney on Friday night.  The amazing Mike Cooper, who started as a Blues guitarist and a singer-songwriter, is currently in Australia and he performed his amazing post-deconstruted-avant-bending brand of circular blues infused sounds along side of the great Chris Abrahams, most famously from The Necks. It was a thrilling experience to hear the pair as a duo. they’ve been playing together for a while, but considering they live in different parts of the world and each are very busy artists, seeing them together in the same room focusing on their work and each other is a rare treat. I’ve heard Chris play several times this year now, and this particular set saw him reach into the trad roots he’s most famous for.  The pairing worked very well.  Mike played a strongly blues stung set, and Chris rumbled and stirred beneath him (and at times over and around) with a temperate melodic launching pad that kept the duo connected to the blues soul no matter how high into the future-of-Blues-imagined Mike chose to jump.

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The first set began with Chris’ solid soft chord play easing up into the melodic sound of Mikes slide against his famous-flat-against-the-knee guitar. Instantly the beautiful sound filled the room, and I have to add a shout out to the wonderful sound efforts of the Sound Lounge.  The piano sang to me from behind where I was sitting, deep and resonant.  The sound started with a soft caress, rambling chords, soft piano and within moments, luscious thumbing blues. Soon the piano added trills and the slide took the room with its commanding noise.

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Early in the piece Mike adds his electronics to the piece and from this point he moves heavily into a more experimental mode, while the piano acts as a sort of “sanity anchor” that keeps the wild free fall of the electronics tapped into their blues roots. Then just as suddenly as it started, the guitar and the electronics will fade to silence against the insistent piano. Chris moves up and down the keyboard, the sound is pliant and ebullient despite the deep tone and the rolling thunder of noise. MIke comes in again, his electronics moving against and behind the lubricous piano until it works its way up via the ductile slide culminating in a ferment of taps and clicks and slides as Mikes fingers dance wildly up and down the guitar.

At this point, Mike pulls out a bow and a fluid flounce of a noise is matched by the sashay of Mikes hand movements that works its way up into a high-pitched rasp against that omnipresent piano. The bow combined with the slide make for a slither of slippery sounds and all of a sudden Mike bursts into song. It’s his signature blues voice – a stirring lovely voice. Chris is playing his keyboard elbow to fist and back again as Mike holds a melody with his voice and contorts discordant electronic sounds from his lap strings. The bow remains at the top of the neck and sprints back and forth at a frenzied pace. And then as suddenly as it started, Mike’s voice moves back into silence.

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Now the piano moves back into the light trills of before while Mike rubs arms, elbows and even the small sting of shells he wears around his wrist against the strings. This continues for a while then Chris moves back toward silence and there is nothing in the room but the unrepentant sound of Mikes mutant strings. By the time Chris comes back in with a light series of finger taps, Mike is plucking the strings of his guitar and moves the electronics into a kind of ambient sound. Mike pulls out a small pocket fan and produces sounds of electronic wind, against strings, and against microphones. From here he will move into a sci-fi style of sounds with a 1960’s irony pacing up and down inside the noise.

After moving the improv session into a kind of post sci-fi ambient sound, the duo get a little melodic, and Mike bursts into a stunning rendition of Heartbreak Hotel. Mike sings into the hollow of his guitar and records the moment, feeding it into a recorded feedback loop that then replicates itself through various cycles of deterioration. From this, Chris’ piano will work into and through soft full sound lounge chords while Mike uses his looping back as a launch pad for a serious of breath infused sounds against the closer than close microphone. Soon the looped voice is gone and replaced again by that slide guitar.  Its friend the harmonica appears and breath transforms itself again.

Mike will use the looped back sound technique several more times through the show and into the second set. At one point the sound of the wind is so wound up it sounds like helicopters might land in the middle of the sound lounge. The duo end the first set with a slowed down steady pulse of a beat and start the second set with a slight variation of the same. The second set is more ambient, at times sounding like we are all submerged in an ocean consisting of sounds. Mike moved through voice work again, while Chris’ piano almost sounded traditional at certain points, so strong was his groundwork against the powerhouse of Mikes electronics and beautiful voice.

This was a magical set, and a beautiful chance to hear two masters of the improvisational technique work together in a venue that respected the sound.  The room seemed filled with a vibrating beauty that was impossible to ignore.

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