Live Music & Film with Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra

Live Music & Film with Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra

The 18-piece band — Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra — is the musical accompaniment to the lyrical Slovakian documentary Lines 2021 on Sunday 26 March in our next ‘City Symphony’ Live Music & Film series.

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While the City Symphony film movement began in the 1920s, this contemporary film, released a hundred years after the movement began, speaks to our ongoing fascination with our urban spaces and a desire to explore how we live together.

Director: Barbora Sliepková ‘Lines’ 2021 

Production still from Lines 2021 / Director: Barbora Sliepková / Image courtesy: Hitchhiker Cinema

Lines is a delightful portrait of the post-communist city Bratislava. Director Barbora Sliepková crafts a loving tribute to the city surrounds, its idiosyncratic inhabitants, and their beloved pets. The film focuses on the human experience of a city, following a wide variety of people throughout their lives. One person stayed with me long after the film ended. He’s a musician who’s a little melancholy in his loneliness yet another facet of his personality is a curiosity for city sounds. He moves through the film with an openness and vitality that’s inspiring. The one character embodies how the film views its subjects.

I wanted to pair Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra with Lines because both the band and the film have a strong sense of play and what I see as an expansive and warm view of humanity.

Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra

Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra / Photograph: Rod Pilbeam

We asked Matt Hsu about the forthcoming event and his approach to making music.

Rosie Hays / I love the ethos of the Obscure Orchestra that celebrates inclusion and diversity. I’d love to hear more about your intentions, what this means for the Orchestra, its musicians, and the music you make. 

Matt Hsu / Thank you! I’m really proud of the community we’ve built and so happy the spirit of inclusion is stuck there as the core kernel. I feel like that ethos is a natural extension of sharply experiencing not belonging, the relief of feeling accepted, and then beyond that the pure comfort of difference not mattering at all. Consciously and unconsciously, people who share those feelings have been swept into the orbit of Obscure Orchestra, and I’m in awe of the BIPOC, First Nations, disabled, queer, trans and non-binary artists who are in this with me.

I’ve found that arts and community projects about ‘diversity’ but not led by that community tend to, with the best intentions, veer toward the negative, to trauma and racism etc. As a BIPOC-led project, I’m interested in celebrating identity and finding the goofy, bright, nuanced experiences of people that isn’t just about our worst day.

RH / Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra performs in different iterations from a solo musician to bigger configurations. How many musicians can we expect at your Australian Cinémathèque performance at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and what type of instruments will be played?

MH / Yes! Obscure Orchestra began as an exhaust valve for my solo multi-instrumental tinkerings, but it’s well and truly grown beyond that to a Big Ass Band. I’m so lucky to gang up with folks that geek out on those same things. We’ll have 18 musicians for this show at GOMA, from all different musical backgrounds; self-taught multi-instrumentalists, indie kids, queer noise music, young people keeping non-Western music traditions alive, found object experimenters, and renegade ex-classical prodigies.

We’ll have found objects and percussion, double bass, harp, hulusi, mbira, gamelan, vibraphone, horns, strings, woodwind and musical saw.

Matt Hsu / Photograph: Rod Pilbeam

RH The process for accompanying a film is not usually something that a band or musician is asked to do. What were your initial thoughts on viewing the film ‘Lines’?

MH / I thought it was beautiful. It’s an honour to be making music for such a thoughtful and gorgeously shot film that shows the unassuming complexity of everyday life, and the little joys and heartaches found in it. People navigating the built design of structured and sometimes stark environments but trying to forge meaningful relationships and lives in them, is so interesting to me.

I’ve been gradually dipping more and more toes into composing (I’ll be composing for La Boite’s production Poison of Polygamy next), so it’s an absolute honour to be composing for GOMA, a space I love and such shining beacon of art in Meanjin’s cultural landscape.

RH / How do you respond to the film, what emotional elements would you like to highlight in the music you’ll craft?

MH / I think we’ll really enjoy taking notice of the unspoken kinship between people and that beautiful relationship to place, moments where music punctuate everyday life in the narrative.

RH / Finally, I’d love to hear about the musical styles we should expect to hear in your performance.

MH / It’ll be eclectic and a lot of fun! We’ll be bringing some of that Obscure Orchestra sound but repurposing it for some nuanced, contemplative, experimental feels, with orchestra friends freed up to try different timbres. There’ll be some found object sounds, experimental orchestral flavours, noise music moments, shimmering mallets and held drones, a bit of ethereal harp and woodwinds, a touch of bossa, woodwind and bamboo textures. It’ll be fun and exciting for us!

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

Upcoming live music & film

Live Music & Film: Lines 2021
Live Music & Film: Harlem Streets to Stockholm Symphony 1937
Live Music & Film: City Visions, Cairo to New York 1930–2019
Live Music & Film: People on Sunday 1930
Live Music & Film: The Poetic Cities of Joris Ivens 1929
Live Music & Film: Calcutta 1969
Live Music & Film: Berlin, Symphony of a Great City 1927
Live Music & Film: Nothing But Time 1921–2012
Live Music & Film: Man With a Movie Camera (with violin) 1929

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