Lyrics by Jacob McCormack
Alon Ilsar is a percussionist, composer and researcher whose pursuit of musical practice has maintained a sense of unconventionality since its inception.
At 19, he was a member of a band that toured with a circus, while his peers studied music.
“I felt like there were theater and circus and other worlds where music can fit into a live performance. I really appreciated having had those opportunities from the start” , says Ilsar.
Having shaped his vision of music and performance in a unique way, Ilsar describes the impact it had on him as something woven into his subconscious: “I think the circus stuff is more subconscious, but they are there.”
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He has now developed his relationship to improvisation and experimentation in a 60-minute audiovisual performance entitled Happy Trigger: Visualized.
“This show we call Happy Trigger: Visualized is a specific setup with a camera and a transparent screen, a particular Ableton session and particular tracks and a journey through that,” he says.
The concept was born out of the narrative Ilsar has seen unfold in his life for a while now.
“The story I have in my head is that I’m an improvisational drummer – because I was really into experimental and improvised music – and I was playing a lot with the different sounds you can get from drums, exploring unwanted percussion and using different things other than sticks to produce sounds plus using contact microphones to amplify that and then putting that through effects.
Although, admittedly, he describes this pursuit as something like many experimental drummers who are also looking for ways to push the boundaries of rhythm and percussion.
“I think that’s a trajectory that a lot of experimental drummers take when trying to expand the drumming palette in experimental music.”
However, alongside his exploration of experimental landscapes in the realm of percussive rhythm, Ilsar has regularly produced electronic music. Before Happy Trigger: Visualized came to fruition, the production carried a complexity that transcended its easily presentable format.
It was in 2012 when purchasing a set of virtual reality game controllers and partnering with visual artist Matt Hughes that this project began to take shape.
“At the time, I was really drawn to producing fairly complex electronic music, but I didn’t know how to present it and perform it live,” says Ilsar.
“The music was made a long time ago with a Blue Mountains collaborator. When it was made, we never knew how to present the music, so it was really good to take this music that I made a long time ago and bring it to life with the airsticks, the music, the drums.
From a sonic point of view, the music played in Happy Trigger: Visualized is mostly composed of electronically produced drum sounds. However, Ilsar states that there are also minimal acoustic drum kit patterns scattered throughout the performance, maintaining his affiliation with experimentation.
“It’s mostly drum synth sounds, with some of the samples from the original that I cut out. With lots of manipulations, extra delays, effects, panning. It’s so clear when you do that with the airsticks. Then, I also integrate the drums above certain tracks.
Although music production retains an essential role in the idea of Trigger Happy: Visualized, Ilsar repeats that this project is openly a multimodal expression of art. One that he hopes can provoke alternative live performance experiences for audience members.
Ilsar is adamant that the show’s polished curation is the driving force in achieving this, as opposed to what can sometimes get lost through improvisation.
“What I try to do is to combine visuals, movements and sounds. I hope it’s quite hypnotic, creating this concept of time traveling through different dimensions at once.
“In Happy Trigger: Visualized it came out of the music. I know the music is strong and well produced and I take things out of it and show them as live elements, instead of starting from scratch in improvisation, when you’re just creating everything.
Sewn in the makeup of Happy Trigger: Visualized are intentional analogies that echo the precision of the show’s musical staging. Ilsar portrays them through the multimodal nature of performance.
“In the show, there are a lot of analogies used. But one of the analogies felt and kind of communicated through certain visuals is that this idea that rhythm and pitch are kind of the same thing. They’re simply perceived at different levels,” says Ilsar.
Even though this is an established performance, Ilsar continually adds fringe elements to subtly accentuate the analogies and intent of Trigger Happy: Visualized.
“The novelties for which I wrote Happy Trigger: Visualized since the release of the album that fills in the gaps the show is dedicated to the relationship between pitch and rhythm and I could play a note with one hand and with the other play a note that’s twice the frequency, two times faster,” says Ilsar.
As Ilsar blazes the trail to new frontiers in audiovisual performance, the possibilities seem seemingly abysmal.
Alon Ilsar plays Happy Trigger: Visualized at Toff in Town on Sunday July 3rd. Buy your tickets here.
This article was produced in partnership with Alon Ilsar.