At the forefront of new music practice in Australia lies the Brisbane-based duo, Clocked Out. Comprising Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold, it is renowned for the remarkable fluency and ease with which these two musicians move across multiple musical boundaries, and for the way they introduce both a playful inventiveness and a serious commitment to ethics and social responsibility into their music-making.
Audiences these days know Clocked Out as the Ensemble in Residence at Queensland Conservatorium and as co-creators of the Piano Mill Project. The latter, nestled in the tall eucalypt forests at Willson’s Downfall near Stanthorpe, is a unique two-storeyed architected venue that utilises 16 reclaimed pianos; in 2017 it won the Award for Excellence in Experimental Music in the APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards.
However, Tomlinson and Griswold met long before this, in San Diego in the 1990s, when they began collaborating and performing together as graduate students at the University of California. Their interests at this time lay in American experimentalism (Cage), European avant-garde (Xenakis) and improvised jazz (Mingus), but on moving to Melbourne in 1999 their interests took off and considerably broadened to include Dada cabaret, pop and post-punk. A dedication to environmentalism and community building through music have further informed their work over recent years.
Tomlinson describes how all these elements have combined to form the duo’s creative ethos. “The central thread in the work of Clocked Out is experimentation through play,” she says.
“Our preference is to make ideas, with people, in realtime – this does not always mean the music is improvised, but that we are making music on people, in place, with specific shared ideas. So our music is rarely generic and transferable, but specific and particular. For instance our long term collaborations with musicians from Sichuan province are based around relationships with particular composers and performers whose sound world and energy we really love.”
Griswold says that two quotes made about Clocked Out sum up the duo well: these are “outside your think” and “the perfect blend of the known and the unknown”.
He explains: “Clocked Out serves as a musical laboratory, in which we explore sound, combine various musical styles and approaches, and test ideas. Collaboration has always been an essential in our work, invigorating our practice, expanding our musical language, building new partnerships and communities.”