Out of time: Ad Hoc, Passepartout Duo

Wednesday 14 December 2022

All these little cracks and gaps in the record, with people here and there steadily working to fill them in one at a time. Ad Hoc were a small group of improvisers in Melbourne in the late 1970s. In this recovered and restored tape they were a trio: James Clayden, Chris Knowles, David Wadelton. By the time I became acquainted with the Melbourne music scene in the mid 1990s, they were already a dim recollection from the past, at a time when the previous generation of any movement was as distant and obscure as an origin myth. All I really knew about them was that they had morphed into another group called Signals, who had the reputation of playing the loudest and most abrasive gigs imaginable.

Distance is not like that. It’s not like much of anything else going on in improvisation at the time, in fact. The closest resemblance that comes to mind is The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, but while TMOTDTF and similar groups started with skewed pop tropes (ahem, ‘deconstructed’) and repurposed them into ambient soundscapes, Ad Hoc began with ambient stasis and built from there. Distance was their one legit release, a small-run cassette issued in 1980, now cleaned up and reissued by Shame File Music, archivists par excellence of the Australian scene. With a fuzzy, but not grungy tape sound, reminiscent of the pastoral side of 1970s British prog, the trio create gently pulsing and shimmering textures that find a low-key groove and lock into it. Their savvy use of an AKS suitcase synth and their self-restraint in refusing to elaborate on their melodic material makes it all sound strangely contemporary, especially on the track “The Bridge”, which sounds like someone remixed a futurist library music record for the chillout room.

While listening to Daylighting by Passepartout Duo I had to check whether this was also a reissued Eighties tape, this time from Itlay (the musicians are Nicoletta Favari and Christopher Salvito) instead of Australia. The Duo makes music from instruments they build or modify themselves, making pieces out of interlocking repeated patterns. As such, it captures that same simple directness and muzzy sound that distinguishes the avant-garde side of punk-era DIY cassettes. The sleeve notes discuss it all like a mathematical proposal, but the results are eclectic and beguiling. Some tracks ponder over burbling synth textures, while others like “Indentations” pair off homebrew percussion with buzzing FM synths playing old computer game tunes. The title track is a chorale for moth-eaten electric organs that could be a rejected demo from Music For Films, or indeed another lost Australian tinkerer from forty years ago recording in their bedroom.