The deep silence that precedes every performance by the Necks is a beautiful experience. You become aware of every person in the room: their anticipation, their breath. You become deeply aware of the artists on stage: their posture, their focus. And you become so attuned, so ready for the work.
The artists wait for that silence. They create that silence. Their bodies, aligned with their instruments, anticipate that moment of alignment with one another — and then, the work can begin.
Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck and Lloyd Swanton have been together as the Necks since 1987. I have seen them perform more times than I have experienced the work of any other band. Although I own recordings – well, one recording, it was a gift – I find I rarely give it a deep listen. It’s incomparable to the experience of being in a space designed for performance: for that sound, as well as that silence.
Experimental jazz is how the Necks categorise their work. However, having experienced their evolution across three decades, it’s not so much experimentation as a deep commitment to their craft and to one another. A profound dedication to exploring what’s possible when mastery of an instrument is no longer a distant horizon but the foundation for expert improvisation. Their sets are long, patient and always intense.
With every performance, there is a point at which every instrument seems to merge into every other. Cymbals are fingered like piano keys, drumskins bowed like strings, piano hammered like loose percussion, double bass worked like a keyboard. The performers’ bodies become one with their instrument, needing no longer to catch one another’s cues in any way other than through that deep connection. The sound intensifies, complexifies, fills their bodies, and resonates through ours, until it becomes impossible to distinguish the work of an individual instrument.
When the work is complete and the silence has returned, we find ourselves hesitant to applaud, sitting quietly with the artists, not wanting to disturb the intensity they have created – until their bodies begin to shift, that focused convergence begins to relax, and we know that their necessary framing silence has passed. The performance that has begun with our silence ends at the moment we’ve come to understand just how important we’ve been to the work.
HEADER IMAGE: The Street Theatre, Canberra, Saturday 15 February 2020, ready for The Necks. Photograph by Esther Anatolitis.