Robbie Avenaim – is an innovative Australian musician, drummer, sound, and installation artist with an international reputation for bold, sonic exploration. Avenaim has been at the forefront of the Australian experimental music scene both as a performer and a curator. Over the past 25 years, Robbie has developed a unique and personal musical language on the drums, combining traditional and extended techniques with physical modification of the Drums. Modifications have included extending the use of the instrument’s, various motorized, robotic, and kinetic percussive mechanisms and in so doing, providing greater scope for both composing and performing. As a musician/composer/instrument builder, Robbie’s musical ideas are inseparable from the instruments he designs and an integral part of the compositional process. After returning from studies in New York with renowned composer John Zorn and observing the vibrant new music N.Y. has to offer, Avenaim was inspired to foster a varied experimental music ecosystem in Australia by co-founding and organizing the legendary WHAT IS MUSIC? Festival, Australia’s premier annual touring showcase of local and international experimental music from 1994-2012 and has since organized many significant sound-based exhibitions, performances, and festivals regionally and overseas, which have been essential for the local growth and international prestige of Australia’s avant-garde musical reputation. Since 2017 Avenaim has developed an experimental music concert series specifically for housebound young people with disabilities, called “Safe in Sound”.
Avenaim, born in 1969, is an inventive drummer and sound artist from Australia who is widely recognized for his daring sonic experimentation on a global scale.
Avenaim’s practice spans the domains of free improvisation and avant-garde composition. For over 25 years, he has been at the forefront of the Australian experimental music scene both as a performer and a curator. Focused primarily on percussion and instrument building, he has developed a unique approach to performance which draws from a range of traditions: from non-idiomatic improvisation, to aleatoric, structural approaches and more formalized compositional frameworks utilizing both extended and traditional techniques, and percussive automation.
Avenaim started learning to play the drum kit at the age of 10. When he was 16 he began taking lessons with the late legendary Australian jazz drummer Alan Turnbull, and later studied experimental techniques informally with internationally acclaimed drummer Tony Buck (best known as member of The Necks).
By the age of 16 he had developed an interest in experimental and avant-garde music, but finding very few opportunities to study this kind of music in Australia, he travelled to New York in 1993 where he sufficiently impressed John Zorn, one of the worlds most important new music composers and performers, for Zorn to mentor him and take him on as a student for the duration of his stay in the US.
After his return from New York, Avenaim was motivated to do something about the lack of opportunities and recognition for experimental music in Australia, and for several years he put his own career as a composer and performer on hold in order to create, curate and produce the “What is Music?” Festival, which grew to become Australia’s premier annual touring showcase of local and international experimental music from 1994-2012. While running the festival became Avenaim’s full-time occupation throughout his life, it was an opportunity for him to interact and continue studying with important, cutting-edge masters of various experimental genres from Australia and overseas, and to develop his own individual musical understanding and ambition. The festival resulted in widespread recognition for what had previously been extremely marginalised musical forms and helped put Australian experimental music on the map globally. What Is Music? Inspired numerous other festivals and contributed greatly to the Australian new music community, helping to build local audiences and foster the talents of some of Australia’s most successful experimental musicians.
Inspired by this experience, Avenaim continued to seek out leading figures in new music, and between 1997 and 2005 he then pursued instrument modification/building, improvisational and extended technique studies through a mentorship program with the Australian instrument builder and new music artist Ernie Althoff.
Avenaim’s fearless approach has often led him into unfamiliar territory, beyond the experimental/avant-garde/improvised music community, exploring the unconventional sides of non-Western musical traditions (Ethiopian, Malian, Congolese, Brazilian) and spending extended periods abroad (including Japan, South Korea, France and Zimbabwe), learning from and collaborating with local musicians and developing his highly individual approach to composition.
From 2000 Avenaim embarked in earnest on his career as composer-performer, as well as designing and inventing the semi-automated robotic percussion system SARPS. In 2009 he received an Australia Council for the Arts grant to showcase his work internationally. He has performed at numerous international events and festivals such as Adelaide Festival, Tectonics Festival (Israel), the Georgetown Festival (Malaysia), the Harare International Festival of Arts (Zimbabwe), Festival Densités (France), LUFF Festival (Switzerland), and others. He has also composed soundtracks for theatre and film, and has had works commissioned by leading Australian percussion ensembles Speak and Synergy, as well as conductor Ilan Volkov (Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra).
Over recent years, Avenaim has been exploring and developing robotic and Kinetic percussive machines to augment his acoustic practice, which has resulted in the creation and refinement of the EMS, SARPS device and software. EMS is a device that uses a small DC motor with a counterbalance attached to a drum stick, chop stick or flexible rod. Whilst in operation, the EMS device oscillates the stick attached and allows it to produce complex orbital paths by which it will strike an object or surface, propelling the stick to the next object. Over time, distinctive rhythms and textures emerge, sitting outside of the framework of traditionally conceived musical sounds. These automated devices give rise to a new kind of gestural sound by direct acoustic synthesis rather than by the musique concrete or digital technique of distortion of recorded sounds. SARPS (Semi Automated Robotic Percussion System) was conceived as a way of introducing inhumanly intricate, fast and dense rhythmic embellishments into his acoustic performance practice. Drawing inspiration from the Modernist abstraction of 20th century composition, SARPS incorporates the philosophies behind rhythmic complexity as it was explored by composers like Conlon Nancarrow (with his Player Piano studies) and Iannis Xenakis (whose stochastic approach introduced algorithmic parameters as a compositional technique). SARPS is essentially a human/machine interface which can be imagined as a logical extension of the pioneering efforts of these composers to introduce randomised elements into music to expand its boundaries.
As a curator 1992-2012, After returning from studies in New york and observing the vibrant new music N.Y has to offer, Avenaim was inspired to foster a varied experimental music ecosystem in Australia by co-founding and organising the WHAT IS MUSIC? festival, Australia’s premier annual touring showcase of local and international experimental music from 1994-2012.
Since 2017 Avenaim has developed an experimental music concert series specifically for housebound young people with disabilities, called “Safe in Sound”.