Gotye’s tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey

Fair few may have heard of French electronic musician, Jean-Jacques Perrey, but his work will be familiar to most. Sampled throughout and hugely influential in modern music and popular culture, Perrey’s sounds have been used in film, television and online video since the 60s when he became known for the joyful and quirky recordings he made through rhythm tape editing and the use of the Ondioline, a sort of grandfather to the modern day synthesiser. Perrey’s enthusiasm for Georges Jenny’s invention, the Ondioline, paved the way for the development and production of the modern day synthesiser, an instrument commonly used in electronic music to produce a variety of sounds through the sampling of recordings and the manipulation of pitch, frequency and rhythmical placement of each sound sample when played.

Situated in the center of the room was a single incandescent bulb surrounded by a wide range of instruments including a Moog synthesizer and a triangle. Under a string of light bulbs that would glow at varying levels, stood a group of musicians, the Ondioline Orchestra ready to play.

As part of Sydney Festival 2018, Multi-instrumentalist and singer songwriter Wally De Backer, better known as Goyte, along with the Ondioline Orchestra, an assortment of musicians including a theremin player, an electric bassist, drummer and clarinet player presented a selection of songs written and performed by the late Jean-Jacques Perrey (1929-2016) as a tribute to the great music composer and pioneer of electronic music.

Introducing himself as Wally De Backer rather than using his stage name, Wally sits down and greets the crowd. It doesn’t feel like a concert but like you’re about to watch a mate have a jam sesh your living room. Ever since mid 2013 De Backer has been pretty quiet on the music front, now instead using his influence to bring Jean-Jacques’ legacy to the international spotlight. It’s almost poetic seeing De Backer’s passion when he talks about restoring these near extinct instruments, The Ondioline, and both Jean-Jacques Perrey and Georges Jenny’s lives. Nowadays it seems as if De Backer has found that his passion is not only in creating music of his own but restoring and preserving the memories of musicians past, which is rewarding and heartwarming to acknowledge.

Every so often Wally’s face lights up as he talks about Jean-Jacques and his memories of the man, more a friend than fellow musician whose legacy will always be kept through tributes and the influence he had on electronic music. De Backer notes throughout the show that as a fan of Perrey’s music it was wonderful to have worked so closely with him in 2013 when they first met. Stories and lessons on what an Ondioline is and who Jean-Jacques was is interwoven between the 19 tracks performed by the group.

It feels like I’m both learning about an almost forgotten musical instrument and a great man called Perrey whilst enjoying a musical performance by a group of talented musicians in their own right. This not only makes me appreciate it more but yearn that lessons are taught this way more often, because it seemed that everyone was intrigued like I was. At times forgotten or overlooked, there’s something about music that brings people together, a universal familiarity that unites people of all ages and types and binds them together like family, almost like magic.

With minutes to spare I arrived just in time and sat next to a gentle man who told the lady beside him, ‘It’s like that video game music on the PlayStation.’ Possibly true, Perrey’s music seemed to resonate with the sounds I’ve heard whilst watching science fiction films or animations found online.

I had a blast listening to some funky tunes that made me want to get up and dance. I spotted some fellow finger clickers and head boppers throughout and wanted to get up and join a 3-year-old dancing in the corner with her father and having the best time. Later on another little kid got up and danced with his father as well and I found it to be the cutest sideshow to see in addition to watching this Jean-Jacques Perrey tribute.

Halfway through, De Backer invited the audience to sit closer behind him and see the Ondioline played up close and personal. Like eager children, a large crowd of adults rushed to Wally’s feet eager to hear and see the music. Later on, even the clarinet player had to climb through the crowd of people to perform his piece.

I’m ever so grateful to have seen Goyte’s tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey, considering I just made it before there would have been a lockout and I may have missed this experience. The popularity of the show was echoed even afterwards with lines of people rushing to purchase a copy of the album on vinyl, newly formed fans of Jean-Jacques Perrey’s work. I was so excited as well, choosing to forgo the vinyl and purchase a translated copy of Georges Jenny’s book on the Ondioline complete with electronic schematics because I couldn’t resist. (I’ve even added some of Perrey’s music to my playlists cause it’s so fun to listen to.)

I mean, who would have known that crowds of people attending Sydney Festival could get so excited about an old restored instrument called an Ondioline that emitted a wide range of sounds whilst played by a smiling man named Wally? I left too with a smile on my face after hearing a woman exclaim as she left, ‘I learned as much in this hour as in my entire life!’

Indeed she was right.

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Review by Addy Fong. Photos by Stuart Armitt.