Sky Needle is the project of three experimental artists, based in Brisbane, who include among their arsenal an elastic dust shovel. We’re dealing with makeshift instruments here, which might be worrying if they weren’t in safe hands. The group consists of OtherFilm co-founder and solo practitioner Joel Stern, sound artist Ross Manning and erstwhile visual artist Alex Cuffe. The electric dust shovel is accompanied by speaker box and a latex pump horn, creating a sound that has a drugged and seductive quality, reminiscent of those rare surreptitious moments when industrial environmental sounds coalesce into a strange music.
They’re a rock band though, or that’s what the press release claims. These ?handmade experimental sculptural objects? combine to create a mood not far removed from the type of bang-on-a-can, back shed improvisation that Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood used to regularly dispatch, though what’s offered here is more focussed, more reminiscent of song. The band’s rhythmic component – probably the speaker box – lays out a circuitous bass line upon which the other instruments wheeze and skronk all over. The result is evocative of a backwater shanty horror, whose moonshined-to-the-eyeballs antagonist wields – you guessed it – an elastic dust shovel. It creeps and pounces forebodingly with an air of barely restrained lunacy.
As is always the case with contraption-aided music such as this, there’s the risk that Sky Needle might sound like a demonstration tape, and that the possibilities (or lack thereof) of these newly minted instruments will be shallowly explored, that the inherent novelty of the proceedings will be seen to suffice. And while it might be true that the possibilities of the latex pump horn have barely been explored here (or ever), there’s enough imagination and purpose in these recordings to evoke something more intoxicating than the image of three men playing with their toys.