On what would have been electronic pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey's 89th birthday, we were treated to an intimate tribute to the man by Gotye (aka Wally De Backer) in the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Mary and I attended the first of two sold out shows this evening, which were presented by arrangement with MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio), a not-for-profit organisation supported by Wally that is dedicated to the creation of electronic sound and music.
Unlike the other Australian shows over the past couple weeks that Wally has done with the Ondioline Orchestra at Mofo in Launceston and the Sydney Festival, this one was just him solo talking about the career of Jean-Jacques Perrey and the Ondioline (invented by Georges Jenny). The Ondioline was an early precursor to the modern synthesizer, and Perrey was a virtuoso on the instrument which produced some unique sounds. Wally got to know Perrey and his daughter Patricia in the last few years of his life and was given access to a treasure trove of recordings and other rare materials.
The research and archival work Wally has done resulted in the release of the vinyl compilation Jean-Jacques Perrey et son Ondioline on his label Forgotten Futures. Wally took us through many of the songs on the record that highlighted the different whimsical styles of Perrey's work, and told stories about the people he collaborated with (including Edith Piaf and Angelo Badalamenti). Wally's enthusiasm and love of Perrey and the Ondioline was so infectious throughout the night as he spoke about and played along with some of the songs. I really liked when he said Perrey's songs have humor in them, which is something he strives to bring to his own music.
The effort it has taken to find and restore these Ondiolines and get them playable again is pretty impressive. Wally has even gotten the original Ondioline manuals and instructions translated into English so those that are interested can understand how the instrument works. Some of the highlights of the hour and a half show were getting to watch Wally play "Chicken On The Rocks" and "Cigale," as well as sing in French the song "The Soul Of The Poets." This has clearly been a passion project for Wally and it's great that he's preserving the works of these innovators so that they are not forgotten.