Fremantle Arts Centre’s inaugural offBEAT Festival made a solid imprint on the WA music scene over the weekend, using unexpected collaborations to present rhythm in fresh ways.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts’ percussion ensemble Defying Gravity opened the festival on Friday night with a performance of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit, a piece inspired by the stone navigation markers used by the Inuit in the Arctic. Ensemble director Tim White and 22 black-clad performers stood around a tree in the arts centre garden gently blowing through paper cones – the sound barely discernible above the wind in the trees. Gradually the players dispersed to various corners of the garden to form instrumental ‘sculptures’. Musical themes were passed between performers: the haunting call of conch shells and other horn-like instruments, the deep thudding of drums and the metallic chiming of bells and cymbals. 
The audience – adults and children alike – moved around the garden with unguarded inquisitiveness. The immersive effect was extraordinarily effective. I’ve never been so aware of the physiological impact of music: conch shells pushed air against me, bass drums thudded in my chest cavity and standing in the centre of the garden as the drums thundered from every side my skin was shivering from the vibrations. The aural acupuncture gradually faded and the performers regathered at the tree, drawing our attention back to the music of the wind in the leaves. 
(listen below to Inuksuit presented by Make Music New York and Colombia University’s Miller Theatre)
On Saturday night 200 fans crammed the inner courtyard to witness three leading WA electronic artists collaborate with Josh Hogan’s percussion ensemble The Wheel Turns. The four-piece percussion group added beats to the moody folktronic pop of Joni in the Moon, gave a hypnotic edge to electronic duo Rockwell & Groom and an aural assault to MC Mathas’ intellectual hip hop.
Sunday’s free afternoon concert featured drum virtuoso Daniel Susnjar and his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group which drew a packed crowd of picnickers. Susnjar has put the riveting rhythms of Afro-Peruvian music at the centre of his jazz band resulting in compositions full of tricky duple/triple cross-rhythms and loads of groove. The addition of the Peruvian cajon or box drum (Iain Robbie) and Spanish guitar (Harry Winton) gave Latin American colour and the jazz horns (Ricki Mallet trumpet, Carl Mackey tenor saxophone) added bronze tones. Tom O’Halloran on keyboard and Pete Jeavons on bass completed the star-studded line up, with Susnjar steering confidently from his drumset. 

This review copyright The West Australian 2015.