Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio: a hidden North Melbourne gem

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Photography by Anna Encio

Not many people know that Australia was centre stage in the development of electronic music and it continues to be at the forefront of innovation. There’s a lot to be proud of.

Byron J Scullin and Robin Fox are the founders and directors of the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS), a not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated to furthering electronic sound and music culture in all its various forms.

“We connect people to electronic sound and music culture through our huge collection of multimillion-dollar, rare and antique instruments. But we’re not a museum,” Byron smiled. “We make all this equipment available for the public to use, learn about and explore with us.”

MESS focuses on four main areas of activity.

“There’s the ‘Studio’ – the North Melbourne hub with all the instruments. Then ‘School’, in that we provide education with a diverse series of accessible short courses and workshops for all levels of interest,” Byron said.  

“‘Show’ means we have artists in residence who work here and present in concert. Finally, ‘Schematic’ is an emerging part of MESS where people can build, design, and repair their own instruments.”

Byron is a sound artist and electronic music producer and has had a career in film, television, radio, and computer games. He also creates large-scale outdoor sound and music installations, such as The Rivers Sing, as part of the Rising Festival.

Robin became fascinated with electronic music from a young age as his mother made a lot of electronic music. Robin comes from a more experimental, avant-garde background and is well known as an audio-visual artist using lasers and sound. 

The pair became friends through a shared interest in experimental music. In 2016, they founded MESS when they recognised the opportunity for an independent organisation dedicated to electronic music within Melbourne’s vibrant music, culture, and art culture scene.

“Working in the university sector, we saw how students were missing out on a lot of opportunities in electronic music education and engagement. Then talking to fellow artists, we found that they were fascinated by all different instruments and machines – but because the instruments are often rare and expensive, artists found them very hard to get access to, let alone obtain or own.”

MESS’s studio, inside North Melbourne’s Meat Market, offers around 500 pieces on display out of their close to 2000 strong collection of instruments. All of the instruments in the studio are available to play and record at the studio by booking a session through the MESS website. 

The eclectic range of synthesisers, keyboard and electronic instruments, drum machines, and even metronomes, has been drawn from loans from electronic music enthusiasts such as musician Gotye and actor Guy Pearce, donations from private benefactors and contemporary instrument manufacturers, and Robin’s own collection inherited from his family. 

Byron’s favourites include the Transaudio collection, a handful of rare synthesisers designed and built in Melbourne in the 1970s.

Many of the instruments have fascinating stories behind them. 

“We’ve got an instrument from the ‘70s called the Fairlight CMI that was Australian made, and I think the most important musical invention in the last 100 years. It introduced a concept called sampling, where you could record any sound and then play it back. Sampling is now the basis for so many musical genres, from hip hop to electronic dance music.”

 

These affordable electronic music instruments also inspired the concept of a ‘bedroom producer’ – that you could produce music on your own terms with full creative control, without a record label producer. The Fairlight CMI was what Kate Bush used to make Running Up That Hill.

 

As for their future plans, Byron, Robin and the MESS team are putting all their energy into ensuring that MESS continues to provide the best space for people to experience music in a friendly and welcoming environment and to foster a love of music.

“There’s a real utopian streak, an idealism at the heart of electronic music, that the technology should allow anybody to create something out of sound. The idea is that these instruments allow people to access creative expression in new and transformative ways,” Byron explained.  

“So, at MESS, we want to inherit and further that spirit by building a physical space where people can connect and create.”

MESS is located at 15 Dowling Place, North Melbourne.

This article was contributed by the North & West Melbourne Precinct Association Inc.  

For more information: mess.foundation

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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