Silver Mantis takes over Melbourne Recital Centre

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Silver Mantis takes over Melbourne Recital Centre

Silver Mantis
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

JG Thirlwell has had a hand in some projects that’ve truly shifted the musical landscape.

Having lived and composed all over the world, he’s spent time as a songwriter, record producer, collaborator and now primarily a composer, which has led to his most recent work: Silver Mantis.

Silver Mantis is an experience for the senses: JG performs with software and sampling, prepared piano and performed theremin, accompanied by visuals from Swedish artist Sten Backman, Silver Mantis takes over Melbourne Recital Centre, with its world-class acoustics that make for what will surely be a transcendental experience from Silver Mantis. We had a chance to chat with JG before the performances about how Silver Mantis came about, and what the performance at Melbourne Recital Centre will look, feel and sound like. We begin by discussing JG’s title, performing music that he’s written, or composed, and performed in a live setting after having made music for decades.

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“I’m a composer.” he says with confidence. “I didn’t [always] use that word, but when someone asks me my occupation, I put down ‘composer’.”

JG Thirlwell

“I write for a lot of different instruments, many of which I don’t play,” JG smiles at this, before continuing. “So, yeah I’m a composer and the last 20 years I’ve done a tonne of scoring work, and people who do scoring work are called composers.”

We shift to Silver Mantis specifically, discussing how it began.

“It’s [Silver Mantis] the second iteration of this solo surround sound project that I’ve been working on. The first one was called Cholera Necobo and one of the catalysts was that I wanted something that I could do solo, and be mobile… but it would give me a chance to explore my interest in surround sound in my work, and multi-channel work.”

“I was part of a collective called freq_out which was curated by Carl Michael von Hausswolff, and we did site specific installations all over the world.”

“As a result of that, I also did some solo sound installations, and then as that moved further on I had a project called Manorexia, and the third Manorexia album [Dinoflagellate Blooms] I created and mixed the whole thing in surround sound, to 5.1.”

“So, it’s something that I’ve been interested in, and I thought it would be interesting to take that to a performance level. Because with sound installations and site specific installations, it’s static.”

“I wanted something that would be modular that I could perform live and not only is the space modular, so it changes every time that you do it, but the performance itself is modular. There are building blocks, there are structures and there are pre-…” JG pauses to laugh here before continuing, “… ordained sounds that I’ve created.”

His choice of words is important here, the modular and ethereal nature of Silver Mantis does leave some variables up to the heavens themselves.

“The sounds, some of which float to the back, some of which come to the front. But I can combine them in a myriad of different ways, so I can create compositions on the fly.”

“For this project, I play theremin in a section of it. So it gives the piece variation and those elements are in surround [sound] as well. Then I commissioned this Swedish artist that I met, in the course of some of my work in Stockholm, to create a film that I play in front of, so it’s very immersive and audio visual spectacular.” he says with a smile.

We shift to how Silver Mantis came together, discussing whether the sounds were informed by the visuals or vice versa.

“The visuals came second.” JG begins, “I saw his [Sten Backman’s] work, and I thought that this would be perfect for it. The first, Cholera Necobo, I also had a film, but the film was totally different in scope.”

“I look at the film as I’m going occasionally and I want to do something [musically] that has something to do with the film.”

While there’s elements of improvisation to Silver Mantis, with performed theremin and prepared piano, the modular building blocks that JG discussed earlier provide the foundation for the performance.

“There is a structure that I fall back on. I mean I haven’t really listened back to what I’ve done,” he says “but I know when I’m happy with what I’ve done. It’s not totally abstract, but the building blocks of sound that I use are coming a bit more from my experience in sound design.”

“There are musical building blocks, but a lot of it is kind of using bits of audio as compositional tools. Sometimes I pay attention to the film and sometimes I don’t. I’m always surprised when I don’t pay attention to it, people say ‘Oh! What you were doing fit perfectly.” he laughs.

We speak for a moment about how there’s some magical musical connection happening whether he’s watching the visual or not. “Yeah, it was meant for the Silver Mantis project, so wherever I take Silver Mantis it’s going to fit.”

Recital Centre Potter

Silver Mantis will be performed all over the world, and at the end of September it’ll arrive at Melbourne’s Recital Centre. I have to know: why the Recital Centre for such an immersive piece?

“Comfortable chairs, that’s always a plus.” he says with cheeky smile, before continuing. “It’s a beautiful space, and I think acoustically, obviously it’s a space that’s built with performance in mind. I think it’s gonna sound fantastic in there.”

The modular nature of Silver Mantis is what makes it so special, JG explaining that installed, static performances in the past have involved a lot of planning and composing for the sound system and room that he’s decided to play.

As a closer, I ask if there’s been any funny live mishaps or anecdotes he can share about creating and performing Silver Mantis. He laughs, “I do everything possible to avoid funny mishaps.”

Bear witness to the spectacle that is Silver Mantis at the Recital Centre’s Primrose Potter Salon on Thursday 28 September 2023 at 7pm. For tickets, visit JG Thirwell – Silver Mantis (

This article was made in partnership with Melbourne Recital Centre.