Black Sesame - from maths to music and song

22 January 2007

Mathematician Melissa Cox turned singer-songwriter Black Sesame, whose debut CD is due for release in February, performs her original music tonight in Poptarts at the Empire Hotel, Annandale.

Fusing elements of rock and jazz, electro and acoustic, with poetic lyrics meant to be listened to, the music that Melissa Cox makes asBlack Sesameis not easy to classify. And that's the way she likes it.

Dr Melissa Cox alias Black Sesame. (Photo: Roslyn Oades)
Dr Melissa Cox alias Black Sesame. (Photo: Roslyn Oades)

"I don't want it to sound like I'm recycling material that has become generic," said the Sydney Conservatorium of Music graduate whose debut CD, Brink, is due out early in 2007 and is currently getting airplay on FBi and 2SER.

"And I like all my songs to sound different from each other."

They do- from 'Engage me' with its pockets of sexy sultriness, to the edgy, driving 'I know' with its cross rhythms reflecting its characters' cross purposes, to the tender 'Angel songs', intimately soft yet intricate in its meaning-laden layers of sound.

"I want every song to be a little miniature work of art," said the singer-songwriter and violinist who's not easy to classify either.

In her 'day job' shesings jazz standards - which she's done as far afield as Scotland, Japan and China - supplemented by tutoring mathematics at the University of Sydney.

"I like having a room full of students and I like maths - and it's good to keep that part of the brain ticking over," she said.

It was when she was doing her PhD in maths, studying the social organisation of ants and honeybees, both at Sydney University and Bath in England, that she started writing songs.

"The more I immersed myself in science, the more the creative aspects I'd been ignoring kept bubbling out," she said. "It was inevitable that I ended up going back and studying music."

She chose to do the Conservatorium's two-year Diploma in Jazz Studies, concentrating on violin which she'd learnt from the age of seven as a classical instrument.

"Having had a few years without touching violin eased me into improvisation, because there's a paradigm shift between classical music and jazz," she said. "Classical music is about reading the notes and playing it exactly as the composer intended. In jazz you rely much more on your ear."

The compositional aspects and harmony classes where students arrange other people's tunes were what she most enjoyed about the course, along with 'concert practice' where students perform with a band they've put together and rehearsed, she said.

The latter gave her the chance to write her own tunes, some of which she later reworked into songs that ended up on Brink, so named "because there's a common thread of precariousness or transition in the songs".

Brink features Dr Cox as upfront vocalist as well as violinist, with fellow musicians on guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. It's due for release in February. Meantime, samples from the CD can be heard onher website.

Black Sesame's highly original music can be heard live in a five-piece band tonight,22 January, as part of "Poptarts" at the Empire Hotel, Annandale. Entrance is free and doors open at7.30pm. Black Sesame performs 9.45-10.15pm with Brendan Woithe (keys), Aaron Flower (guitar), Abel Cross (bass) and Paul Taylor (drums).

Black Sesame'snext Poptarts gig will then be 26 February (time to be confirmed).

"I like playing in rooms where people are prepared to sit and listen. It's all about engaging people," she said.

Media enquiries: Melissa Cox,, 0415 562567.