|Mimic Mass, photo Ben Mastwyk|
The Mimic Mass performance takes place in Conical’s main gallery and a smaller inner room. In three of the four corners of the bare main gallery, a singer sings unaccompanied at a microphone connected to its own PA speaker. The singers each cover pop hits from recent decades, and the audience, hearing three songs simultaneously, initially tune in aurally to one or other, depending on personal curiosity and taste, or try to take in all three. It’s like listening to three radio stations at once.
You can also hear each voice alone through one or other of the many pairs of headphones in the gallery and entrance hall. The voices are then transmitted via a mixing desk to a PA in a smaller room, which is completely darkened. Here the voices are variously morphed, fragments are repeated serially and effects such as drum and bass accompaniment are added. Later, the remixed sound is transmitted into the main room over the top of the singers, and the unmixed voices are then heard in the darkened room. The whole work lasts about 40 minutes, during which the very capable singers rarely pause, covering numerous songs.
The audience patrols the spaces and tries different headphones to hear the evolving variations in this condensed and remixed classic hits selection. The effect musically is to create several binaries: accompanied/unaccompanied, mixed/unmixed, transmitted/direct. Listeners not only shape their reception by moving between listening positions; the work’s formal development requires listeners to move through sequences of positions. Aural awareness is heightened in the darkened space that’s not unlike a club chill-out room or a meditation cell, suggesting further binaries: light/dark, sighted/unsighted and inner/outer. We’re also reminded that music is affected by studio recording and broadcasting—to transmit is to transmute.
The melodies and lyrics of the songs trigger the listener’s verbal and musical memory, the effect of which is heightened if the memory is also an emotional one, perhaps of a love song that recalls a close relationship. But you can only hold a feeling momentarily before it merges into the overall musical/textual picture, creating an emotional roller-coaster ride. The listener experiences a kind of hypertext, as fragments of song lyrics coalesce into new text, the content of which depends on the mixer’s mixing and the listener’s listening position: “I’m too sexy for my car...and the white knight’s talking backwards...I love you, I really do...it’s just an old war, not even a cold war...and say-ay that you love me.” The tradition of the pop idol as heroic storyteller is undermined, and meaning emerges fleetingly and speculatively to be transformed and annihilated. You might sing along or dance to rock music, but here the rhythms and lyrics are too elusive, so your response is cerebral rather than visceral as you wander through this soundscape.
The work recalls the emphasis in Fluxus events on text and idea, playfulness and the disruption of normal reception and understanding. Singer Madeleine Hodge, a performance artist who has previously appeared in Liquid Architecture and Electrofringe, says that the intention is to break down the normal audience/performer relationship. Split Radio cannot be recorded—in the tradition of performance art it must be experienced live. No two listeners will hear exactly the same sounds, and the range of listening options extends the range of possible listener experiences.
Conical states that its Sound Series, subtitled “A poke in the eye is a good distraction from a ringing ear”, is intended to address “the expanded nature of current art practice”, and Mimic Mass nicely fulfills the contract. This expansion, in which art encompasses and reconsiders multiple cultural forms and traditions and involves audiences more actively, has evolved into a broad genre. Mimic Mass’s Split Radio could be described as a performance-installation involving the rendition and electronic mediation of iconic musical and textual material within an overarching compositional structure that unfolds exponentially and that requires the listener to be a mobile, active interpreter. It references DJ-ing that melds musical fragments into a new whole, and mimics the cultural and mental saturation of contemporary life. It breaks the spell of pop music, offering an alternative, oblique aesthetic. It’s iconoclastic and demanding but ultimately it’s a fun event. We love the nostalgia of catchy old tunes, and subverting them like this is “...too sexy by far...”
Mimic Mass, Conical Inc, Fitzroy, March 9, 10, 15-17; Conical’s Sound Series also includes performances by The Spheres, Mark Brown & David O’Donoghue and The Glass Percussion Project
RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 40
© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org