info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
Leafcutter John, Electrofringe Leafcutter John, Electrofringe
photo Mardy Dean
ELECTROFRINGE. IT’S A TRICKY TIME FOR A FESTIVAL TO CLAIM FRINGE CREDIBILITY WHILE DEFINING ITSELF IN TERMS OF TECHNOLOGY. BACK IN THE EARLY DAYS THE BACKBONE OF ELECTROFRINGE WAS WORKSHOPS ON NEW IDEAS FOR EKING SOME SKERRICK OF AUDIOVISUAL PROCESSING POWER OUT OF A ZERO BUDGET. THAT WILL GET YOU NOWHERE IN 2007. ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY IS NOT THE LIMITING FACTOR HERE, IN THIS FESTIVAL WHERE THE NON-LAPTOP WIELDERS HANG OUT AT THE EDGE OF THE PLAYGROUND AND SULK. IT IS NO LONGER ENOUGH FOR IDEAS TO BE NEW, THEY MUST ALSO BE GOOD.

That said, this is still an egalitarian festival. If some festivals are agricultural fairs where all you see is the produce in its presentation box, Electrofringe is still closer to Backyard Blitz where we aren’t quite sure what we’re planting ahead of time. But we’re doing it fast, and in teams. One question is whether, in the YouTube generation, the focus on co-creation of the experience is at all fringe—or are the less participatory festivals beginning to be increasingly marginal?

One indicator of the way the mainstream wind is blowing must surely be the ABC, out in force at Electrofringe. Firstly, The Night Air radio-and-podcast performance is back from last year, bigger than ever. Secondly, sure enough, one of the various launches in this festival is an ABC-run social content-sharing website. Radio National’s John Jacobs and Sherre Delys have turned up to get feedback on their plan to produce an online collaborative A/V content repository, which will combine user generated content and archival material from the ABC itself, released under remix-friendly Creative Commons licences. You can smell the online content Zeitgeist.

More interestingly for the cool hunters among us, VJs are out this season, as out as surely as hoodies this month are preppy. The random video artists jamming along with psychedelic video clips to generic beats seem not to have put in an appearance. The venues are blissfully free from any manner of fractals, CGI robots attempting any kind of beatmatching, or oscilloscopes (except for the ubiquitous Robin Fox’s re-interpretation of that idea, and he doesn’t count). The electronic gig, then, tends to the genre of headphone music, the lie-down-and-close-your eyes school of performance. Sadly, the Cambridge Hotel, where the major gigs appear, is not the most suited to this in that no-one has provided spatulas to detach those foolish enough to lie down on the unidentifiable tar-like substance that the hotel classifies as ‘floor.’

Part of the backlash against the two-shy-blokes-with-laptops style is that we all seem concerned with performance aesthetics this year in general, and whether we are using Nintendo Wii game controllers in our art in particular. Paul Gough aka Pimmon declares his allegiance to the principle that computer music doesn’t need to justify itself by buying into the intensely manual modes of performance on acoustic instruments; it’s fine to press play and check your email. Although headliner Tim Hecker concurs during the discussion on their aesthetics panel, their juxtaposed sets in the final gig couldn’t be less similar. True to his word, the abstract soundscapes Pimmon produces are accompanied by little more interaction than the gentle oscillations of his eyebrows. It’s tightly controlled material, although I feel a little disappointed to recognise some of it coming straight off, for example, the *snaps*crackles*pops* album. Hecker’s sound is less tight, but his total engagement with the process and the audience and a very gestural style gives his piece the kind of emotional force that a gig in this venue needs to cut through the background fog of beer. More than that, it must be the most booty shaking ambient harmonic soundscape to convulse the sticky dancefloor, if anyone is keeping records. You can see the bituminous floor slime arrange itself into concentric ripples around the speakers. Or at least I can. The cold light of day might tell a more prosaic tale, but you can get the sober version by turning up to Electrofringe yourself and sticking to orange juice.

More gestural and improvisational still is Leafcutter John. He riffs on prompts and heckles from the crowd, with the sarcastic humour of the smartarse kid up the back of the class on a ten kilowatt PA. Oh, but with more toys. He jams with game controllers, springs, sticks, wooden boxes and an acoustic guitar and whatever else, working our anticipation each time he reaches for a new instrument, each time one of the audience yells out. He latches on to the injunction “Make us dance!” and summons the speaker onto the stage for a short bracket of loose-dancing ballroom moves. It turns out the belligerent heckler in spray-on trousers is Thug Quota, of Melbourne ur-rock ensemble Bum Creek, not to mention lead clarinet in Chalga Party, the hit Gypsy band from last night’s acoustic gig. It also turns out that neither of them knows how to ballroom dance. The ensuing jam between the two strangers, on half-assembled drumkit and guitar, is interesting musically and fascinating dramatically.

The traditional Electrofringe story from this point goes on to climax with further debauchery, possibly in a warehouse party of some description. Hell, possibly even with cheesy VJs. But this late and drunk in the evening, when we have let our hair down enough to consider such unfashionable activity, we are amazed to discover that after the close of the pub there is nothing else on. Damn, I thought we weren’t serious about all that nonsense about such stuff being out of fashion. Where’s the homemade zero-budget sound system when you need it?


Electrofringe/This Is Not Art 2007, Newcastle, Sept 26-30

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 25

© Dan MacKinlay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top