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

  
21:100:100, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces 21:100:100, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces
photo Andrew Curtis
ASIDE FROM AMERICAN AVANT-GARDISM FROM THE 60S, CONTEMPORARY SOUND AND EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC HAVE GENERALLY BEEN ABSENT FROM MOST MAJOR PERFORMING ARTS FESTIVALS IN AUSTRALIA. MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2005 DIPPED A TOE IN THE WATER PROGRAMMING THE CYBERZEN MASTER RYOJI IKEDA WHO TURNED SOME ON TO THE POSSIBILITIES OF EXPANDED LISTENING AND OTHERS RIGHT OFF. BUT IN HER FINAL FESTIVAL KRISTY EDMUNDS PUSHED A LITTLE FURTHER, PROGRAMMING A HANDFUL OF ACTIVITIES IN WHICH SOUND (OR ITS ABSENCE) WAS THE KEY INVESTIGATION.

21:100:100—the exhibition

The most significant of these events was the exhibition 21:100:100, a festival partnership with Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, ambitiously presenting “100 works by 100 sound artists produced in the 21st century.” (Well almost, there were a few inclusions from the final decade of 20th). It was like the biggest sampler of the ‘cool’ of experimental music you could imagine, curated by notable sound artists Oren Ambarchi and Marco Fusinato, along with the gallery’s Alexie Glass and Emily Cormack.

Management of such a large collection notwithstanding, what was particularly impressive was the design of the exhibition. Taking up both lower galleries each artist/track had its own set of headphones, and a small placard, angled up from the floor, with just the right amount of contextual information. The headphones were tethered to the floor with the remaining length of the leads rising up to the ceiling in splendid fanning looms. Every attention was paid to the elegance of these clusters and their placement within the space, while evocative lighting in the second room created a kind of spiders’ lair. Scattered around were small black gardening stools, a challenge for the larger and less mobile, yet good for keeping you grounded, focused and alert to the listening task at hand. The pieces were arranged in alphabetical order of artists’ names, proving a far more satisfying strategy than the imposition of other curatorial taxonomies. Within one cluster you could hear a range of methodologies from artists of varying ages, eras and countries: for example Pateras/Baxter/Brown next to Pita, next to Francis Plagne, next to Stephen Prina, next to Eliane Radigue.

For those who are already walking discographies perhaps there was nothing to be learned here; and I wondered if for those new to experimental music and sound, the scale of the exhibition might prove daunting. For someone like me, who knows how much she doesn’t know, this exhibition was full of satisfactions and revelations. However, to avoid gallery anxiety attack, you needed time. Going twice I estimate I sampled around 70% of the works, but I couldn’t always listen in entirety, problematic for the 20 minute compositions in which the exposition over time is the point. The inclusion of around 20% Australian artists (with a strong Melbourne contingent) amongst the many acclaimed international artists, was a heartening illustration of the strength of experimental sound and music in this country especially over the last eight years.

21:100:100—the performance

To accompany the exhibition, there was also a one-off concert at the BMW Edge, Federation Square. Performed by Oren Ambarchi, Marco Fusinato and Brendan Walls on guitars and electronics, James Rushford on prepared piano and Robin Fox with his laser light spectacular, it was strangely refreshing to sit through only one 45 minute set without three other performances on the bill as is usual in sound events. The set explored the slow build structure almost inevitable in live sound performance. Starting with some quiet piano torturings by Rushford, subtle layers of guitar were added. Developing in a meditative fashion, full of rich harmonic drone play, the performance was spiced up by occasional feedback shrieks and percussive eruptions, generally instigated by Walls. Some more insistent electronic rumbles indicated the presence of Fox, along with a regular relay of smoke machines letting off into the space, one poorly placed behind Fusinato, enveloping him periodically in clouds of smoke, reminiscent of the misguided grandeur of Spinal Tap. Around three quarters through, the by now wonderfully dense dronescape reached its peak, and slid away leaving Ambarchi playing spare notes. Seemingly an end, but no! Within a beat, the Fox took flight, and the lasers pulsed into action, carving the space into vectors and planes. The seats rumbled with rhythmic bass and the intelligent spectacle wound up the show. Fox’s laser work is difficult to integrate with other works, and as was the case with its inclusion in Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine, the practicalities of the smoke machines, along with the works’ multisensory impact defined it as a separate entity, best saved till last.

echolocation

Alex Stahl’s Echolocation was poetically described as “allowing us to find our voice in the urban cacophony.” Using an impressive array of speakers suspended under the arches of the Princes Bridge, the piece played sounds of flocking birds, recorded on location, mixed with occasional chimes and tones. By calling a phone number and singing or speaking to the nothingness that greeted you, supposedly the sound would be altered. Trying this several times, I felt no empowerment as the ‘conductor’ of this universe. There was too much rhetoric about the work that in reality had the effect of playing back a nicely composed version of sounds from the same location.

Evolution of Fearlessness Evolution of Fearlessness
photo R Fasa
evolution of fearlessness

Significantly, Lynette Wallworth’s installation Evolution of Fearlessness is silent, as the piece is about the voicelessness of a series of women who have suffered devastating experiences and unimaginable brutalities. An interactive work, you enter a darkened room and are free to mount the steps to approach a screen. A nebulous orange glow around right shoulder height invites touch and as you place your hand on the screen in this exact spot, a woman appears. She walks towards you and places her hand on yours, palm to palm, with the cold screen in between. She remains, looking ahead (in theory at you) until you remove your hand at which point she recedes into the shadows to become a diminishing silhouette. The stories of the women who appear are told in a free booklet available at the exhibition space, and also on display as a folder of notes in the dark space under a reading lamp. While the poetry of the idea is undeniable, there is something that doesn’t quite work technically. Perhaps this is a spatial problem. In order to have your hand on the screen and not fall off the raised platform, you are actually too close to the image. You can’t really fix focus on the subject unless you quickly jump off the platform and stand further back, by which time the woman is disappearing. The intention of intimacy is also diminished by the fact that each viewer will be a different height and so the idea of looking eye to eye is only partly achievable. The stories in the booklet are succinctly and poetically told, a testament to Wallworth’s skill both with people and their stories, though reading in small batches is recommended, as the sad accumulation of misfortunes and terrors eventually becomes unimaginable. The decision to isolate the words from the images is obviously a considered one, separating the work from standard documentary mode, however I can’t help feeling it is not the strongest choice for communicating the stories of these brave women.

the rape of the sabine women

Perhaps one of the most satisfying sound experiences of the festival was found in the soundtrack of Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporations’ film The Rape of Sabine Women. Jonathan Bepler (frequent collaborator with Matthew Barney) has created a sparse soundtrack of tense silences and crisp foley. The material for the final stunning scene is constructed from vocal choral work which we see being workshopped—the mechanisms of the filmmaking bleeding into the action. We see the construction of a tumult, reminiscent of the confusion after the Robert Kennedy assassination as the performers are directed in a series of exercises, walking past each other, grabbing clothes. These ‘exercises’ build until the disconnectedness of the performers is overcome by a rising sense of real panic, and the scene reaches a climax of amazing complexity and power accompanied by a stunning choral cacophony.

* * *

Up until now, sound buffs had to wait for their own specialised festivals to get a burst of their favourite art. Perhaps other festival directors should pay heed to the increasing development of soundculture as a truly innovative practice in Australia and think to include and celebrate it.


Melbourne International Arts Festival, 21:100:100 exhibition, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Oct 11-Nov 8; 21:100:100 concert, BMW Edge, Federation Square, Oct 19; Alex Stahl, Echolocation, under the Princes Bridge, Oct 9-25; Lynette Walworth, Evolution of Fearlessness, Murray White Room, Oct 9-25; Eve Sussman & the Rufus Corporation, The Rape of the Sabine Women, ACMI, Oct 17-19

Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces will be presenting 21:100:100 Download Forum and 21:100:100 Book Launch, Dec17, 6pm-7:30pm, www.gertrude.org.au

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 43

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top