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Martine Corompt, Philip Samartzis, Dodg’em Martine Corompt, Philip Samartzis, Dodg’em
Sound is arguably one of the least developed areas of intermedia art practice. There are positive signs of development, though, as artists explore the ecological dimension of sound and acoustic space as things in themselves and not mere adjuncts to visual media. In Dodg’em, Martine Corompt and Philip Samartzis have created an inventive installation that configures the physical space of the gallery as a portal to a richly designed sonic world. The idea of an invisible environment, suggested by the resonances of an ambient soundscape, is a fascinating one that Corompt and Samartzis have explored before, and to very impressive effect, in their 1997 installation (with Ian Haig) Trick or Treat. As you sit in your dinky, excitingly chunky pedal cars in Dodg’em you are faced with Peter Brook’s “open space”, in which any and every movement elicits suggestions of place, action and drama.

Dodg’em cannily explores some of the first principles of intermedia, navigation and interface. The materiality of squeezing into the modular pedal cars is one kind of interface, in that it relates us to space and the bound environment of the gallery in particular ways. So too is the act of driving (or pedalling) itself, which allows us to perceive an environment and make sense of it. This is relevant to the idea of navigation. The installation consists of 2 fibreglass pedal cars (designed by Corompt) that participants drive in an unadorned, spartan exhibition space. The movement of the cars, which are colour-coded, is tracked by a sensoring device that is linked to a computer and amplification system and triggers particular sound events. Forget the idea of the gallery as a space of contemplation; in Dodg’em it is a space of acceleration, well, sort of (how fast can a pedal car go?).

In this space of apparent absence, an unknown world is constantly suggesting itself with every movement. The activity of moving through the gallery is likened by Corompt and Samartzis to that of a tourist in a foreign place. Navigation becomes a “cognitive interface”, a means of conceiving a place, of bringing a world to mind. Memory, too, is important as part of the navigation process, as there is no visual record of the zones through which one has travelled. Memory contributes to the formation of an internal map of these zones and their thematic and narrative contexts. The print map that accompanies the exhibition is more index than projection, and Shiralee Saul’s elusive and allusive essay is an appropriate baedeker to this strange land.

Suggestion (and, indeed, suggestibility) is a potent stimulant to the senses and the effect of Dodg’em is to create an inner world that one ‘sees’ through the deferral of acoustic information into visual imagination. In conceiving of this imaginative, suggestive world prompted by the sound sculpture, Corompt and Samartzis have constructed a manifold domain that links the actual and the virtual in very intimate ways. The parallel experience of physically pedalling through the actual gallery space and at the same time travelling through “that ‘other’ place” is cleverly exploited in the minimalism of the installation. The nod in the direction of cyberspace is helpful here as it identifies the synchronicity of the actual and the virtual realms. In this sense, pedalling and travelling are 2 very different activities; the former a locomotive act that moves you through the finite space of the gallery, the latter an expansive, imaginative topology that brings to mind a sense of place. Consistent with the dynamics of synaesthesia, listening to the complex, sonic narrative of a high-speed freeway chase, or an injured cyclist on the side of the road, stimulates the inner acuity of virtual sight.

The mise-en-scene of Dodg’em is in the strictest sense a digital space, with discrete sound sequences being triggered by the particular colour of the 2 cars (orange or blue). As in all digital environments, the patterns and arrangements of detail ensuing from this binary interchange are rich and varied. In his construction of the soundsculpture, Philip Samartzis has certainly allowed the street to find its own uses for things. It is a fascinating mix of topical (to do with driving), thematic (suggestive of the specific zones) and found, aleatoric sounds (shouts and cheering sampled from a football crowd).

Dodg’em is a fascinating work that extends an intriguing area of production in intermedia. It is also great fun. Keep an eye and ear out for when it is appearing in your town. Here comes the speedway. In colour!


Dodg’em, a driveable surround-sound space, Martine Corompt (concept, design & direction) & Philip Samartzis (soundscape), Gallery 101, Melbourne, June 24 - July 1 1999

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 17

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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