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Plump, LA10 Sydney Plump, LA10 Sydney
photo Kazumichi Grime
IT WAS SYDNEY LAPTOPPER ALEX WHITE WHO KICKED OFF THE FIRST CONCERT OF THE LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 10 PROGRAM AT CARRIAGEWORKS. HIS ARCHITECTURAL IMAGES WERE BUILT IN THE LISTENING SPACE FROM WHITE NOISE THAT ARRIVED, DISAPPEARED AND ACCUMULATED. IT WAS HARD TO LISTEN TO AT FIRST UNTIL HEARING ADJUSTED TO THE EMERGING SUBTLETIES WITHIN MULTIPLE SOUND-PIPES AND PULSES CROSSING TRAJECTORIES AND CAUSING A RUCKUS. VOLUME LEVELS WERE NOT HIGH BUT MY AUDITORY MEMBRANE STILL OSCILLATED WILDLY TO MAKE SENSE.

Surprisingly White had a couple of walk-outs but the work following him had most of us reaching for the ear plugs (supplied at the door) as West Australian musician Cat Hope alternately attacked and lulled the listener. Ear plugs were, however, no defence against an atmosphere pressurised and made tactile by imperceptibly low frequencies arising mysteriously from somewhere in the auditorium. Attuned perhaps to the ghosts of the funeral march Hope was interpreting, the body vibrated, depending on the particular frequencies she produced. These deep resonances were a long way from the silence notated (bars and staves only) by 19th century Chat Noir activist Alphonso Allais who inspired the work. He was long gone yet only traces of Hope’s physical presence were evident. Her apparition flickered across the video screen in indecipherably low-lit, live-feed images gradually providing clues to the nature of her concealment below the seating grid.

I found out later that we were hearing Hope’s bass guitar mediated by an array of effects and sub-woofer speakers. It was played variously by collisions with the seating superstructure or by simply coaxing sound out of it by more or less hitting parts of the instrument. This music was moving but not for the faint-hearted and many punters ran for it. The architecture felt the stress too with shockingly high pitched screams triggered in the lighting rig and mid-range metallic groans and murmurs vibrating in the seating structures. This Cat was playing the room, co-opting the building into her program and providing the most challenging work in this year’s Sydney concerts.

A little easier on the body was Bradbury. The image of a wax light was projected as beautiful bell sounds began the first of about nine pieces. Bradbury has a unique, recognizable style favouring short pieces and often re-moulding material into beats or reconfiguring field recordings into new contexts. One piece mixed a Jimmy Saville style TV shopping salesman and flat piano tones with delay drenched loops transforming from humour into a poignant statement about commercialism.

The clarity of Bradbury’s video projection was replaced for Thomas Köner’s piece by more obscured objects. It would take Imax technology for Koner’s projected images to successfully match up to the enormous spectrum of sound he created. The looped vision of a metro train journey and various ghostly humans superimposed onto similarly smeared locations became a puzzling distraction from the immersive engagement of his sound world. I greatly enjoyed the intriguing aestheticisation of the everyday via the overheard but indistinct human voices set amidst grand, airborne sonic gestures. At one point a passing jet seemed to have entered the space even though the expected decay of its passing was never realised.

Köner’s approach shared some aesthetic points with Asmus Tietchens who closed the Saturday concert. Tietchens as one of the innovators of electronic music in Germany has had an enormous influence on the form since the 1970s. He created a wonderland of sound, layering frequencies in a concerto supported by a riveting bottom end through to high-pitched ringing with occasional bursts from every register in between. Machinistic throbs were sunk into hypnotic ground and opposed by sudden fanfares which were then subsumed into the underlying pulses. The composition was very finely crafted, working with rhythmic oscillations and many unidentifiable and peculiar creations constantly reconstituted by Tietchens’ settings. Attention to detail was as delicate as the harpist’s stroke, one of the transitions dropping down into an almost inaudible range.

Unlike Tietchens and his colleagues of the men-at-tables ilk, Plump explored the sound qualities of a sculptural installation they had constructed over the five hours preceding Saturday night’s concert. It took up most of the performance area of the theatre. They played a surprisingly restrained set considering the scale of the instrument—a series of angular but asymmetrical suspensions of cable and scaffold-like aluminum. All this was complemented by a dozen or so randomly placed, mis-shapen light shades about the size of physio balls. Marc Rogerson controlled these from upstage by using hand-held arcing low-voltage contacts across a live power board. Philip Samartzis began with soft cricket whispers yielding eventually to many clangs and cries from Dave Brown’s bowing and tapping. Ringing, cello-like laments combined with electronic interpretations of sounds picked up from various contact points around the structure and processed by Samartzis. We could have been witnessing the capture of the musician by some terrible arachno-robotic figure as Brown provoked and stroked the beast variously by hammer and bow to produce ‘architectural’ music par excellence.

Opening the Saturday night concert alongside the imposing Plump sculpture, Somaya Langley was a diminutive figure in her suit of triggers and hanging projection surfaces. Her piece was, however, underwritten by some big ideas and the modulated swoosh and crash of her limbic sound-triggering produced some tasty sonic onomatopoeia.

Whirlpool (Chris Abrahams playing pedal harmonium and Kraig Grady on prepared vibraphone) followed Plump after the interval looking more austere but drawing from an enormous tonal pallette. Once acoustics had been contained by the ‘curtaining’ of the perimeter walls, the ringing began. Grady had repositioned the vibes’ metal bars unconventionally to create beautiful dissonances, enthralling beats and strange harmonies. They cut across and embedded themselves into the drones provided by Abrahams and it was hard to believe at times that they were both completely acoustic. Some of their discords struck disturbing resonances even in (or perhaps because of) the cavernous spaces of CarriageWorks. The piece was like an amalgam of gamelan with early Moog music as Abrahams demonstrated his penchant for extracting sonic modernity from pre-electronic keyboards.

Marc Gunderson, LA10 Sydney Marc Gunderson, LA10 Sydney
photo Kazumichi Grime
As compere Brent Clough noted, we were “sopping wet with sound” after these two concerts so it was hard to muster enthusiasm for DJ-driven music. But the 10th anniversary after-party at Hermann’s Bar (complete with a profiterole stack) also contained some unexpectedly exciting sound art. Best of these for me was Buttress O’Kneel (sic) who intervened with marvellous invention into some well-known pop using effects pedals to alter musical states in extreme ways. As ‘his’ androgynous mask and wig messed with our minds, his mix attacked Stairway to Heaven, the themes from Skippy and Sesame St not to mention the Australian national anthem—no cow was too sacred for deconstruction. This work would have easily fitted into the concert context—extraordinary found-sound noise art.

But it was the great humour of The Evolutionary Control Committee and the wonders of the “Vidimasher 3000” that rocked the room from the moment Mark Gunderson indicated that he had “got our attention.” He struck quite a figure with his Warholesque shock of peroxide hair and a goatee nearly reaching his sternum. Gunderson was attached to the Vidimasher 3000 via light triggers wired up to his fingers which controlled projected click buttons on a large canvas-like screen. In his capable hands this great showman DJ took us on an exciting journey via the most improbable combinations of songs. They were collapsed into Gunderson’s mixes in such a way that the uninitiated might assume them to be the originals: Led Zeppelin dueting with Hip-hop, La Belle with Dire Straits, Brittany Spears and Kermit the frog with the Jackson 5. All were twisted into a laudable and audible logic with other familiar beats and riff samples and subsumed into new creations with five or six layers of “copyright violations.” An exciting finish to a very sound weekend.


Liquid Architecture 10, Sydney directors Jennifer Teo, Shannon O’Neill, CarriageWorks, June 26, 27; Anniversary, Hermann’s Bar, Sydney University, June 27

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg. 48

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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