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REV: a new, new music festival


Planned as a recurring event, REV is the kind of festival that could generate triennial pilgrimages to Brisbane’s Powerhouse from across Australia and around the world, so unique is its offering. Sound culture, in its many but often overlapping manifestations in Australia, has a substantial but mostly un-sung history, very few public venues, a smattering of dedicated radio programs, the occasional publication and a several key festivals we can’t live without—What is Music (Sydney & Melbourne), Totally Huge (Perth) and the sound wing of Newcastle’s This is not art. A new festival that expands the sound culture audience and offers a very particular way of looking at and listening to music is really welcome. Increasingly electronica, impro, electro-acoustic, dj-ing, computer music, various forms of jazz, audio art and sound installations have their own passionate makers and audiences but vie for attention in the public arena. REV will make its mark by offering a significant focus to this burgeoning sonic activity, describing itself as “a festival of sound/installation artists and musical instrument makers that crosses all sound spectrums: real, electronic and virtual.” As the organisers put it, even more specifically: “The festival will celebrate the work of contemporary artists who have moved beyond the physical limitations of traditional instruments to explore new sounds from new sources in their music making, redefining the parameters of what is considered a musical instrument.”

The 3-day festival has been developed by the Powerhouse in partnership with the QUT (Queensland University of Technology) School of Music (the title REV the same as that of their unique graduate music course). The Artistic Director is esteemed instrument-maker, composer and player Linsey Pollak and the Executive Producer is new music advocate and curator Fiona Allan. Pollak’s instrument-making skills and musical inventiveness have led him to use digital technology in developing live shows including his 20 Sets of Headphones and for children Out of the Frying Pan. His most recent production is The Art of Food. Pollak has toured extensively nationally and internationally showcasing Australian instrument-making ingenuity.

To assure itself international footing and to loop Australian sound artists into a larger dialogue, the festival has invited some major figures to play, talk and collaborate—acclaimed UK writer, musician and composer David Toop, seminal US instrument inventor Bart Hopkin and radical UK sound artist, scanner,.who already has a strong following from previous Australian visits. Toop recently curated the Sonic Boom exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, and is a well-known contributor to The Wire magazine. Hopkin is the founder of Experimental Musical Instruments website and journal and produces an annual CD of music created by new instrumental sound sources. Australian composers and sound artists participating in REV include Graeme Leak (on the cover of this edition), Peter Biffen, Mark Cain and Lee Buddle, Lawrence English and Jon Rose.

Sydney-based Allan has been at work on the festival since last August, travelling once a month to Brisbane to work with Pollak (whom she praises as incredibly well-organised) on programming, funding submissions, fundraising and engaging artists from all states of Australia as well as guests from the US, UK and New Zealand. Although a little smaller than intended, given funding limitations, the final program that Allen describes comprises “3 immersive days packed with musical action and dialogue and with the support of the Australia Council, Arts Queensland and the British Council investing in a new concept.” As for audiences, Allan says that lots of the events will be free, encouraging the curious to seriously sample interactive installations. Performances take place at all times of the day and into the early hours throughout the building’s theatre and other spaces.

Between 10am-5pm, some 15-18 interactive installations will be staffed by either the artists themselves, when available, or especially briefed QUT students who will demonstrate, talk about and encourage engagement with the pieces. This seems an excellent idea when you think of the number of new media exhibitions in art galleries where an unguided, puzzled and often irritated audience easily loses its way with new technology. From 5-7pm the artists, like Melbourne’s David Murphy, creator of a percussive circular harp, will play these instruments in concert.

Workshops and presentations will be available in the middle of the day. On the Friday, Toop will talk about the ‘sound body’—his personal relationship to sound technology and music making. A little later there’ll be a presentation from Bart Hopkin. On Saturday New Zealander Phil Dadson will speak and on Sunday scanner and Toop will do a joint presentation.

The group Hubbub Music, from Queensland’s South Coast, will install their awesome Fire Organ outside the Powerhouse. Allan says, “it’s at least 2 storeys high and the flames positioned under the pipes cause [the] resonance” that makes it play. Like the daytime viewing of the interactive installations this is a free event at 7pm.

Also in the evenings at 7pm there’s what Allan calls, for want of a better term, a “roving concert” with an MC for up to 80 people for 90 minutes moving throughout the Powerhouse. It will include, Graeme Leak and participants working with 80 Federation Handbells, Sarah Hopkins on various “whirly” creations and, at the river’s edge, Pollak and ensemble performing with ultraviolet light poles in water.

At 8.30pm in the Powerhouse and the Visy Theatres there’ll be a variety of performances: Leak with a retrospective of his instrument-making, including his percussive briefcase, and Queensland group Unaccompanied Baggage wearing body sensors (also sensitive to nearby audience movement) that trigger synthesizers. From 10pm-1am on Friday and Saturday there’ll be dj-ing in the Spark bar with contributions from scanner and Toop with leading local artists. These sessions are free if you’re already a REV ticket purchaser or cost a mere $5.

Allan says there are “plenty of other layers to REV.” One she is particularly taken with is the 45 minute silent movie (title yet to be announced) that will be screened 7 times in the Powerhouse Theatre, each time interpreted and improvised to by different REV artists. As well, there will be roving performers working the building during the day—Allan is hoping for a family audience that will come to see the interactives and these informal performances. She also points to the importance of the partnership with QUT. Not only will students from the graduate instrument-making REV course act as guides to the interactive installations, but some 5 of those will be their own creations.”

REV is full of promise, a unique, focussed, 3-day new music, live-in festival that can only do good for Australia’s burgeoning sound culture. As with the Queensland Biennial Festival of Music (July 2001, also centred at the Powerhouse), Queensland is again proving a haven for new music.

REV, Artistic Director Linsey Pollak, Executive Producer Fiona Allan, Brisbane Powerhouse, April 5-7

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 31

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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