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sonic insights

urszula dawkins: come hither noise

Elvis Richardson, still from TELEVISUALS: SALUTE ELVIS Elvis Richardson, still from TELEVISUALS: SALUTE ELVIS
image courtesy the artist & Hugo Michell Gallery
At Fremantle Arts Centre, Come Hither Noise invited multi-sensory reactions with sound, video and visual art from eight Australian and international artists, as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival. Aimed at creating aural, visual and spatial juxtapositions, Come Hither Noise encompassed music, new media, installation and a range of 2D and 3D forms.

Mark Brown’s Detritical SFPS deployed giant, antique fire extinguishers salvaged from the old South Fremantle Power Station, complemented by a speaker issuing distorted instructions for their operation and a screen displaying monochrome footage from the derelict site. The extinguishers, resonating to a tone set by Brown, sang like hot water pipes while flakes of old paint danced on the distorting speaker. Brown is interested in sites of decay and ruin, and his “spatial-sonic atmosphere” suggested the monumental qualities of the defunct building. The occasional intrusion of mysterious piano tinklings—actually emanating from a different work in the same room—inadvertently hinted at nostalgia and drew attention to the musicality of Brown’s sounds.

Sound crossover was sometimes problematic, and most so for Sriwhana Spong: the afore-mentioned piano sounds formed part of Spong’s The Birds, an experimental collaboration in which a photograph inspired a 21-second music piece by Godfrey de Grut, in turn inspiring a collage by Simon Oosterdijk and Kelvin Soh. Here, the three elements seemed not so much to cohere as to be linked by theme and process.

Playful, cohesive and illuminating, Ross Manning’s two works gave differing insights into relationships between sound and movement. In Dissonant Rhythm a length of plastic clothes-line strung between electric fan motors was set into spinning motion by viewer movement. The resulting standing wave patterns struck intermittently at sets of PVC-coated wire prongs, mounted like improvised, giant kalimbas on the wall. Chaotic by comparison, his Alpha Waves was a fascinating jumble of cables, sensors, cardboard vanes, gaffer tape and fans that created moving, pulsing relationships tied to a phasing bass drone.
John Conomos, still from Lake George (After Mark Rothko) John Conomos, still from Lake George (After Mark Rothko)
image courtesy the artist & Roslyn Oxley Gallery

John Conomos’ Lake George (after Mark Rothko) was one of a number of works that suggested the resonance of sound and sight in the landscape. Featuring a slowed-down soundtrack of moving vehicles, wind and water, the slow-panning video of Canberra’s Lake George was a shifting blur of colours, resembling a Rothko canvas. A “tribute to the long take”, it evoked an eerie, mysterious landscape, and the soundtrack made passing cars and trains integral to, rather than imposed on, this coloured, moving world.

Inspired both by obsolete and new technologies, Elvis Richardson’s hand-drawn animations and ‘copyright free’ soundtrack combined in a small-screen exploration of the old-fashioned TV test pattern, TELEVISUALS: SALUTE ELVIS. Richardson’s work was mesmerising in the way that bad ads are. Over the changing coloured squares and lines, pointed anagrams of the work’s title popped up—VISUAL SLEET, STEAL US LIVE, IT VALUELESS and many others. It was worth tolerating the collaged, Looney-Toons-meets-talkback soundtrack in order to see what clever word play would appear next.
Thomas Meadowcroft, Monaro Eden Thomas Meadowcroft, Monaro Eden
image courtesy the artist

Berlin-based Thomas Meadowcroft’s soundscape Monaro Eden consisted of recordings from both inside and outside a V2 Monaro engine. The subtle, surround-sound work generated a sense of the car’s hum through a landscape as well as its internal rhythm. Somewhere amid tonal variations and harmonics—which visitors adjusted using foot pedals—strains of violin seemed to impinge. Whether this was part of the work is unclear, but certainly the MGM fanfare belonged to the adjacent TELEVISUALS, not Meadowcroft’s homage to Holden’s classic car.

For the four-minute video, Twist, Sam Smith combined sampled filmed landscapes with a wistful soundtrack, more musical accompaniment than aural plane. Tins of ‘green screen’ paint revolved like cheap-advert invitations or alien spaceships. The work playfully deconstructed the artifice of screen technologies, but the mood was less of parody than melancholy; its deliberate clunkiness seeming to reinforce a poignant lament for lost technological innocence.
Sam Smith, Twist Sam Smith, Twist
image courtesy the artist

An archival hospital image and wall-mounted statement stood in for Richard Crow’s Imaginary Hospital Radio, available online at ABC Classic FM, in which synthesised crackles and rumbles morph into cheery birds, soft voices and weird machine sounds. Footsteps, clicks and rattles evoke trolleys rumbling down long corridors; the changing arrays of precise, analogue sounds subverting the notion of ‘hospital radio’ designed to keep patients ‘happy’.

The works of Come Hither Noise, diverse in approach and impetus, together provided a substantial survey of current sound/visual art from Australia and beyond. Subtle linkages became apparent: the landscapes evoked by Conomos, Meadowcroft, Smith and arguably Brown; the music-like elements from Smith, Spong, Crow and Manning. More than a listening exercise, the exhibition combined subtlety and playfulness, displaying a unifying concern with aesthetic balance over dissonance. It also issued an invitation to think, integrating sound firmly into the ‘art’ experience and engaging the intellect through the under-used medium of the ears.

Come Hither Noise—an exhibition of sound works, artists Mark Brown (Aus), John Conomos (Aus), Richard Crow (UK), Ross Manning (Aus), Thomas Meadowcroft (Aus/Germany), Elvis Richardson (Aus), Sam Smith (Aus), Sriwhana Spong (New Zealand), curator Jasmin Stephens, Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, Aug 1-Sept 20

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg.

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

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