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Liquid Architecture 6: celebrating sound

Gail Priest

Beta Erko Beta Erko
photo Renae Mason
While it has been consistently growing over the last 6 years, taking in Brisbane and associated events in Sydney, it was clear this year that Liquid Architecture 6 had pulled out all stops with a massive program of concerts, screenings, installations, workshops and talks spanning 14 days in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns and Canberra. Ramping up the publicity there were regular email updates, major media interest and even a give-away CD in Wire, that elicited in many of us a twinge of Australian soundculture patriotism. Liquid Architecture did hype—and from what I experienced of the Melbourne and Sydney events, lived up to it.

Director Nat Bates describes Liquid Architecture as a “sense-specific” rather than a genre-based festival. This distinction allowed for dynamic and eclectic programming.

There were 3 main concerts in Melbourne, 2 at the North Melbourne Town Hall and a party-based gig at the Public Office. The opening night concert set the tone for some variegated programming, with 7 acts approaching sound and music making from very different perspectives. Scott d. Cotterill (Tasmania) opened the evening with a gentle guitar and laptop set which straddled textural and melodic explorations and augmentations, tones lingering, looping and distorting to build up the body of sound. Antediluvian Rocking Horse (Victoria), a DJ outfit, collaged their record collection, moving between exercises in ambient soundscaping and tune spinning. Alex White (NSW) gave us fat oscillations, tweaking and shaping, growing them into multilayered fabrics of pulsing noise. Clinton Green/Undecisive God (Victoria) looped his guitar manipulations, sometimes losing himself, resulting in a predictable delay effect, but sometimes pulling all the elements together to create a wall of highly detailed timbral play. Will Guthrie (Victoria/France) played all manner of objects—striking, tocking, thwacking and vibrating them to bring out their secret rhythms and resonances, which he then deftly shaped into a considered composition, covering the spectrum of frequencies, density and space. And that was only the first half!

The second half of the concert was broadcast live on ABC Classic FM, which created a slightly disturbing disembodying effect—the focus shifting from an experience to be shared by live bodies in a room, to one projected onto an anonymous other, with slightly more conservative tastes. DJ Olive (US) opened, revealing infinite potential for the turntable as instrument. Olive collaged snippets of vocal text, some garbled, some George Bush, his whole body engaged in the process of spinning, holding, carving the rhythm of the voices. His skill is so refined he can catch a breath, reverse it, catch it again. Moving from the turntables to a computer he flooded the space with a dreamy fullbodied wash of warm tones. The sense of composition was strong in this improvised work and the political narrative added satisfying gravitas.

The final act was Essendon Airport, (David Chesworth, Robert Goode and Graham Lee). An interesting inclusion, the ensemble played selections from their re-released recording from 1979 Sonic Investigations of the Trivial. These compositions are keyboard centred melodic minimalism augmented by electric and lap steel slide guitar. Although this offered good contrast, and a relieving simplicity, neatly divided into songs, the fact that it was programmed at midnight and the seventh act for the evening, made it challenging for both performers and audience. Perhaps the live broadcast placed too many restrictions on content and timing that actually impinged on the overall event.

The highlight of the Melbourne program was the audiovisual performance by Wet Gate—a San Francisco trio of filmmakers/sound artists who use 16mm film loops to create both visual and sonic material. The 3 stand in front of the audience and ‘play’ the projectors, threading and discarding film, raising telescopic hooks to accommodate the loops. Moving the image around from small framed screen to large cyclorama, they blurred, colourised and shattered images with filters and mirrors held in front of the lens. The content is mainly drawn from old educational films along with techniques such as drawing, rubbing and scratching the surface of film (including the optical sound strip) so that both image and sound is generated by the resulting pattern. The audio is also manipulated subtly using samplers while keeping the loops as the focus of the composition. (Several people suggested that Wet Gate and Sydney’s Loop Orchestra would make a great double-bill.) The found footage collage aesthetic can so easily degenerate into shallow irony, but in manipulating the relationship between sound and image, their synchronicities and slippages, Wet Gate transcends content to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

The Sunday evening performance at the North Melbourne Town Hall was presented in impressive 16 speaker surround, with the performers in the middle of the space and the audience divided into 2 blocks facing each other. James Hullick presented a composition for various instruments, vocalists and soundscape. The piece had a radiophonic feel, as acoustic instrumental explorations skittered around the room, accompanied by barely discernible voices, snippets of text floating to the surface above surging field recording atmospherics. This nicely crafted and spatialised piece took on an even more impressive dimension, when at the conclusion the stage curtain opened to reveal the musicians and actors who had in fact been performing live.

Alan Lamb played a particularly imposing work, based on his investigations with long string instruments and wind organs creating sheering crescendos and shifts of thick, heavy noises and soul shaking bass. The gloriously rich bridge recordings of Jodi Rose were also well suited to the grandeur of the sound system, her spatialisation indicating the exciting potential for multispeaker presentation of this material. Particularly impressive was Slap Shot, a pre-recorded work by Eric La Casa and Jean Luc Guionnet (France) ‘diffused’ through the space in collaboration with Philip Samartzis. Based on field recordings of an ice hockey game, there was an interesting separation and reintegration of sonority and source material through the work—moments where sound was purely sound—just texture and movement loosened from its meaning. The spatialisation was incredible with waves catapulting across the room, horizontal sheets of audio descending upon, washing through you. The improvised final work was not quite as impressive, perhaps because once again, it came at the end of a long program, but also as the trio never seemed to quite establish a relationship.

In order to mobilise nationally Liquid Architecture works closely with promoters in each city. For the last 3 years the Brisbane leg has been organised in collaboration with room40/Lawrence English. In 2005, after a few years of associated events with, Liquid Architecture 6 formed a firm partnership with Alias Frequencies (Shannon O’Neill and Ben Byrne) and Performance Space to bring an impressive program to Sydney.

Taking a slightly different approach to the eclectic programming, each night in Sydney had a different focus. The opening night was noise-based madness, the second had a calmer, deep listening focus and the third concentrated on the much maligned beat. The diversity of acts programmed within these thematics attracted different, perhaps new audiences, particularly the beat night featuring the international pop and techno artists TBA and Thomas Brinkman.

A real highlight was Thembi Soddell (Victoria). Her sound is like sand—seemingly one mass, one colour, but actually made of thousands of particles constantly shifting to form new temporal landscapes. Playing from behind the audience, her work is immersive and her acute control of dynamics, like hitting turbulence, creates not just dramatic tension, but also an uneasy sensation of loss. Also on the same evening Rik Rue and Julian Knowles brought out their Social Interior collaboration (after an 8 year break) to present a shimmering set of manipulated field recordings. Like La Casa & Guionnet, the everyday sounds floated into conscious recognition then played themselves out of naming, accompanied by some beautifully tempered video work. The vision was perfectly pitched for simplicity and rhythmic cohesion, so rather than distracting from the sound or adding another layer, it simply resonated with it.

The ultimate act that had the crowd vibrating with anticipation was the debut performance of Beta Erko. This supergroup of sound art includes Martin Ng on turntable destruction, Robin Fox on digital evisceration, Anthony Pateras on mixing desk, voice spasms and more, and MC Vulk Makedonski from the hip hop phenomenon Curse Ov Dialect on trilingual alien channelling. Together they created the most spectacularly invigorating noise onslaught I’ve ever heard (noise not generally my genre). Each artist was so adept at the detail of their destructiveness that the combined energy of the group literally blew a light and set off the fire alarm. Hopefully the evil posse will find time amongst their other sonic pursuits to reprise this astounding combo.

In both Melbourne and Sydney there were also audio visual screenings and artists talks (with disappointing attendance in Melbourne perhaps due to weekend daytime programming) and, in Melbourne an exhibition component including the results of a residency by French guest La Casa and Guionett, and a new mobile phone installation by WA artists Cat Hope and Rob Muir. Add to this all the other interstate events and it is clear that Liquid Architecture 6 is now a true celebration of the aural sense, with a fearless drive and ambition, aiming to shift expectations, challenge and develop audiences and to take the idea of a soundart festival to the next level (perhaps like Mutek and early Sonars). We can only hope that the funding climate warms to allow this scale and approach to be maintained.

Liquid Architecture 6, artistic director Nat Bates, Sydney co-directors Ben Byrne & Shannon O’Neill; Melbourne July 1-7, Sydney July 13-16

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 49

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

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