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Totally Huge: knots and flames

Gail Priest

Nigel Helyer, Quint de Loupe Nigel Helyer, Quint de Loupe
photo Peter Ilari
Twist the sinews...

The 7th Totally Huge New Music Festival insinuated itself into Perth’s cultural life over 17 days with numerous concerts, a late night club (unfortunately in competition with the Artrage club), the inaugural Totally Huge Conference, a Ruined Piano Convergence and a major sound art exhibition, You are here...entangle. The exhibition coordinated by Kylie Ligertwood set out to explore how “sound entangles identity, locale, biology and memory” and featured work by both established and emerging West Australian artists Cat Hope, Rob Muir, Alan Lamb, Hannah Clemen, Kieran Stewart and frequent Perth visitor Nigel Helyer.

The highlight was Helyer’s Quint de Loupe—perspex squid like creatures that harbour theremin interfaces, squealing and whining in response to motion stimulus. Combining 2 versions of this work, the Ariel and Caliban’s Children series, the room is swarming so that on the crowded opening night the overstimulated delinquent biomorphs caterwaul hysterically. Returning for a second look on a quiet Saturday afternoon, this sensation of sentience is intensified as the sculptures hang, literally keening for attention like abandoned children. Like many of Helyer’s works Quint de Loupe satisfies in its integration of elements—the objects themselves are unique and slickly designed, their placement in the space considered, the cause and effect an easily negotiable and stimulating relationship.

Also visually arresting is Cat Hope’s Plug. A wig head block is mounted on a plinth, with tresses spilling down, some tortured into hair curlers; however these ebony locks are not made of hair but of everyday ear bud headphones and wires. Emanating from these tiny speakers is a 16 channel soundscape drawn from samples of haircutting—snipping and shearing. It is subtle—people assume they must listen to individual headphones, however the effect is made from the overall trebly soundscape emanating from the mass of tiny speakers, shifting across the web of tangles.

Taking a more lotech approach is Alan Lamb’s Four Bells—4 tractor wheel rims weighing 35 kilos suspended from the beams of the main room in a square formation. Visitors are invited to hit the objects with the rubber mallets supplied producing pure deep notes. Acting as an analogue surround system, the joy is to be found in hitting the “bells” (all roughly the same pitch) and moving around the inner circle to experience the airshifting beats of the clarion tones. Around the walls are unobtrusive poems evoking parallels between the joint entanglement of love and particle physics. The relationship between the poems and the bells is oblique but fleetingly sublime.

Kieran Stewart’s Lucid Harmony occupies its own room out the back of the Moores Building. Rafts of fishing net are strewn across the floor, swathes of red fabric draped from the rafters and old planks of wood define a path to the centre of the installation where you peer over a wooden box to glimpse a circular pan of salt. The drone scape not only fills the room but subtly sculpts the grains of salt into a circular pattern. The elements are all potentially interesting, however there’s a lack of cohesion, an awkwardness and self-consiousness in the spatial placement that fails to transport me.

Hannah Clemen is exploring interactivity through breath. Beneath, Becoming involves an empty chair with a seatbelt like apparatus and headphones. There are detailed instructions, taped down to a table on how to strap yourself into the artwork with breathing notes. While appreciating the concept of the feedback loop—the sound of calm breaths will make my breathing calm, which will in turn calm the machine breaths—I found the work problematic. The actual device has no aesthetic qualities; the spotlight on the chair in an empty room hardly conducive to the contemplative state required, the instructions too pernickety and hard to read if sitting in the chair, and the resultant experience too subtle to be rewarding. While the piece seems technically sound, more development of the total sensory experience would greatly benefit it.

Rob Muir’s Conning the Text is also interactive consisting of 4 mobile phones, housed in clear plastic megaphones. When the numbers are rung (provided on take-home business cards) the relevant phone responds—the ring tone consisting of a spoken wordscape recreating fragments of Edith Sitwell’s poem for the seminal performance Façade. A simple interface, used cleverly, particularly if you understand the relevance of the text, this work went some way towards allaying my scepticism about the faddishness of mobile phone art.

What the hand dare seize the fire...

The Ruined Piano Convergence also featured an exhibition component, the Ruined Piano Labyrinth in the PICA Gallery. Ross Bolleter, a long-time fetishist of the forgotten broken instrument, sent out a call for people to donate their old uprights which were distributed through the gallery with the accompanying stories of their demise. Most are still playable and visitors encouraged to tickle the chipped and cracked ivories. During the course of the festival there were also performances by Bolleter, Domenico de Clario and visiting Slovakian Michal Murin celebrating the considerable compositional potential of these nature-prepared instruments.

Annea Lockwood (NZ/UK), renowned for her “piano transplants,” was also a special guest of the Convergence providing a very public face for the festival by installing a baby grand on Bathers Beach in Fremantle. The piano in fact went missing, only to be found a few days later at a local backpackers where they we were trying to repair it! Lockwood also provided the highlight of the festival, recreating her Burning Piano performance. Despite the chattering crowd gathered in a paddock ready for a bonfire it was a beautiful meditative event, as the tongues of flame burning rainbow colours penetrated the instrument, skittering across the keys faster than fingers have ever managed, eating away at the backboard so that we could see through the body, until the unavoidable total collapse. A worthwhile sacrifice for art.

Totally Huge did indeed earn its moniker. The fragments I was able to experience suggested a mature and expansive new music festival with a distinct West Australian flavour... dust, salt, ash...and all manner of exciting sounds.

Totally Huge New Music Festival, Perth, Sept 30-Oct 16

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 15

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

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