Don't go with the flow

Jonathan Marshall: Chases Through Non-Place

Melbourne is home to a healthy electro-acoustic movement drawing upon ‘glitch’ aesthetics in which various sonic ruptures mesh with dense nets of noise and stochastically rhythmical, airy hiss. Phil Brophy’s RMIT Media Arts course, the annual Cinesonic conference, the ((tRansMIT)) collective (hosting Liquid Architecture #2 this year) and the students’ recent Dorobo release Document 03: Diffuse (curated by Darrin Verhagen) have helped promote this sensibility.

During a discussion regarding the material featured on Diffuse, one artist suggested that when listening to such leftfield material it’s best advised to “go with the flow”; to let it just “wash over” you. Electro-acoustics asks auditors to question how to read these sounds; what are you listening for, what structures, and why? The May Australian Centre for Contemporary Art/Association Française d’Action Artistique showing Chases Through Non-Place provided a revealing cross-section of ways of dealing with this issue of sonic reference.

Proceedings opened with Michael Graeve’s experiment utilising aged stereos. Graeve scattered speakers from numerous op-shop turntables throughout the venue. The sounds of phonograph needles on naked turntables were amplified and distorted in a deliberately lo-fi fashion. Each unit was added and later subtracted from the mix separately, creating a dense crossroads of spatially distinct yet layered sounds within the venue. This produced a raw, semi-randomly distributed, dirty pulse—the sound of pure electricity or motors—engulfing the audience from multiple discreet sources. Graeve’s work harked back to earlier traditions of sonic terrorism, to Cage’s self-conscious games of chance or even more venerable ideas about electricity as pure, unadulterated spirit.

Graeve’s approach is refreshingly ‘old-skool’ compared to that of the Diffuse artists. The latter’s sparse, disconnected sounds make it difficult to distinguish their pieces from the noise of urban life and electronic mechanisms. At the Diffuse launch in RMIT’s Kaleide cinema, the audience was a model of respectful attention. Such a hushed, cinematic listening aesthetic implies that to confuse the external rumble of a passing tram with the controlled sonic environment inside would be an error. These noise-art recordings paradoxically operate best in the absence of actual noise.

Lazy however explicitly engage with noise, error and chance. Musicians Dave Brown and Sean Baxter extol improvisation as the key to dancing on the pin-head of self-indulgence, a complete lack of control, and masterfully uncontrolled music. Blending avant-jazz, anarcho-rock and sonic art, Lazy’s Alliance Française offering was an exercise in “microsonics.” Baxter and Brown come from too hardcore a heritage to perform quietly throughout. They nevertheless play on the rock temptation to indulge in continuous sonic explosions, setting this against breaking down ever smaller units of time, emotion, energy, structure, music and sound. Using electronica-activating guitar licks (Brown) and a very funny bag of naturally amplified percussive tricks (Baxter’s standard drum kit, metal fragments, sticks and a wonderfully squeaky chair), Lazy threaten to leave the audience either frustrated, over-stimulated, or satisfied by the impossibility of resolving such a resolutely chaotic/non-chaotic piece. In refusing both structure and anti-structure, Lazy render errors impossible.

Paris/Melbourne duo Battery Operated approach noise differently. The performers allude to architectural theories of the “non-place”: a standardised realm like the airport or 7-Eleven designed to facilitate maximum social and economic traffic. Battery Operated use the metaphor of the “chase” to dramatise the de-territorialisation of sound and space affected by such anonymous non-places. The central compositional structure is a stuttering, stumbling drum’n’bass beat, erratically shifting in tempo. The video projection moves from abstracted montages of bus stations, trains and footpaths to images of confusingly mobile architectural schemas which morph as the music shatters. Noise reasserts itself before one runs on again.

Chases Through Non-Place reaches equilibrium in a region beyond both social space and that of the disinterested travel facilitated by the non-place. You enter an environment of funnelling and extrusion, of multiple bleed-throughs between different sonic and architectural spaces. Anonymous muzak environments like the elevator are designed to normalise and contain human and economic traffic. Battery Operated however end with a profoundly disturbing sensorium of noise (disorganised sound and space) and spatio-sonic interpenetration (flow). The artists cinesonically depict the spatial violence the non-place effects, returning the local patois of noise and its disturbingly chaotic nature to our movement through social and sonic space.

Perhaps recordings, unlike performances, cannot fully engage with noise. Schooled in both punk anarchism and avant-garde reading strategies, I however do not wish to “go with the flow.” I revel in such structured noise which nevertheless exceeds our capacity to define or control it; not simply a flow, but an illimitable excess of ambivalent electro-acoustic significations.

Chases Through Non-Place, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art/Association Française d’Action Artistique, Alliance Fraçaise, Melbourne, May 11

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 42

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2001
Close

Join our e-dition list

Sign up for free online e-ditions offering occasional reviews and commentary and curated selections from and response to the RealTime archive 1994-2017.