Stephen Jones: Machine for Making Sense, Silence is…

On with the headphones and hit full-screen, full volume. Recorded in 1994 and completed in 2008 — Stephen Jones writes of “a very long process of building a visual analogue of the musical performance” — Machine for Making Sense, Silence is… offers a very special visual and musical experience, and an historically valuable one, capturing Machine for Making Sense relatively early in a career which built an international reputation. It also reveals Jones’ innovative, poetic and playful responsiveness to a collective that famously explores “relations between linguistics, poetry, speech, music, and notions of sound, science and politics.”

I first saw the work (enigmatically prefaced with these words from Karl Marx, “Silence is therefore the only possible means of communication”) in a recent retrospective of the artist’s video works at Sydney’s SNO Gallery. I was immediately taken with the beautiful layering of the new music collective in performance with mutating, impressionistic images of city pedestrians and buildings, all of them radiating surging colours or immersed in reflected, fragmenting light or framed by cascading water — the flow of a fountain turned swirling, lyrical downpour. Then there was the finely recorded music, recalling numerous, deeply engaging performances by Machine for Making Sense in the 1990s and 2000s.

Several weeks before I’d seen the video, Jon Rose had submitted to RealTime his engrossing account of the career of Rik Rue, the sound artist (or collagist, as he prefers) in the Machine for Making Sense team. So, posting the video alongside Rose’s historically rich account seemed a synchronistic given.

Works in Jones’ SNO exhibition also include his ventures with other bands: SPK (Socialist Patients Collective) in 1981, when Jones had built his first video synthesiser, and the internationally renowned Severed Heads (with Tom Ellard and others). Jones writes, “We used video clips…instead of a light show, mixing the music and the images with live electronic sound and another layer of video synth, using my second video synthesiser and Tom Ellard’s graphics and animations made on the Amiga 1000” (Some Video Works by Stephen Jones, Catalogue, 2017).

Jones’ magical explorations of the potential of the medium in itself (the feedback generation of the remarkably organic Mandala [1998-2008]), his collaborations with dancers, including the haunting White Norse, Purple Dress (2008) with Elly Brickhill in which another self struggles out of her body, and Severed Heads’ creations, like A Million Angels (1986) with its ‘dancing’ evangelist, deservedly warrant an exhibition of greater scale and reach.   Keith Gallasch

Stephen Jones, Machine for Making Sense, Silence is …. voice and text Chris Mann, Amanda Stewart, digital & analog tape manipulations Rik Rue, wind instruments Jim Denley, hurdy gurdy, violin, voice, electronics Stevie Wishart, live audio production Julian Knowles, audio editing Jim Denley, Belinda Webster, 1994-2008     


Stephen Jones, SNO 123, Marrickville, Sydney, 13 May-4 June




13 June 2017