New media, Newcastle Electrofringe

Keith Gallasch

Light Surgeons

Light Surgeons

Newcastle’s This Is Not Art festival grows in scale and reputation by the year and so does its new media-driven Electrofringe, now in its 5th year. The list of artists, workshop directors and panel participants is phenomenal and almost belies its ‘fringe’ title in sheer numbers and in the presence of many well-known practitioners side by side with seasoned rebels and activists.

“Everybody is part of a workshop or a session, it’s not just a party”, says coordinator Joni Taylor, “and the parties are where the performances mainly happen. For example, the Lalila group will work with 20 volunteers with cameras filming a car chase and will mix it live Saturday night at the Cambridge Hotel.”

Taylor is Electrofringe festival coordinator with Shannon O’Neill. Her first experience of the event was “as a punter and, seeing it as one of the most interesting things around, I’ve been involved ever since, first as a journalist covering it for publications and websites and then last year as an organiser.”

Taylor explains how it works: “This Is Not Art (TINA) is organised by Newcastle’s Octapod, which started out as a small volunteer-run community organisation, basically a hub for the local community. The TINA team organises all the festivals that are under its broader umbrella. Each festival has one to 2 managers. This is growing: Sound Summit last year had managers and state representatives who helped them to get people from different cities, and we did that this year too. The festival’s got such a good spirit that people want to come, to support it and help with PR. Each festival deals with its own funding, publicity and selection of guests but in the end it’s one big festival.

“This Is Not Art is triennially funded by the Newcastle City Council and that goes towards venues, printing the program, small administrative logistics. Each of the festivals deals with their own technical requirements, grant applications, begging, bribing…We got increased support this year from the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council, as well as funding from the Australian Film Commission’s Interactive Media Fund and FTO (NSW Film & Television Office). We’ve got no commercial sponsorship, it’s not something that quite suits the festival. It’s always had an energy about it that it’s not owned by anyone, it doesn’t have a lot of ‘branding’. We get in-kind support from local webservers who give us broadband access which is really important for our kind of festival. Metro Screen have been great too.

“Audiences have definitely been growing, and the number of different groups coming as well. When it started it was mainly underground writers and zine makers, and then the media aspect grew and that crossed over into Electrofringe and then with Sound Summit coming on board there were a lot of electronic music industry representatives and record labels. They naturally bring another huge audience just wanting to hear good music that wouldn’t be exposed anywhere else because it’s not particularly commercial. The past few years there’s been a big focus on parties at night that showcase electronic music. That brings in a whole group who wouldn’t necessarily think of going to a workshop on the possibilities of DVD surround sound, but might be there to see a great UK live electronic act, walk into a workshop and then think ‘wow!’.

“Some of the best things that happen at this festival, and I’ve seen it, are the collaborations that occur within those 5 days. People who met last year from electronic music or developing software are getting together this year to do something, producing side events. Because it is national there are some people organising events in their own city who say to people they meet, why don’t you come to my festival in Perth.

Nick Ritar and Sean Healy co-founded Electrofringe, genius, guys, a really great chance to get their friends into one place, with video, VJ-ing, sharing their knowledge. This year, for the first time, we put out a call for applications internationally and I went overseas to see work: Shannon’s house is covered with tapes and CDs.

“John Dekron will be here from Germany as well as locals like Wade Marynowsky and Lalila, who are all working in similar ways, developing video software for editing. They can improve on existing software and work with open source software as well. It’s like having a whole lot of young inventors getting together.

“I met Dekron in Berlin. He’s one of the leading video performers there (www.thisserver.de). In everything, from small underground events to really big scale Love Parade street parties, it’s the way he works with the footage to create tremendous environments. His software is amazing. He’s not like the Light Surgeons [UK, also coming] who are quite content-oriented, Dekron’s coming to share his skills with the workshop.”

Here’s how Dekron’s video masterclass is described in the Electrofringe online program: “The workshop will enlighten the way object oriented programming with Max and nato works. We will build an application that allows (you) to play back digital video material from the hard disk and output it with an attached DV camera. In the end we will be able to select clips with the number buttons, scratch the material using the keyboard (maybe the arrow buttons), adjust the playback speed and whatever comes into our mind. The developed patch will be turned into a standalone application and provided as freeware.”

Dekron writes on his website: “If the pictures react to the sound, an unsolvable (sic) symbiosis is developed which produces a new reality. Dancing figures transform into graphic items; music, images and dance become one. With the latest generation of computers realtime manipulation of videostreams is possible and offer the VJ complex control of the images.”

Taylor describes Light Surgeons (UK) as “a collective of designers, film makers and musicians who work with a variety of film, video, slides, spoken word, narratives. Their Chimera Project is based in 5 to 6 cities in collaboration with artists there producing large scale, beautiful live video performance—and no clichés. They’ll be on at the big Saturday night party. Their staging requirements are huge, with layers of gauze in front and behind. They stand in the middle working with shadows and projections…images come flying at you.”

The Light Surgeons have provided creative production and toured internationally with live music acts such as the Propeller heads, Cornershop, DJ Food and Unkle and have worked with many ground-breaking independent record labels and artists. They describe their work thus: “The material is mixed live on stage and forms an exploded, expressionistic documentary which crosses road movie with social political essay.”

Another guest, V/VM, also from the UK, “is infamous in the plagiarising, anti-copyright and cover band scene. He’s been around a lot longer than any of this ‘bastard pop’ started. He does a whole range of covers and makes them sound ugly and disturbing and he’s got a really great attitude. There’s lots of excitement about him coming. The way he works and mixes and edits is a good example of how technology works in popular culture and doesn’t fit into galleries or commercial music scenes.

“This year there’s quite a big computer game component, gam3_art, not specifically about computer games but the people who are using the same technology in their art and asking what’s a game and what is art anyway. They’ve grown up with that technology and don’t like commercial games because they’re boring and supported by big companies. So they create their own and question the whole corporate media thing.”

An enormous number of Australian artists will participate in Electrofringe’s workshops and panel sessions and performances. The program also includes a session on DIY social centres, looking at how to establish accessible community-oriented music, art and media spaces. This session involves SpaceStation, Spin N Jam, Midnight Star Squatted Social Centre, Mutagen and Turella. Taylor says these centres “use new media to set up and to claim space.”

There are many screenings of local and international video, including the all digital special Independent Exposure 2 from San Francisco, and the Mediateche showcasing of recent work by both local and international online artists. Laptop Cinema is Archimedia’s workshop/screening on the small screen. “Utilizing laptops to transform any room, dinner table, or bus ride into a microcinema, this workshop looks at the possibilities of the small screen space and guerrilla-style cinema when combined with digital media.”

There are some distinctly intriguing workshops including MELDart I [elektroXwerkshop] in which collaborations will link artists across genres. “Spoken word artists and electronic artists will thrash it out to create new works in the lead up to the elektroXwerd performance event.” DVD do’s and don’ts will show you “how to unlock the creative potentials of the DVD format for filmmakers, surround surgeons and pixel pushers.” What to make of Infinity Box Presentation? “The Infinity Box uses the relaxing FLURO FLUFFY CHAIR as its interface and is a totally self contained video instrument with its own internal rhythm generators.” Yes please.

RealTime reports from Electrofringe in RT 52.

Electrofringe is part of This Is Not Art which also includes Sound Summit, National Young Writers Festival, National Student Media Conference, Independent Radio Conference, Pacific Indymedia Conference and New Media: Critical Approaches. Newcastle, Oct 2-7 2002. www.electrofringe.net; www.thisisnotart.org

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 16

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002