sound art+/-performance

simon charles: liquid architecture 11, melbourne

Tin Rabbit’s Life Chance, Ros Bandt, part of Constellation: A Durational Chamber Work

Tin Rabbit’s Life Chance, Ros Bandt, part of Constellation: A Durational Chamber Work

Tin Rabbit’s Life Chance, Ros Bandt, part of Constellation: A Durational Chamber Work


Concert II was held at the 3RRR performance space, a new venue for Liquid Architecture. The studio is a Melbourne institution and an important platform for non-mainstream music and culture. In this concert, duo Lionel Marchetti (France) and Yoko Higashi (Japan) integrated sound art and performance in a most striking way. Producing various forms of feedback, covering extremities in volume and high and low frequencies, musique concrète composer Marchetti sustained an intense atmosphere.

In white body paint and wearing a kimono, Yoko Higashi accompanied Marchetti, performing Butoh inspired movement. Her dark demeanor and contorted gestures provided a backdrop to the centrally located Marchetti. These different modes of performance gradually became literally entangled as Higashi climbed onto the shoulders of Marchetti, who continued unperturbed as his role in the dramaturgy of the performance shifted.

Higashi also crossed over into the realm of sound art, picking up a microphone and speaking softly into it. Twirled around, it thumped loudly as it banged against her body. This wild and almost dangerous gesture complemented the dramatic and violent energy of the music beautifully. Overall, the theatricality and musical content of this performance worked together well to create a thrilling atmosphere.

Opening the program with a far more understated approach, Perth based ensemble Decibel performed three works by Alvin Lucier. Each of these explores the sonic possibilities created by sine tones as they come into physical contact with objects or sounds in space (see also RT97).

Performed by flautist and ensemble director Cat Hope, Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas requires the performer to play a series of sustained notes, moving in microtonal increments. In this extremely stark work the imperfections of the flute were exposed against the purity of two sine tones. However the essence of this piece is the way these frequencies clash in the space to cause ‘beating’ patterns. This created rich sonorities in the dry acoustic of 3RRR’s performance space.

The next work, Music for Snare Drum, Pure Wave Oscillator and One or More Reflective Surfaces, was an exercise in sympathetic resonance. As a sine tone gradually descended in pitch, the snares of a drum and the resonant frequency of the drum itself, were made to sound, causing a further range of sound complexes to occur and interact.

As in the opening work, in Lindsay Vickery’s performance of In Memoriam Jon Higgins a series of sustained tones on the clarinet were exposed against the comparative purity of the sine tone. The effect was accentuated further by what sounded like a small amount of spittle in Vickery’s throat or the mouthpiece.

The extreme starkness of these pieces invited a contemplative mode of listening. None evolved beyond very limited parameters, which were revealed in their entirety in the first few moments. Rather than articulating events over time, Lucier invites the audience to bear witness to acoustic phenomena. This was reflected in Decibel’s equally stark performance mode, in which the dramaturgy was inherent in the sounds themselves rather than the performers’ actions.

Following the restrictive conceptual scores of Lucier was a far more visceral and spontaneous approach to performance. 12 Dog Cycle, comprising Alice Hui-Sheng (Taiwan) and Nigel Brown (Australia), gave what felt to be a largely improvised performance. Using a piano accordion and effects processing to produce a texture of drones, Brown essentially provided a vehicle and framework for Hui-Sheng’s vocal performance. Hui-Sheng demonstrated a remarkable repertoire of extended techniques, moving between moments of intricate, breathy subtlety, to almost grating loud tremolos and shrieks.

A restrained approach to materials enabled this duo to build to passages of convincing intensity. In a performance which meticulously took its time to develop, these moments held the greatest impact.

Another event on Liquid Architecture’s program exploring an intersection between sound art and performance was Constellation: A Durational Chamber Work. Curated by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, this exhibition explored the notion of a musical work outside the confines of performance. Eleven composers were invited to submit works based on the theme of the Zodiac. The title refers not only to the Zodiac, but also to the way the eleven works co-existed in an interconnected web.

Empty seats and music stands were arranged around the gallery space, mostly in pairs upon small podiums. Each seat represented a composer and members of the audience were invited to sit, triggering a recording of the composer’s work. Accompanying each piece was an artifact. In many cases this was a notated score, however this was not necessarily the rule. Videos, installations and instruments were also used to create a physical presence for the musical work. Not only an exhibition, this event also featured daily performance “interruptions” in which all the works were heard.

One of the strengths of this exhibition is its representation of diverse composition practices. Ros Bandt’s Tin Rabbit’s Life Chance is a strikingly original work, blurring the line between artifact and performance. In this interactive sound installation the participant is instructed to put on white gloves and spin a top on a large metal plate. These actions are part of a small ritual, culminating in a back-flipping contest between three wind-up toy rabbits.

Rat Tea Ceremony by Anita Hustas is an improvised musical work with a theatrical framework. Musicians are invited to partake in a tea ceremony with fortune cookies. The message within the cookie is used as a catalyst for improvisation, providing a clear indication of how the piece will unfold dramatically, however they also reveal that the musical content is extremely variable. There is a recording of this work as part of the exhibition, however as the piece is to be performed by two, six or 10 players on any instrument they wish, this is only one rendition of a work that may take on vastly different guises.

Carolyn Connors’ work, RatOxTigerRabbitDragonSnakeHorseGoatMonkeyRoosterDogPig, also offers a framework for improvisation, in this case for two-12 performers. However, rather than being concerned with the creation of a theatrical setting, the signs of the Zodiac are used as a starting point for improvisation. Robin Fox’s Melanoma Study # 1, a framework for improvisation for EWI (electronic wind instrument) and any keyboard instrument, features a Max/MSP patch for the EWI and pitch modules to be performed on the keyboard instrument. In each of these works, it is interesting for the audience to become acquainted with aspects of the work that would normally only be revealed to the performer.

David Young’s Esaurita (Breakdown) also has aspects which are left to the performer’s discretion, however there is far greater detail in the work’s structure, an original form of notation using an old constellation map. Moving vertical lines on a video score indicate when performers are to play. Composed for flugelhorn and “slightly” prepared piano, the notation does not indicate exact pitch, however it does indicate the rhythmic placement of notes with even greater precision than traditional notation, making this work an extremely successful exercise in control and indeterminacy.

Although the works in Constellation were performed from time to time, aptly as “interruptions,” the exhibition successfully presented its commissioned compositions as artifacts which were encountered by the audience outside of the usual performance context.

Liquid Architecture 11, artistic director Nat Bates; Concert II, 3RRR, July 2; Constellation, a durational chamber work, curators Madeleine Flynn, Tim Humphrey; Red Gallery, Melbourne, July 1-17

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 47

© Simon Charles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 August 2010