Typhoon: fine tuned turbulence

Keith Gallasch sees sound art at Artspace

Lovely Midget, Haco, Gail Priest, Typhoon

Lovely Midget, Haco, Gail Priest, Typhoon

Lovely Midget, Haco, Gail Priest, Typhoon

A senior music reviewer once challenged my support for young artists and audiences with: “But how do you get them to listen?” To which I retorted,”Clearly you haven’t been to a sound art event. It’s like going to church, or a chamber music recital: heads down, eyes shut, ears open.” Artspace’s recent sound art program Typhoon, curated and hosted by caleb k, was played out across 2 nights of performances and an afternoon of talk, but with performative and visual components that added some intriguing cross-systems dynamics, especially for those who find laptop only concerts tedious.

Joyce Hinterding, large aerial hoops in hand, gathers and shapes found sounds from the aether with the appearance of someone in a slo-mo discombobulating wheel chair. Soft, shuffling static is interrupted by sharp cracks like ice breaking up, cross rhythm hums form as the hoops intersect, the pulse quickens and big Bach organ chords manifest out of nowhere, until the cracks and giant pops fade like a dying camp fire. It’s like watching a magician with wands, or at one point as an aerial was lifted aloft, a haloed nun at the steering wheel. The sounds are heavenly, in several senses of the word.

Fast Mountain Die’s instrumental set begins with bass strums and high overtones followed by a spastic bass outburst, a return to rhythmic security and some melodic simplicity on the way into a sound storm that finally winds down to a blinking aural signal and a thud before filling out with a final satisfying big chord, by which time the musicians have disappeared beneath the keyboard like preoccupied car mechanics.

Robin Fox’s inspiring performance was rapturously received. It’s like seeing what you hear, although not in any way illustrative as sounds and oscilloscope interplay, moving from slow visual and aural blips to staggeringly elaborate spirographic raptures, great oceanic washes, enveloping visual flashes and a final thudding withdrawal. Difficult to describe but utterly engrossing, Fox’s dancing lines and distinctive sonic compositions make for a unique experience in which the performer remains invisible while we focus on his virtual puppetry.

Japanese sound artist Haco’s visibility is key to her performance, her presence amplified by a large, live projection of her hands on her miked laptop computer as she wrings every possible sound out of its body. And what sounds! A few days ago I saw on television, in closeup, mikes and all, the first recording of the chatter of ants. Here too, Haco turns a microcosm into a consuming universe. Strange hums, crackles, grindings and savage downpours flood out as her fingers move across surface, depress keys and, especially, open files. The big moment comes with Force Quit which sounds like the universe diving into oblivion. After all that, a Restart reprise was less than interesting.

Stasis Duo have a performative look, cool and wearing shades, but stillness is everything and the frequently puncuated sound does the moving—static with a bank of pulsings; an isolated note that develops a curious sheen; a big hum that goes up a notch with all the rawness of insect buzzing; watery rushes; contrapuntal crankings and sweet statics; and finally, and at last really engaging, the evocation (not all intended I’m sure, but how do you speak of such things?) of a weird techno-mechanical contraption, clock-like with a stressed spring and dull chime, beating its way to the end of time, dying in a hum and leaving a watery residue.

New Zealand sound artist Lovely Midget commenced her laptop/keyboard composition with a bracing gong and feedback settling back into a big guitar chord. Hark the source! Taste the grape. Throughout, you were never in doubt that Midget was working acoustic guitar sounds from her sonic bank to the nth degree: solo strings, chord clusters and harmonics, until the whole thing mutated into a bristling electronic night forest, growing lyrical and slowing into a spacey fade, but forever accompanied by spooky, hovering feedback.

The eeriness often evoked by sound art reached a new level in Gail Priest’s conjuring of Gertrude Stein in a work in which the pouring and consumption of red wine (by Priest herself), the shifting levels of the liquid, and the playing of the rim of the glass, uncannily unleashed Stein’s voice along with the music of the vessel. The distinctive sound world passes through tick tocks and little crashes into deepening and ever more complex notes as the wine level drops; rhythms grow more complex and a host of wild sounds like spirits set loose tumble forth, until bluntly cut away to leave Stein reverberating into nothingness at the last drop.

Guitarist and singer Jojo Hiroshige from Japan displayed a pair of lightning fast hands that could chord, strum and thrash with the best of them, with a few unusual byproducts like searing siren and struka effects. Most listenable were the NY-type art-rock passages of strange chord patterning and half spoken singing. However the set was dominated by dramatic outpourings (attributed to love gone wrong, but untranslated) and a matching assault on the guitar with not a little feedback art: sound art as melodrama.

Typhoon offered aural delights and some visual and performative correlatives to an attentive, appreciative audience; this was not the church of the laptop, but an enjoyable, open-ended exploration of hybrid potentialities.

Typhoon, curator caleb.k, Artspace, Sydney, Oct 21-22

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 47

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

1 December 2005