NEWS FROM THE LIQUID ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL
Thursday night at a secret location a cabal met and plotted dominion over humanity. To keep out interlopers the panel was heavily advertised as a discussion on the Sustainability of Sound Arts In Australia. This meant the only people there were from arts funding bodies or those that admire arts funding bodies, or just funds in general.
And me. I was there as a spy, cleverly disguised in dayglow orange Kunst Kamp jacket, hat and matching bum flap. Hidden away up in the corner I was inconspicuous to the sinister crowd, and could hardly hear a damn word.
The meeting started by questioning what was meant by ‘sustainability’. This sustained for quite a while. I was more curious about what was meant by ‘Sound Arts’. Is that like Painting Arts? Or maybe Photography Arts? Could you have the Sound without the Arts and would you get a discount? If I put on a gig with Pansonic that’s Sound Arts but presumably a gig with the ex members of Sherbert isn’t. But what if they jammed together on stage? Would that be half Sound Arts? These questions swept through my mind as the mumbling went on.
Pretty much everybody on the panel was a festival organiser. They decided that festivals should get more money, which seemed to cheer everybody up until they were reminded that there wasn’t any more to hand out and everyone was sad again. One person thought it would be a great idea if there were many more festivals until reminded that then everyone would get less share and then everybody held their tongue for a while because saying there should be less festivals would have led to mud wrestling.
Then it was asked whether an audience mattered. That is, if no one showed up, would it still be a successful festival? Some decided that they didn’t want to have an audience judge the quality of the work. Having no one show up seemed a great way to assure that. The man from the funding body looked a bit cross and everybody quickly decided that an audience was probably an important metric of a live performance.
At one point it was decided that if there was no more money handed out then Sound Arts would keep going whereas the Australian Opera would probably collapse and everybody was happy and shook hands because they hated the Australian Opera. But it was a good point and pretty much solved the whole discussion, because there’s strength in being down the bottom – you can’t go any lower.
I wondered why Sound Artists didn’t do some Sound without Art every now and then. That way they could bank some money. I do that, but I got the feeling that if I asked that aloud it would be like Eyes Wide Shut and they would gang up on me. One person asked why Sound Artists couldn’t get paid a wage to do Art, like Scientists get paid to invent things. That made somebody else worry that then they would have to have research outputs and all that. As somebody in that situation I could certainly empathise … that they should all have to do it.
Later I wanted to show a man from the funding body some art, but he was not interested by the rock guitar app on my iPhone. “I don’t want to see your iPhone!”, he complained.
My masters picked me up in a black helicopter and asked what I had learned. I said, ‘Masters, they are harmless. They talk of habits and traditions and not of potentials. They squabble and intrigue. And they are not interested in the most popular venue for music distribution and creation in the world at the moment. Do not kill them’. My masters were pleased and gave me a dog biscuit.
THE FIRST CONCERT
On Friday night I went to the first concert at the Carriageworks, also known as Der Fuhrer Kunstbunker (no relation). Last time I went to this show I kept walking out, but I thought poorly of myself afterwards and vowed not to miss any of it. To save the reader some time I’d like to provide a neologism – ‘squoonsch’ – which means to run noise through a low pass filter and reverb causing a loud deep rumbling sound like a train passing or an elephant farting.
The first act started by fading up some squoonsch mixed with tinnitus, and slowly adding more squoonsch over the top until there was a lot of it. I didn’t mind this bit and shut my eyes and napped as the hall was dark. He faded out the tinnitus but seemed perplexed what to do next, and played a little melody over the top which became noticeably ineffectual and petered out, embarrasingly. Then the squoonsch went on presumably while he waited for half an hour to pass, at which point he faded it out.
What I learned: when in doubt add squoonsch.
The second act combined two hoary chestnuts of Time Based Art. Firstly a video of somebody waving a camera around trying to find something (anything) to focus in a dark room, which turned out to be the performer’s foot. Secondly the amazing fact that if you point a bass guitar at an amplifier it will feed back, and that you can use foot pedals to change the sound. The sound will however mostly be loud annoying sinusoidal drones that make the speakers go fluffy. Within ten seconds of it starting I knew exactly what was going to happen for the next 30 -40 minutes and consider this to be the LEAST experimental work I’ve ever dutifully endured.
What I learned: nothing.
Next was Bradbury. I was pleased to see that he had fallen into the trap of making numerous small pieces, a mistake I’d made when I did this a while ago. Sound Art always should be a continuous droning noise or people get antsy. Anyway, it shouldn’t be any suprise that he was the best thing on because:
* The music was generous – it was obviously made to please the listeners. When it was challenging it was an invitation, not a threat.
* The music changed type and texture – it was not one idea spread thinly. There were drones but much more than drones. Clicks, pops and thuds as well.
* It was his music – Bradbury sounded like Bradbury. I thought this was the whole point.
* It had good humour – even when not funny it was ticklish.
The music sounded like people opening champagne bottles in time with a Malaysian shortwave orchestra. The video was a lava lamp, although it did look a hell of a lot like semen.
What I learned: to continue to make ‘music’.
Last up was a German fellow, because the Goethe Institute sure seems able to pay for stuff. He was making a soundtrack for an unseen film, something a lot of sound students do because you can get a bunch of location recordings and play dramatic music underneath which hides your music inside Sound Art. Anyway his location recordings were pretty good and the film music was alright so I settled back into my snooze for a while. But on peeping I found he’d started showing video.
Now once you’re showing video you’re no longer doing the ‘unseen film’ – you’re bound by the same rules as any other soundtrack maker – relevance/resonance with the screened image. There wasn’t much. On screen we arrived at train stations in London in slow motion plus a difference layer in After FX. It looked quite nice for the first 5 minutes, after that, not so much. Sonically there was increasing layers of squoonsch – desperate really, as if squoonsch was the special sauce of Sound Art. That lost my interest.
What I learned: drones are the coward’s tool. Spurn drones.
Afterwards three people asked if I was the one snoring loudly. Not me, that was the squoonsch. I told my masters that for sustainabilty we should continue to work towards music. They gave me a dog biscuit.