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Monthly Archives: April 2017

A5s

‘This experimental music event challenges the composers, performers and audience in equal measure. Canberrans Emma Kelly, Paul Heslin, Chloe Hobbs and Ben Drury have been commissioned to create new short works. BUT! the compositions must fit on an A5 piece of paper. WHAT’S MORE! They’ll be performed by a group of untrained volunteer vocalists who will only see their scores a few minutes before performing.

By ‘basking in their limitations’, the composers will no doubt serve up bizarre, wonderful, and refreshing new works. Their ideas and creative processes will be illuminated via a quick-fire Q&A.’

This was the program copy for Reuben Ingall’s You Are Here festival work, at which I got to be one of untrained volunteer vocalists. The results were chaotic, super-fun, and often sublimely lovely. A5S 6

This is of course just the latest in the never-ending string of creative projects by the beautiful Reuben Ingall, who’s insane breadth of excellent artworks was recently broken down here. Also special shout-outs to my fellow choir-members who, when pressed upon to come up with a name for our group, settled on the most obvious misreading of the event title. I’ll never forget my time as a member of Bunch Of Ass.A5 5A5S 8

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BFCB 2

NICK: Running a full-scale gallery installation clearly wasn’t enough for us to be doing at a one-day festival, so Art Not Apart also featured the spiritual sequel to The Babyfreeze VIP Fan Cruise Of Lake Burley Griffin. The Babyfreeze VIP Fan Club Champagne Breakfast took place from 2pm-3pm (Rock Star Breakfast Time) in a tiny room at the National Film and Sound Archive. Champagne-like beverages were served to the crowd by Erin, who had joined the band as Bartender mere moments before the set started (SHOUT OUTS TO ERIN) and unsettling amounts of Impractical Dance Floor Food was passed around the writhing crowd. I ate as much barbecue chicken and pickles as I could while still actually singing the songs, much to the horror of all assembled. Handsome Luke’s plot-twist transition to Hollywood Handsome Luke (after having several of his songs optioned as film ideas) caused the set to devolve into a (super-dance-able) relationship crisis that as usual was solved in the nick of time by an emotion-drenched 6-minute-plus rendition of Defenceless (Loved Each Other). Trendoid delighted the crowd by finally tucking into his breakfast pinata. The audience as usual made the entire event by partying like mad under the most ridiculous conditions we’ve asked from them yet. This kind of positive reinforcement can lead to nothing good.

SANDF 1

8 hours later I was lip-synching to Heart’s How Do I Get You Alone in full drag as part of my recurring role as part of the Sound And Fury Ensemble. The Art Not Apart edition of S&F was themed around the word ‘heart’, producer Cheneoh Miller couldn’t have known just how much I love that song when she assigned it to me. Doing lip-sync drag felt like and odd and frankly problematic challenge to be taking up on a bill that also included some top-flight Actual Drag Queens as well as some of Australia’s best queer performance artists, but for better or worse the crowd response to my little bit was super-warm.

Much meatier for me was an hour later when I got to actually sing Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box backed by violin and guitar. I’ve always considered it to be a modern torch song and so doing it in drag felt really right (though I took the wig off for it to indulgently live out my Hedwig-at-the-end-of-the-movie-fantasy. Yes I am an amoral perfomance-art fuckhole). It was genuinely a big challenge to live up to what I thought could be done with such a great, iconic song, the threat of campy vapidness loomed every second. The actual performance felt like a high-wire act, an athletic/artistic challenge that I loved every second of. You’d have to find someone who was there to find out whether I actually pulled it off or not.

 

PROM MF 11

The joy of Canberra Fringe is that it’s an underfunded, shambling zombie echo of what, even in it’s heyday, was an underthought, slackly-curated private party for Canberra’s sketchier creative scenes. It’s been sustained years past its’ natural death by the efforts of top-notch local producers who have gotten too adept at creating miraculously good mini-festivals on insultingly low budgets. PROM is a Good Indie Pop Band that has spent years pressing on with pub gigs, recordings, stage musicals and weird performance art parties despite line-up changes, inconsistent levels of focus from the ostensible ‘band leader’ (me) and the ever-nagging awareness that we are no-one’s favorite band.

I love PROM and I love Canberra Fringe. Both are sensibly doomed in the long term. One playing inside the other seemed timely and appropriate. Really it seemed poetic but I’m not going to say that.

We played really fucking well, and tested out some narrative and persona stuff for what will be our next big PROM show. We’ll have to do it soon before Chris moves to Scotland. These are the kind of stakes that I appreciate, more and more. Photos by Adam Thomas.

Install 5

The great thing about launching 12 narrative-linked music videos is that there’s no Actual Way to do that. So for instance, setting up a gallery installation where each video sits within it’s own ‘set’ incorporating materials and visual themes from the making of said videos- well that can’t be less wrong than any other way of doing it.

Often once I have to explain something to an audience, that’s when I realise what the thing actually is. So it goes with This Band Will Self-Destruct, which it eventuates is An Album That Is A Room That You Can Walk Around In. Duh.

Install 1

ThInstall 7Install 8

(The installation was basically lit 100% by the video screens so these room-lights-on photos by Imogen can only do the best they can to communicate what the audience was seeing)

The idea for staging the work this way came of some great advice I got from my long-time band-mate/mentor Julia Johnson, who pointed out that a gallery-style engagement with the videos might give an audience license to take their time and engage with the videos as the One Big Piece that they actually are.

I pitched the idea to Art Not Apart, the annual one-day festival that has steadily grown out the strange mists of the developer-funded-arts-and-culture experiment that is New Acton. In a huge piece of fluke-y luck it turned out that they were using the National Film and Sound Archive as their main venue for the festival, and within seconds my ambitions for the work had quadrupled. The totally rad selection of vintage screens and TVs in the NFSA collection allowed for 12 individual AV set-ups with their own aesthetic pop, and as we looked at the available selections we were blown away by how many natural resonances between the videos and the gear presented themselves.

By ‘we’ I mean installation producer Nick McCorriston and TBWSD Designer Supreme Imogen Keen. The over-the-top tech demands and space design reqs, not to mention the absurdly tight time frame, were almost 100% outside my skill set. I was so so lucky that NickMc was free and keen to put it all together, his extensive experience at You Are Here festival (among many other things) has made him an elite-level creator of weird tech-heavy shows on limited resources. Of course it was amazing to have Imogen carry her fabulously coherent and rigorous design parameters from the videos on through into the final exhibition space, she really made it sing as if all was planned from the start. My favorite parts of what she did were the totally whimsical touches like having one video presented in a portable back-pack and having a display case set up with costumes from the shoot.

We took care to try and have each video presented in a way that resonated with their form and content. For instance, you had to watch Lightbulbs inside an isolation booth that made your surrounds as claustrophobic as the band was in the vid. The soap-y teen-pop aesthetic of Doomed was ramped up by having it playing on a kids’ laptop covered in stickers. The late-night-public-access-am-I-really-seeing-this of Anywhere was shown on a tiny CCTV screen that you had to kneel down and peer at.

 

One of the vintage TVs could only play black-and-white, so Luke did up a black-and-white version of Save My Brain, the video that had been working least well in the edit. Turned out it was meant to be a black-and-white vid all along. So much of this project has been defined by these happy accidents, or maybe they’re just the natural emergent outcomes of collaboration.

We had dozens of people through on the day and it was a real thrill to see them work slowly around the room, taking headphones on and off. The fact that this version worked so well on such short notice makes me very optimistic for what version we might do now with a bit of lead time. It’ll be hard if not impossible to find screens as cool as this version had though.