Broken Efforts

Re:port on Small Black Box #27


Small Black Box #27 Sunday 31 August 2003, 7-10PM 
Institute of Modern Art, Screening Room 
Brisbane Australia 

Phuquelica - Brisbane 
Bek Anson (laptop) 
Trav Henderson (electric drum kit) 
Drew Carter (electric guitar, pod and laptop) 

Rene Wooller - Brisbane
(LEMu software, laptop, synth keyboard) 

Toy Satellite “D3, From Drift to Dérive” - Melbourne
Andrew Garton (laptop) 
Justina Curtis (violin with effects) 


Phuquelica -- Comprised of current QUT music students Bek Anson, Trav Henderson and Drew Carter, this was a set of four largely improvised pieces. Lots of electronic and some acoustic gear spread out between the three performers, not all of which was used in each piece. Each work was centred on a different loop, the last being the comic quote “Bek, I think this is breaking copyright” set to electric drumming. 

… amusing samples, ill-timed and warped loops, ear piercing squeals and general disorganisation …
… industrial, metal-inspired audio absurdity …
… from gibberish to dark growling distortion …

Rene Wooller -- Another QUT student, Wooller is currently completing his Masters, focusing on the development of LEMu, a generative and transformative algorithmic-based software instrument that aims to make electronic music more spontaneous, jammable and performable. LEMu sat on a laptop, generating and transforming techno-style material, while Wooller sat beside on a Synth, tweaking program patches. For a very brief time, Wooller added melodic material with a homemade electric bow. A video by Cerea Mitchell was projected throughout, showing various rhythmic and spasmodic images of insects and other snippets from animal documentary-style footage. Wooller presented two pieces, simply because LEMu froze up halfway through the set, and he had to reboot the program. 

… drum’n’bass with Asiatic overtones …
… casio keyboard meets fruity loops meets ambient glitch …

Toy Satellite -- A slightly corporate-style montage video showing (advertising?) aspects of “D3”, a previous audio-visual work commissioned by Andrew Garton and produced by Toy Satellite for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). Sound was broadcast from the video projector, which was added to by live improvised laptop droning from Garton and violin trickles from Curtis. Unless you closed your eyes to listen, the focus seemed mostly on the video imagery. “D3” drew inspiration from the use of Global Positioning System tools in tandem with image gathering and the works of Situationist writer, Guy Debord, in particular his 'Theory of the Dérive'." 

…hmmmm, nice sonic pads…
…an audio-visual journey that transported us to another time and place…
…goes to prove the old saying: stop, dérive, survive…


A common thread between the three sets seemed to be desire and attempt to transfer effort away from the live performance - a celebration of ‘easy art’ or ‘arsing it’, depending on whether you attribute this notion with a positive or negative value: 

- improvising blind or ‘arsing it’ as they state (Phuquelica) 
- letting the software do the work (Wooller) 
- presenting a video of a previous work, and adding drones (Toy Satellite) 

Making things easy on the night? Of course the effort or complexity is usually found somewhere else. Edward de Bono has shown that making one part of a system simple usually creates complexity in another part. 

So I don’t want to suggest that I think any of the performers are lazy or that there was little effort to get to the point of performance. Toy Satellite obviously spent many, many hours working on the video of the previous work, let alone many, many more hours on the work itself. Wooller spends many days and late nights coding complex algorithms. And for Phuquelica, there’s effort in just lugging all that gear to the venue, and perhaps for younger performers like themselves, emotional effort in summoning the courage for a debut public performance. 

The display of effort is a value that we often attach to art-making and entertainment. Wow, that must have taken ages to do! Wow, that must have been so hard to achieve! Wow, you must have spent years achieving those skills! Pleasure and aesthetic delight often is not only registered in the sensory experience of the moment, but in the knowledge of what might have gone on behind the scenes to bring us the experience. 

Some styles of music and other arts have emerged, in part, out of a desire to actively display effort and mastery of skills -think of weight-lifting, the bodily control of ballet (ouch my toes hurt!), circus acts like plate twirling, think of cock rock guitar solos, classical piano concertos, insane jazz drum solos. 

On the other hand, some examples of easy art or low-effort performance include Duchamp’s ready-mades, Cage’s silent pieces, Fluxus performances La Monte Young’s landmark minimalist work, certain Conceptual Art works… 

Now, what about the underground experimental music and noise scenes? 

There seems - at least for some artists - an embrace of a type of anti-virtuosity, low-effort performance practice and low-cost technologies. No need for five years in an elite educational institution, nor high-end professional technology, nor a physical skill level that take years to hone. The entry barriers into noise and experimental music is relatively low compared to other musics such as classical, jazz and pop. Old gear that’s lying around. Software you can download and use on a cheap PC. Noise created by non-dextrous means. 

Easy art or low-effort performance doesn’t necessarily lead to generic and less interesting results, but in these three sets I think it did. The night wasn’t one of SBB’s highlights, and all sets seemed like a work in progress: 

- improvisation/collaboration in progress (Phuquelica) 
- software coding/performance practice in progress (Wooller) 
- a previous work with its reworking in progress (Toy Satellite) 

Where one goes, and how far one travels, upon entering the field of noise and experimental music, is of course up to each artist. Some produce work that is highly virtuosic, others thrive on the easy option.