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Liquid Effects: looking back at Liquid Architecture in 2004

Review of Liquid Achitecture 5, Festival of sound Arts held in July 2004
Published at www.artshub.com.au in mid 2005 (no longer available at this site)



With Liquid Architecture (LA6) almost upon us, I’m going to relive moments from last year’s festival, in short, a ‘solid’ experience with ‘liquid’ effects…

My perspective is 'from the inside' -- I was involved in a gig with COMPOST; I penned a catalogue essay and artist interviews; and I was part of the audience for all the gigs and installations in both Melbourne and Brisbane.)

Expansion and Exhaustion...

Listening to such high quality and diverse contemporary music-making squashed into a fortnight was really exhausting. Around three to four acts per night. This festival is into expansive programming, ranging from experimental hip hop to electronica to new classical to free jazz to industrial noise to invented instruments and ambient installation - and sometimes this might happen all in one night. Physically exhausting because of the late nights, coffees, beers and long chats after the gigs, and mentally exhausting because of the intense listening that most acts sucked out of me, whether I planned for it or not.

This might seem like it was a little excessive. Well it was. But in a really rewarding way. A bit like taking a good long jog - by the end you might have a pain in your side, but the endorphins kick in and there is this good feeling deep inside. This is the after-effect I experienced after the festival. Like many artists and sports people describe after an intense period of being 'in the flow', the world seemed clearer, more alive, more distinct than before. This is a subtle thing that is difficult to describe fully. It was like feeling full (if listening is like eating) or fertilized (if listening is like being a plant). or simply feeling content and more connected (if listening is like being in love). More on the ball (if listening is like playing soccer)

Connection and Contrast...

Feeling connected in a big country like Australia is vital for artists and culture workers. Often the life of a sound artist is solitary, in my case using audio programs on my PC, or surfing the net for samples, or working in the lounge with pencil and score. Attending LA5 helped me feel connected to a wide cross-section of sound practitioners that goes way beyond separate musical scenes and the online eLists and eCommunities that I am a part of. 

Seeing and being part of the intense feeling and passion that other practitioners displayed in performance and in person was a kick of enthusiasm: Anthony Pateras head-banging his piano, German Michael Vorfeld convulsing over his percussion set up, and Frenchman Pierre Bastien lovingly tinker with his mechanical music-toys.

Being exposed to such a wide range of sonic approaches also confirmed the direction I should take in my current practice. I saw what was being done well, and what gaps there were in this breadth of contemporary practice that were still waiting to be explored. In particular, the approach to chunks of time and silence that I was toying with at the time appeared became a clear pathway for me.

Shadows and memories...

The shadow of the 1960s, the experimentalism and activity of the minimalists and conceptualists in New York, lingered over the solo violin performance of Tony Conrad, who in the 1960s pioneered drone music with La Monte Young. Until Conrad's visit, this milestone in music history was just words in books for me, the occasional score and poor recordings (La Monte Young has tied up most of the access to original tapes). Then Conrad turns up, pulls a flimsy curtain across the stage, back lights himself with a fog light, turns on a fan, and plays drone violin with his shadow, five times his size, looming, hovering in the ambience. Spooky and kooky. In a way, it was a let down, didn't sound as good I imagined on paper. But this helped me hop out of the Oedipal shadows of the past and realise that, contrary to the conservative musical commentators of today, it hasn't all been done before.

Nighty-nights and Nightmares...

And then the finale in Melbourne... at the planetarium in Spotswood. A trip out from the usual inner-city venues. Six artists each playing ambient works whilst a packed house laid back in seats, watching the projected night sky on the dome ceiling. I fell asleep on and off throughout the two hours. But certainly not through Darren Verhagen's set. 'Dark noise' is what it's sometimes called. This was the first time I was terrified by sounds. So loud without distorting, which is a very highly skilled feat of audio mastering. Gut wrenching. And I was terrified that the noise would stop. Would the planetarium staff turn down or turn off the sound (which has happened at other noise gigs I have been to)? But they were loving it. And were adding their knowledge of the planetarium sound system into the mix. Which speaks volumes (literally) for the type of partnerships that the festival has set about developing, cross-industry, cross-city, cross-cultural.

And one year on...

An exhausting but inspiring experience. And it's all on again in the next few weeks. This time spreading its wings to five centres on the east coast - Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns. Around one hundred artists performing and installing. Must get some sleep in preparation...