Making Waves

Review of Liquid Architecture 6, 1-23 July 2005
Published at www.artfairsinternational.com in 2005 (now no longer available at this site)
Revised 2009

Now in its sixth year, Liquid Architecture showcases the experimental edges of contemporary sound-making wherever it can be found, through concert series, dance events, installations, screenings, artist talks and forums, and compact disc releases. The festival is one important part of a very vibrant landscape of contemporary sound, and as festival director Nat Bates has said, "artists aren’t making work to exist for the festival – the festival exists because so many artists are making such great work."

What makes Liquid Architecture stand out from other festivals in Australia that feature contemporary sound is its scope. Not content to privilege one style or form of sound-making above another, festival director Nat Bates deliberately sets out to bring a whole range of 'scenes' together, artists and audiences alike. The festival features contemporary currents and cross-currents in electronica, noise, free jazz, new classical, techno, dance and punk, at times intersecting with film and visual arts. This makes for a curatorial task with a high degree of difficulty - the danger is to spread too thin, to attempt too much, to mystify rather than (a)muse audiences - but it is a task that Nat Bates and his guest programmers largely accomplish.

A case in point is the dance party held at the 'Public Office' bar in Melbourne on the second night of the festival, programmed by presenter and promoter of the Australian dance scene Alan Bamford. The all-night event began with hard-core noise acts like Lucas Abela's sonic glass smashing routine and ended up with main stream dance DJ-ing from Ben Hederson and Damian Laird. Like any good DJ knows, its all about the flow of energy across the night and Bamford was successful here as each act in the line-up progressively headed towards standard dance aesthetics, without patronizing either the experimental or main stream members of the shoulder-to-shoulder audience.

After beginning as a one-off project by students from the Media Arts course at RMIT University in Melbourne in 2000, Liquid Architecture soon grew to an annual affair that has increased in number of artists, venues and cities each year. This festival is still largely operated out of RMIT, through the arts office of the student union (Bates working closely with festival producer Sue Jones), but Bates links up with local presenters and promoters which ensures the diversity of the programming and the ability to keep in touch with underground experimentation. This year the festival traveled along the east coast of Australia, covering Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns, which is roughly the distance from London to Istanbul, and featured over 100 artists.

The festival has always had the ethos of highlighting the best of local work by younger artists (in their 20s and 30s) in context with special guests from overseas and selected 'elders' of the Australian scene.

This year the festival featured more international guests than in previous years. Thomas Brinkmann and TBA (Natalie Beridze) from the German hard-core dance culture; DJ Olive from New York, who gave us 'ill-bient music'; Jean Luc Guionnet and Eric La Casa from France; the three-piece 16mm film 'band' Wet Gate from San Francisco; and highly acclaimed jazz drum and junk noise percussionistWill Guthrie, an ex-pat Australian now based in Paris.

Amongst the internationals, highlights included: TBA (Natalie Berdze)'s set at the dance party was a quirky and thunderous mix of new classical piano and industrial beats that sounded rather fresh to my ears in its ambivalence to both genre-mashing and dance aesthetics;Thomas Brinkmann's 'click set' at the Melbourne dance party was too short but his longer Brisbane set was an amazing minimalist glitchy techo set centred around deliberately-scratched rhythmic vinyl groves; DJ Olive's set in Melbourne was a beautiful sinuous weaving together of cut-up turntable samples - performing in socks that help him glide across the stage, his virtuosic turntable technique is a sight to behold; Jean-Luc Guionnet and Eric La Casa's surround-sound work 'Back Slap', based on field recordings of a hockey game, was a sublime example of how the art of field recordings can go beyond generic stick-a-mic-here-and-press-record.

This year's elder-states-people of Australian sound where Alan Lamb, a sound artist who worked with field recordings of long-wires whose work is enjoying a recent rediscovery, and Essendon Airport, the cult minimalist instrumental band of the 1970s-80s that have recently come back together to launch a series of re-releases of their recordings.

Alan Lamb's multi-channel work based on the recordings of long-wire (think outback telegraph poles and communications towers) was another magical field-recording work, a 30-min set that became a thunderous wall of noise. Other local highlights included works that explored new forms of audio-visual interface and feedback: Robin Fox's work for noise feeding directly into an oscilloscope, Botborg(Scott Sinclair and Jo Musgrove) who produce an organic double-feedback loop when sound is feed into a video mixer as video, and the video projection is feed into a laptop as sound, resulting in a chaotic matrix of sight and sound, and Dale Nason and Kim Bounds who likewise feed sound into video channels as part of their audio-visual act.

Another highlight of the festival was the subscriber-only CD that was specially produced for the major UK-based magazine The Wire. The CD contained work from artists associated with the festival since its inception, and it is significant that it is the first time that The Wire has featured an Australian sound arts organization in this way, recognition that Liquid Architecture is well on the way to becoming a major contemporary sound festival in the international circuit.