The simple fact is there isnt any good experimental music coming out of NZ. By experimental I expressly mean music that is pushing the boundaries in new directions, cliche as that sounds. And I am also thinking of audio that interacts with new digital media technologies and improvisation, electro-acoustic, computer oriented and live. The reason the area is not a happening thing in NZ is due to a migration out, in any direction possible, to Sydney, Melbourne, New York, or some where in Europe. NZ experimental audio does way better overseas than at home. The number of individuals who figure in various electronic experimental scenes attests to that. Of course there is some audio being produced in NZ but in the big picture NZ is hardly considered, especially given it position in the 80s and early to mid 90s. In fact NZ has taken over from Australia as having a kinda daggy scene, at best.
A quick scan of the international experimental audio scene sees many figures with connections to NZ. Minit (Torben Tilly (ex-NZ, Syd), Jasmine Guffond (Syd)); the Sigma Editions label (Dion Workman (ex-NZ, currently NY), Rosy Parlane (ex-NZ, currently London)), releases Minit and David Haines (Syd, wishes he was a NZer, works with Michael Morley (still in Dunedin)); and Alice (two thirds ex-NZ). There are also audio related projects such as laudible (Syd - mr. snow (ex-NZ), caleb.k (ex-NZ), Zina Kaye (ex-Britian)), Radioqualia (Amsterdam - Honor Harger (ex-NZ), Adam Hyde (ex-NZ)).
Alice is a good case in point, they are producing some of the most interesting audio coming out of Sydney. Radio Alice has been around for years, late at night, broadcast on 2SER. They came out of the radio studio for Soundparticle (early in 2000). This gig was problematic as even though the trio had been producing the show together for a long time, they almost never produced it at the same time. Instead each week was a solo adventure into the extremes of extended duration audio. Another outing at Imperial Slacks gallery saw the group having similar dynamic problems. Again there seemed to be a conflict in approach. How does a performance in front of an audience differ from a broadcast? What is the difference between playing to an invisible transistor audience and a visible crowd sitting in front of you, watching. How does Alice differ from Radio Alice? The outcome with this performance, as with the previous one, was that Alice pulled out far too many tricks making for a fidgety and uneven performance. The long duration work of the radio show, often one idea played out for an hour and a half, was compressed into a few minutes. Just where were they going to draw the line of entertainment verses conceptual rigour? Consequently Alice reconfigured with different goals and approach to Radio Alice.
Alice is made up of three artists all of whom studied at the Sydney College of the Arts and all with a fine arts practice of their own. Vicky Browne, who left NZ in 1997, has been showing work with an interest in sound and sculpture. Her rickety installations deal with repetition, stasis, and disintegration. Brent Grayburn, who left NZ way back in 1985, works with video and has recently had short films shown in Germany, Melbourne, and Sydney. Scott Horscroft (a real live Sydney-sider) produces multi-channel sound installations with an ear to the effects of wind sounds.
A recent performance in Campbell Street, above the Chinese BBQ butcher, was held amongst the usual array of computers, tangled looking cables and mixing desks. Horscroft and Browne are running the sound, Grayburn now deals with the video. Browne has taken to using a computer. She used one recently at impermanent.audio (3 June 2001), combining her usual tape machines and cassette desks with a desktop. This time, however, she has moved to solely using the desktop, playing the digitised audio from her analogue tape bank. We still hear the sounds of her hissing tapes and partially wiped reel-reels, but the new set-up gives her much more freedom, in that she can work within the sounds themselves as well as using any at anytime from anywhere in the loop. This is simply not possible with the linear playback of the tape. It might be possible that the type of stasis she achieved with the tape could be lost in this new freedom but this does not seem to be the case. There is also some more melodic audio creeping into her output and this sutures nicely into the direction Horscroft is heading.
The last two times Horscroft has played solo he has incorporated 4-5 guitarists who play a single note for the duration of the piece. The electric guitars are plugged into Horscrofts set-up and the sounds are heavily effected and incorporated into his larger audio framework. The guitar sounds emerge as a glimmer of what we might expect from such a number of instruments. Maybe the use of the guitars has directed Horscroft towards a more tune-full approach as composed pieces are beginning to emerge.
In an article entitled Inframedia Audio (Artlink, Sept 2001) Mitchell Whitelaw points out that this type of work is grounded in the actualities of media from which it is created and also in the live presentation of the work. These performances are, especially in the case of Alice, live structured improvisations and as such the work is best experienced in a live environment were the horizontal audio can best be taken in. These performances do not follow song structure and tend to be played out as a single pieces often with only a few concepts that are then followed through, at length. The two work together to form a slow burning, bass heavy performance.
Finally, there is an issue with visuals when combined with such work. The problem with visuals being used with such intensely aural work is that they tend to detract from the sound. The sound easily becoming the soundtrack for the images on the screen. Also there has in the past been a mentality of simply having visuals because you can. Pointless images are played by VJs and do little more than point to the audio producers lack of a sense of their own work. Alice are in the process of dealing with these issues and are managing to pull it off.
Grayburn projected a video of a silhouetted figure stalking around an empty car park. The horror Professor next to me suggests in my ear that the carpark is the horror mise-en-scene of the 21st century. The image, without any real prompting, produces the eerie effect of malice. We expect that something is going on, that the dark figure is up to no good. The problem of narrative is solved by having the images looped, but not simply a linear loop. Instead it stutters and skips, each loop slightly different. Here we have repetition but with slight changes in every round. The visuals, in this way, mirror the use of repetition heard in the audio.
As Alice moves towards a performance practice which incorporates a fine artists mentality mixed with an understanding of current production in the contemporary digital underground, we begin to hear and see future possibilities for live multimedia, for want of a better word, performance.
Alice will be in New Zealand April/May 2002.
Alice - < http://www.aliceaudio.net/ >
impermanent.audio - < http://laudible.net/impaud/ >
laudible.net - < http://laudible.net >
caleb.k escaped Dunedin (1994) then Auckland (1998). He currently lives in Sydney where is is writing a doctoral thesis on cracked and broken media in 20th century experimental audio. He produces/curates impermanent.audio, laudible, and the radio show audio.daze.