Article categories: Issue 68[ES] Embracing Sound
June 5th, 2009

ANAT member Sumugan shares his experience at sounds unusual 07 after successfully receiving an ANAT Professional Development Travel Grant. Sounds Unusual 2007 – a Northern Territory Festival of New Music1 – was an ambitious, unique and exciting project that took place in Alice Springs and Darwin in September 2007. Coordinated by the ever-enthusiastic Robert Curgenven,2 it drew upon the resourcefulness of outback communities and the DIY ethos of artist-run scenes in the cities. The festival collected and connected artists via a program of performances, events, workshops, field trips and coincidences, which eventually resolved as the collaborative installation, Intervenience (Island Crossing), at the Darwin Visual Arts Association.

SurrealEstate_TanjaKimme-2007.bBefore venturing to Darwin from Alice, I performed at the festival with Melbourne-based acoustic ecologist and landscape architect, Anthony Magen, and leading sound and visual artist Robin Fox, who championed the Alice Springs leg. In Darwin these ‘champions’ were joined by Jason Khan, a musician from Zurich, who brought an international sheen to the proceedings.

The first Alice Springs event, Surreal Estate, was an outdoor concert of new and improvised music held at Undoolya Creek, a dried-out creek bed seven kilometers out of town. True to its name, the setting up of this gig was undoubtedly one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had. While others left to get supplies, I found myself in the company of Robin Fox and Anthony Magen, both fresh off the plane. Surrounded by luggage and stacks of plastic chairs, we waited out the midday sun, vying for the limited shade and with only a cold bottle of Korean rice wine as relief against the heat. Over the course of the afternoon, seating was arranged, generators and a four-way PA assembled, and fire pits dug – transforming the location into a makeshift amphitheatre. Sure enough, as the sun set into a perfect evening, a hundred or so people gathered for an unpredictable night.

The night kicked off with Anthony Magen using a wooden chair with microphones and J9 Stanton with a singing saw, while Andrew Nichols played an improvised set of sizzling electronics and sonorous timbres on violin that gradually climaxed as Anthony stripped his chair, surrendering it piece by piece to the fire pit separating stage from audience. Robert Curgenven and I played the second set, furthering our collaboration, exploring resonances and landscapes using guitar and field recordings. However, the good Dr Fox was always going to be the highlight of the evening, best known as he is for his synaesthetic performances with laptop and laser beam. Aiming his laser just above the heads of the audience, he captured the beams in the smoke from the fire pits, briefly filling out into abstract 3D forms in mid air, before shooting off as far as the eye could see down the creek bed and into the overhanging gums. Robin single handedly introduced the uncontrollable urge to whoop and cheer into the forum of experimental music in Australia, a feat very well received to say the least!

On the Tuesday evening some of us set off on a short field trip into the desert to gather material for a performance at the Alice Springs Story Wall. After a couple of days wandering around sand dunes, abandoned settlements, strange land formations and the Ghan railway tracks, we returned in time for Anthony Magen’s Sunset Soundwalk. A sound walk is a listening exercise popularised by acoustic ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp, in which the walking trail becomes the score. A small group departed from the Artist Run Initiative Watch this Space, through the commercial centre of town, eventually colliding with the clamor and chaos of the Alice Springs Desert Festival street parade. We darted across the dried-out Todd River to settle in for sunset atop a rocky outcrop inhabited by kangaroos, overlooking the suburban streets and the back of town. Over the next few days there were more Sound Walks, improvised music workshops and performances, as well as the Story Wall extravaganza in Alice Springs’ Todd Mall.

Despite the relatively hectic pace up until then, the trip from Alice to Darwin proved to be the most intense part of the project. A combination of heat and unforeseeable problems invariably lead to some on-road tensions. However, having time to reflect across some serious kilometers, some unforgettable locations, and lively campfire conversations left a deep and lingering impression. From Alice Springs to Tennant Creek, and on towards Cape Crawford, the landscape changed dramatically from desert to savannah, marked with burnt-back bush; wide, flat, arid plains and ludicrously misplaced cows. It eventually gave way to the humidity and lush tropics just north of Katherine and into Darwin. Sadly, while the others set up camp in the Darwin Visual Art’s Association to pull together the final installation, I had to depart.

All too short, but its safe to say that Sounds Unusual 2007 was an amazing opportunity to meet with many local artists, arts workers and other members of the community. A chance to make new work, experiment in an open and collaborative forum and strengthening bonds and plan future projects.

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One Response to “[ES] Sounds Unusual 2007”

  1. [...] Read more about Sumugan’s experience in his Filter Article [...]