Melbourne boasts an enviable experimental music scene, thanks in part to the long running improv night the Make It Up Club at Bar Open, but also due to highly motivated artists regularly performing in pubs, clubs, galleries, backyards, parks you name it. There’ a real DIY feel to what’s happening at the moment with artists taking it upon themselves to get their music out there. Clinton Green, a label owner (Shame File Music) and practitioner himself, also runs Experimental Melbourne, a blog that lists upcoming events. It’s from this vantage point that he and musician and fellow label owner Greg Wadley (Spill Label) decided to do something a little different.
More Talk, Less Action is their attempt to promote a discourse, an opening to discuss the theories and concepts behind the music, to open up a dialogue to critique and perhaps at times challenge the conceptions behind music. Over the next five months they’ve curated a series of panel discussions and performances from some of the luminaries of the Melbourne scene, even tying in with the forthcoming Liquid Architecture sound art festival.
With discussions on noise music, sound art’s relationship with science, live performance, and the sonic city, they’ve roped in an intriguing mix of academics and practitioners to both perform and provide their perspectives, including instrument builder Rod Cooper, kooky art ensemble Hi-God People, Japanese vocalist and composer Haco, as well as cutting edge performance artist Stelarc.
How would you characterise the state of sound art music/ experimental music in Melbourne at the moment?
Burgeoning. I moderate a blog that includes posts of experimental and sound art shows/events in Melbourne (http://exp-melb.blogspot.com), and over the next month or so there is something on just about everyday; sometimes several events in a day. Yet quantity does not always equal quality – there is a lot of great stuff happening in Melbourne, but we have our fair share of mediocrity as well. I’m hoping one of the things More Talk, Less Action can contribute is to provoke both performers and audiences to think more about their music.
What attracts you personally to the music? In terms of both making it, and listening to it.
I got bored with “normal’ music a long time ago. I still see rock bands occasionally, but am dead bored by the third song. I know what’s coming next – it’s so predictable! I want to be surprised, challenged and provoked by music. Pioneering avant-garde composer, Edgard Varese, declared that he refused to submit to music he had heard before; that’s something I can relate to as well.
Why do you want more talk? Aren’ you meant to shut up when people are performing their art?
I’ve grown tired of this divide between the artist on the stage and the audience-as-consumer. Historically, music is a social activity; something you do with people, not for an audience necessarily. Isn’ music essentially a dialogue, a means of communication? I want to open up the channels of discourse between musician and audience, beyond the clichÃ©s of onstage banter and heckling.
What prompted you to set this up? Was it something personal, something you wanted to know?
The idea really came about as the kind of event that I would personally like to go to. I felt a real thirst for some discussion about the ideas behind the music I am interested in. In some ways, I feel like this discussion is being avoided. My co-curator, Greg Wadley, is also really keen to explore new formats and situations for live music, beyond the standard scenarios (from the pub to the concert hall).
Do you feel there’ a misconception or misunderstanding about experimental music?
Definitely; and on a couple of levels, too. From a broader, mainstream audience viewpoint, I think many people interpret “experimental’ as meaning “the performer doesn’ know what s/he’ doing’. And within the scene itself, I think there are many contradictory interpretations of what experimental and related labels (like noise, sound art, drone, ambient) actually mean. Again, I think this is through lack of discussion that has resulted in no mediation of these ideas.
What can be gained by talking about sonic approaches and theoretical principles? Don’ you lose the “magic’ of the performance by unpacking it?
That’s always a possibility, but I think the balance has gone just too far in favour of the “action’ as opposed to the talk. We are not advocating “all talk, no action’, just a bit of discussion, a bit of dialogue. I also think that ideas and concepts are an inherent part of experimental music, and that to have some understanding of these ideas gives a deeper appreciation of the music itself.
How did you go about selecting the topics of discussion and the people involved, did you give people a brief or let them come up with whatever they want within the confines of the topic?
Greg and I initially came up with about a dozen potential topics that we thought would be interesting to talk about in relation to experimental and cutting edge music, along with some people we’d like to see talk about them. We eventually whittled this down to four, according to which topics seemed most interesting along with speaker/artist availability. Two other topics have been added with moderators other than ourselves (Liquid Architecture curator Philip Samartzis, and West Space’ Kelly Fliedner), which brings other voices into the discussion (so it’s not just mine and Greg’ opinions all the time). For the first event on Thursday, I’ve given speakers some basic idea of what I would like to discuss so they won’ be taken completely unawares, but beyond that the discussions will be very open and free flowing. We’ll be looking for audience input as well.
What are you most excited about in the line up?
Generally, I’m looking forward to finding out just what all these people (the panellists we’ve selected), whom I all admire, actually think about these things. Specifically, I think I’m most looking forward to hearing Stelarc’ thoughts and seeing him perform (don’ forget, it’s not all talk!). Stelarc is someone I’ve admired for a long time, and although he works mostly outside sound art, his sound-related work is quite significant.
The first panel is about noise. You’ve come out and provocatively said that noise is the folk music of the 21st century. You’re going to have to expand upon this for me.
I’ve said this because I see aspects of folk as a movement in the noise scene; it breaks down economic barriers and questions of ownership by often being traded with other noise musicians, or even being given away for free. It breaks down the barrier between artists and audiences, in that anyone can make noise. It is a challenge to power structures in the music industry because noise, by its very definition, is unwanted, valueless. Radicals these days aren’ picking up acoustic guitars, they are picking up effects pedals, laptops, or making a racket with bits of scrap metal and contact mics. And yet, noise music is becoming a musical genre in itself, and thus subject to these power structures. These are just some of the ideas I want to talk about.
What kind of outcomes are you looking for?
I would like both audiences and artists to leave these events with perhaps some new perspectives on music and sound. Experimental music is inevitably about listening to things differently; perhaps we can think a little differently, too.
More Talk Less Action is a series of panel discussions held at Westspace Gallery during the 2nd half of 2013. Each night revolves around a theme and features two short performances. People interested in music are invited to take part. All events held at Westspace, Level 1, 225 Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Thursday 22 August 2013 (7:30pm) – $10 entry (Book online)
Why Noise?: the aesthetics of noise and “wrong’ sound.
Featuring: John Nixon and The Donkey’ Tail, Mark Groves, and Linda Kouvaras.
Moderated by Clinton Green.
Saturday 31 August 2013 (1pm) – free entry (Book online)
The Sonic City: activating the city through incursion.
(co-presented with Liquid Architecture)
Featuring: Haco, Darrin Verhagen, and Camilla Hannan.
Moderated by Philip Samartzis.
Thursday 19 September 2013 (7:30pm) – $10 entry (Book online)
Laptops, Costumes, Pedals and Projections: issues for live performance of experimental, drone and noise music.
Featuring: Michael Pulsford, Paul Kidney, Julian Williams, Hi-God People.
Moderated by Greg Wadley
Thursday 3 October 2013 (7:30pm) – $10 entry (Book online)
Junk Music: redundant technology and detourned devices as instruments.
Featuring: Ernie Althoff, Joanne Cannon, Rod Cooper, Bent Leather Band.
Moderated by Clinton Green.
Wednesday 23 October 2013, (7:30pm) – $10 entry (Book online)
Our Ears are now in Excellent Condition: sound in the gallery and online.
Featuring: Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, Helen Grogan and Rosalind Hall.
Moderated by Rowan McNaught and Kelly Fliedner.
Thursday 5 December 2013 (7:30pm) – $10 entry (Book online)
Tone Scientists: sound art and cutting-edge science
Featuring: Stelarc, Warren Burt, and Paul Doornbusch.
Moderated by Greg Wadley.