Last year I was involved in sound design for PLATFORM 2017, a set of performances curated by Tess de Quincey and Linda Luke that played out in sequence through multiple areas of Articulate Project Space, Sydney on July 15 and 16. This marked my second year of involvement with PLATFORM, as I previously contributed sound to the 2016 iteration (which was performed in the more conventional black box theatre space of the KXT bAKEHOUSE in King’s Cross).
Organised and produced by De Quincey Co, PLATFORM is like a group show of performance art works, except that the discrete performances by the artists are then linked and shaped by Tess into a single seamless program in which each separate work overlaps and passes proceedings over to the next. This approach means that ideas can be tested out at PLATFORM and developed without the significantly greater time investment and pressure that would be involved in staging them as longer solo shows.
It’s a development opportunity and tool, a ‘platform’ for experimentation – except that, crucially, it goes all the way through the entire performance process, from workshopping to drafting, to sound discussion and collaboration, to lighting and space/set choices, to fitting into the overarching structure/running order of the programmed linked works, to informal showing, to final public showing with an audience. And then from that point, an individual artist may leave with all kinds of ideas regarding where to take things next, changes to implement to the work, or, in some cases, ideas for the expansion of that work into something longer. They’re the kind of calls that can only be made after performing the work in front of an audience – even without direct verbal or written feedback you will get so much from your gut in that situation, I think, as any kind of artist. By crafting the individual works into an overall structure, Tess creates the ideal combo: full developmental guidance for artists to the logical and tangible performance endpoint, as well as a finished product in the form of a show that is its own entity, and one that (from feedback) seems to engage audiences very well. Everything is completely polished, it’s just that each independent component is short.
Linda Luke – Sediment of the Inland Sea –
still from video documentation by Vsevolod Vlaskine 2017
As far as the artists involved, in general PLATFORM features performers with some sort of relationship (either direct practice or a general creative sympathy) to BodyWeather. Possibly the best way to explain how De Quincey Co and BodyWeather interface – and to highlight what the general principles of BodyWeather are – is to just pull directly from the PLATFORM 2017 program, which notes:
De Quincey Co is a performance company based in Sydney with a strong focus on interdisciplinary exchange – collaboration is intrinsic to the company process. The dance work is based in BodyWeather, a contemporary dance training founded in Japan that melds ancient and modern thought and practice from both East and West.
Articulating the climate of our bodies and minds, BodyWeather proposes a ‘weather of being’ to negotiate change and to explore the world. Rather than forwarding the conception of an ideal, symmetrical body, instead a broken, manipulated body is suggested as a site of reality and beauty with its scars of lived experience.
I have been involved with sound design for 4 projects with relationships to BodyWeather practice – the PLATFORMs of 2016 and 17, ‘Wallflowers’ by Victoria Hunt (which grew out of select works in PLATFORM 2016), and ‘Lacuna’ by Verity Mackey. In addition I’ve seen other De Quincey Co projects wherever possible, including ‘MOONDANCE – Isotopic Reflections,’ ‘METADATA’ and ‘THE GREAT ATTRACTOR No. 1,’ in order to observe BodyWeather-informed and -related work as much as possible, and to take in what other sound artists and composers have done to score this kind of work.
Having had those experiences, I’ve slowly developed an approach to scoring this type of performance using live electronic sound. For PLATFORM in particular, the sound can play a significant role in stitching together all the different performances – even in the simplest sense of being an element of the performance that keeps going when someone exits or becomes otherwise neutral as a performer, working as a fundamental sensory cue that tells the audience that things are not yet over. For PLATFORM 2016 I was joined by musicians Laurence Williams, Shota Matsumura and Terumi Narushima, and we weaved in and out in different combinations to create variety in the sound and to (hopefully) sustain things as the connective threads between each work. With the venue change in 2017, it was not really possible to include that many musicians, or to include anyone with too much of an equipment footprint (since there would be so much moving around of the audience through the narrow space). So for 2017 I was joined by one other musician in Marcus Whale, and Marcus deployed a small amp for remarkably flexible and varied feedback creation, which contrasted well with the smoothed-out sound design from my laptop.
The reason that sound for this sort of performance must be done live is that the work durations are variable and there is much improvisation and spontaneity in these sort of movements – I need to be there dynamically moving the sound along with the flow of that particular performance. This is in contrast to the tightly and specifically choreographed work of Patric Kuo (e.g. ‘Paint en Pointe’ series) which featured pre-produced pieces of music that were played back as files during the shows. This meant that the ‘Paint en Pointe’ pieces were ready to go as discrete recordings on a compilation and I was able to share the sounds with people who had not watched the shows… Despite finding some lovely sounds in my travels with the various BodyWeather-related works, I doubt I will ever release the sound from any of these projects on its own. It’s a live, living thing in those moments and I think quite indivisible from the performances.
So then, live Reason synths via midi keyboard and (in some cases) electronic drum sequencing via mouse, going from laptop to mixer to speakers – how does this shake out as a collaboration rather than just me showing up and playing? The process begins with a document that compiles the current briefs regarding each performance idea – its working title, its thematic concerns and its rough structure broken down into durational increments (e.g. something like: ‘3 minutes – curled up, stirring then rising’). To participate in PLATFORM, artists need to be able to express and document these ideas for Tess in this way early on – that is, to plan and outline the performance in reasonable written detail – even if they will later completely change them. This is invaluable to me as it gives me a start on the sound identities of the hypothetical sections and I can begin to play around with different synths, textures and ambient sources at home. I create 1-3 minute sketches for each work and then share these with each artist and go from there. To be clear, these aren’t scores – they’re just captured recordings indicating what it will be like.
From there, the specificity of feedback is something that varies from artist to artist. Generally speaking, I find that if the general emotional tone of the selected sounds/virtual instruments is correct, then the artist will place a lot of trust in my own judgement regarding the pace and structure and I can quite freely improvise within the parameters of those sounds. However, in some cases it’s much more specific, with detailed moments and changes that need to be hit at certain times. In other cases, there may be total freedom in the structure, yet fundamental textural concerns that the artist may have – goals regarding environmental conjuring and sound design deeply linked to the themes or images of the work, and in these cases it can be a dialogue where I make an example, get feedback, make another example, and that eventually drills down to certain moods or characteristics (wetness, insects, vastness, pipes, coldness etc.). In some cases the document first outlining the work will already have detailed descriptors pushing towards these sound identities and that’s very helpful as far as getting started on the sketches.
Alan Schacher – An Uneasy Piece With Eggs
photo by Vsevolod Vlaskine 2017
As with any improvisatory context, you’ve also got to know when not to play. Alan Schacher’s work (the aftermath of which is pictured above) was one where additional sound did not seem appropriate, with the splattering of eggs on his head, and subsequent drips down his suit, being perfect, complete, subtle sound sources in themselves. Some artists in PLATFORM are working more on the performance art end of practice while others are closer to a dance discipline. There are certain durational performance choices and objectives that any external sound would only serve to artificially lengthen in a distracting way, rather than interact with and enhance. Alan’s work was already underway as audience members made their way into the space, and continued unabated even as the audience then moved on and was guided from point to point. Later, the audience returned to Alan and watched him again for a period – now quite coated in yolk – and this was punctuated with the sound from Marcus and I stopping. Part of the signal to the audience that things were moving along again from this return viewing of Alan was when we returned to creating sound, pushing into the moods of ‘The Grey People’ by Kelly, Richard and Luke.
To summarise the running order and what sound was going on when, and to kind of indicate how different performances were segmented and returned (and how Marcus and I wove in and out of each other’s sound):
- Alan Schacher – AN UNEASY PIECE WITH EGGS Part 1 – No sound
- Luke Standish – BEAR-MAN Part 1 – Eugene, hissing steam textures
- Christie Woodhouse – SKY UNDER WHICH WE LIVE – Eugene, clicking and percussion builds with Vako Orchestron (virtualised via Reason) organ drones/melodies
- Luke Standish – BEAR-MAN Part 2 – Eugene, strips back down to hissing textures
- WeiZen Ho – STORIES FROM THE BODY #5 – Marcus, subtle wisps of high feedback
- Lux Eterna – VOLUMIN – Eugene, 3 distinct generative drone moods in sequence
- Tess de Quincey – OBJECT FLOWS – Eugene and Marcus together – 2 distinct generative drones with intensified MW feedback in the second part
- Alan Schacher – AN UNEASY PIECE WITH EGGS Part 2 – No sound
- Kelly Nguyen, Richard Stevens & Luke Standish – THE GREY PEOPLE Eugene, drones, live mixed field recordings, rising scratching percussion sequence when Luke joins
- Linda Luke – SEDIMENT OF THE INLAND SEA – Eugene, shares/overlaps with drones of The Grey People but then moves out of the way to be very backgrounded during rock pushing
- Lian Loke – YOU STILL GOT THE KNACK – No sound
- Lynne Santos – DISSOLUTION – Marcus, responsively paced, slowly rising deep, bass-heavy, obliterative feedback drone
And that was more or less our plan, the ‘score’ for proceedings, plus a bit more detail regarding durations for each part. So much however just needs to be judged live and gesturally communicated and received, from performers to us (unconsciously), and from myself to Marcus and back – a bit more consciously in that musician-musician interaction but still non-verbal.
still from video documentation by Vsevolod Vlaskine 2017
Above you can see me in position under the stairs (Marcus Whale not pictured; artist Paul Walker, who assisted with logistical running of PLATFORM 2017, is crouched setting something up). The pair of large loudspeakers (courtesy Buzz Speaker Hire) in front of the desk and Marcus’ feedback amp were our only means of pumping sound into the entire space, however, due to the atrium-style design of Articulate, it traveled up to the second level of the space quite well. We did test this unusual setup throughout rehearsals, prepared to go and get more speakers if necessary, or to possibly set Marcus up upstairs, but it ultimately worked out, providing a centralised and anchored sound source at what was also physically the main nexus of audience shuttling.
Kelly Nguyen, Richard Stevens & Luke Standish – The Grey People
photo by Vsevolod Vlaskine 2017
Jill Sykes gave PLATFORM 2017 quite a positive review in the Sydney Morning Herald entertainment section. For me one of the most important aspects of the review was the observation that the show saw ‘the audience skilfully guided over three levels from one end of the gallery to the other,’ which was an aspect that could easily have impeded the effectiveness of each work had it not been so skilfully plotted by Tess.
De Quincey Co
Performers: Tess de Quincey, Lux Eterna, Weizen Ho, Lian Loke, Linda Luke, Kelly Nguyen, Lynne Santos, Alan Schacher, Luke Standish, Richard Stevens, Christie Woodhouse
Visuals: Samuel James, Clytie Smith, Vsevolod Vlaskine
Sound: Eugene Ward, Marcus Whale
Articulate Project Space 15 & 16 July