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Liquid Architecture 4
L'Oeil ecoute (The Eye Hears)
1970; dir. Bernard Parmegiani



LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 4: OVERVIEW
by Simon Sellars

Liquid Architecture 4 featured the work of 30 Australian and international artists, including French musique concrete/acousmatic pioneer, Bernard Parmegiani, and San Francisco noise merchants, Scott Arford and Randy HY Yau. Another highlight was the soundtrack/video extravaganza, 360 Degrees: Women in Sound.

Parmegiani's presence was a real coup, bringing into sharp focus the rich heritage of sonic art, but could the festival deliver on its claim that we would "hear the world through a different set of ears"?


This article originally appeared in RealTime no.56. Thanks to Open City for permission to reproduce it here.
Liquid Architecture 4RMIT University's underground car park hosted performances from Randy HY Yau and Scott Arford, along with Australian sound artists Philip Samartzis, Laurence English and Bruce Mowson. The night began with a set by Machina aux RockPhilip Brophy on drums and Nat Bates on electronics – a loose, percussive attack reminiscent of Krautrock legends Ash Ra Tempel. Amusingly, a couple began to dance at the back of the car park, only to be stung into submission by the segue into Yau's solo performance.

Yau played the "MegaMouth", a battery powered children's toy "rewired for maximum overdriven output". In this altered state, the toy becomes a potent conduit for scorching feedback, transforming simple vibrations and movement into fierce electronic overdrive, a banshee wail apparently erupting from Yau himself. His performance was intensely physical as he caressed the MegaMouth against speakers, against his mouth, against the concrete floor. With each twist and turn of the device, a different, dissonant timbre emerged, seemingly catching Yau by surprise, jerking his body into spastic contortions; if a man could willingly subject himself to high-powered electrocution, it would look and sound like this. But even so, Yau's effort was surprisingly musical, with some melodious moments among the throbbing squall.

During all performances, the car park's sonic signature came into its own as frequencies bounced crazily off the rear walls – punters up the back could be seen turning their heads around, as if unseen speakers were propelling startling, unearthly tones in and out of the mix.

Liquid Architecture 4Bernard Parmegiani's vast, elegant body of work was presented in various forms over the festival weekend. First up was a wide-ranging discussion, including an overview of his acousmatic ("listening without seeing") theories and his work with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1960s. When asked about his earliest sonic influences, Parmegiani needed clarification: did his interrogator mean after birth, or before, he wondered? Listening to his mother's body in the womb, he wanted to make clear, was his earliest sonic influence.

On Sunday afternoon, there was to be a selection of seven GRM (Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales) film shorts scored by Parmegiani, curated by Jim Knox and presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. (The GRM, a movement dedicated to the study and development of electro acoustic music, was led by Schaeffer.) But most of the prints were damaged or were unable to be secured in time, and only three were ultimately screened.

The pick was "L'Ecran Transparent (The Transparent Screen)", a bizarre 19-minute work from 1973, directed and scored by Parmegiani. With a set design resembling 70s sci-fi films like THX 1138, it featured an earnest, bearded intellectual dressed in black and offering McLuhanesque theories on the "electronic human, who lives faster because he is forced to see and hear everything at once". Then, as the film dispensed with the increasingly shell-shocked narrator, it spiralled into an extended synaesthetic exploration, with flaring video effects and heavily warped sound design amplifying the film's central tenet: "The eye can see what the ear cannot regard. At the point where the senses meet, there is a kind of no-sense".

On Sunday night, Parmegiani presided over a "Multispeaker Diffusion" presentation at RMIT Storey Hall. Playing his impeccably prerecorded works from CD, Parmegiani flung his soundscapes all about the hall, using mixers and a battery of strategically placed speakers. Sounds "ticked" and "scrunched", some "flipped", some "scribbled" and some "cracked"; all edged in and out of consciousness. Realistically, there's no adequate vocabulary to describe how Parmegiani psychologically sculpts the sonic qualities of everyday objects – never has a rolling ping pong ball sounded so terrifying. The performance capped off a memorable weekend, and Parmegiani was deservedly rewarded with a standing ovation.

360 Degrees: Women in Sound was a series of installations created by women sound artists, held at first site and Westspace galleries and curated by Arnya Tehira and Sianna Lee. According to Tehira, 360 degrees's gender focus was necessary to highlight "that in a male-dominated environment, women are highly under-represented in sound art".

Ros Bandt's "Silo Stories" was the pick, with recorded snatches of conversation echoing around and inside windy rural wheat silos. As an "audible mapping of a changing culture", "Silo Stories" offered an evocative reminder of a diminishing lifestyle; stylishly presented, the installation was accompanied by barrels of overflowing wheat and mysterious photographs of silos adorning the gallery walls.

Another standout was Thembi Soddell's "Intimacy", utilising surround-sound speakers in a curtained-off space. For the gallery-goer sitting on the low stool within the pitch-dark enclosure, the effect of Soddell's layered, peak-and-trough waves of sound was absolutely cathartic. Other installations featured minimal visuals and "computer chip" music, and there were enigmatic, immersive quadraphonic presentations using found sounds and ritualised street textures.

And so it went that, as I emerged from the first site gallery, the sounds of the street became enhanced, super-real: creaking doors took on an extra dimension, as did the flushing of a public toilet, the snippets of conversation stolen from passersby and the groan of a tram as it rounded a corner. All seemed slaves to a system of weird harmony, conformation of some uncanny, grand design; I wandered the city centre for a good two hours, listening to my no-longer familiar world with a "new set of ears" – as Liquid Architecture had promised I would.

And that, surely, is the measure of the festival's success.

– © Simon Sellars 2003
LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 5: FESTIVAL OF SOUND ARTS, July 13 25, 2004
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