The NOW now 2014 – Group Show launch (Festival Review)

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If 2013 told us anything about experimental music, it is that it is getting more and more difficult to pin modalities and ‘completed’ product down, according to fashion, region or technology. If 2013 saw the rise of text as a movement that is simultaneously a step closer and further away from the sound, it also saw a reinventing of performance, and an inclusion of the body as a reference point for the journey sound takes from its source. The method by which sound is heard, gathered and stored is having an enormous impact on all music, not just sonic experimentation, as organisations like Spotify work to create cheaper access to music, but also as DL’s take over the distribution paths so that anyone in the world can receive any music in the world at exactly the point they want to listen. The fields of making and listening are only getting larger, so much so that the term ‘niche’ seems to be a place we abandoned in the first decade of the new century. It is in this cloud, propelled by the steam of discovery, that the NOW now seek to hold a festival, a dialogue of sound related busy-ness fed and pumped by a future feeding off its most recent past.

The NOW now opened this year with an exhibition launch that included a festival zine with articles from several sources, primarily those included in the exhibition. According to the zine introduction, the entire festival celebrates the thriving of  sound, art and community in the Sydney region, and that includes (of course) the many and varied influences from all over the world. To quote the final paragraph of the introduction:

“We hope that this festival will continue to be a celebration of sound, art and community. It is our intent that it will interrogate and question the nature of this art that we are involved in, that it will continue to provoke discourse and discussion amongst artists, audiences and critics alike and that it will continue to present a multiplicity of artistic narratives. What you will see and hear are works created from the sound of our worlds and the implications that those worlds hold: politically, materially, socially and historically. Simultaneously, you will see and hear the modeling of imagined worlds, the reconfiguration of society through sound and art, the creation of possibilities.”

Images and sculptures on display at the exhibition include works from artists such as Sally Ann McIntyre, Jon Hunter, Sarah Hughes, Patrick Farmer, Emily Morandini, Andrew Brooks, Kynan Tan, Sam Pettigrew and Kusum Normoyle. Each work demonstrates a relationship to sound and or to the act of hearing as distinct from the act of hearing.

The exhibition begins at the top of the stairs with a table of left over objects related to collecting and distributing sound, small tape reels, punctured papers and the like, all labeled. They sit below two sets of headphones that play a continuous loop of static, radio “dead air”  – or at least that was how it sounded to me in a room filled with talking people. My journey then took me to a small crushed model house that emitted static electric sound, that allowed me to get close enough to let the sound grow larger than the sound around me. Through a door, I was presented with broad sheets of penciled scrawl along a wall, in a line , provocative and seeming to have captured energy itself. The opposing wall revealed six framed landscape photographs with pillars and or clouds of words included, organised and yet collapsing on each other as if spoken into the landscape, changing the field into which the words fall. In this room was also the set up of Marc Baron’s performance still to come in the evening.

Through the next door, I missed one sculpture, being crowds of people gathered, but I saw a make-shift room sculpture on the floor, a small space to climb into and experience sound and its associated visuals through small screens on either side of the ‘walls’ and to the left of this, a small collection of hand-crafted mini cities, built into what the artist called “brain matter”. Through anther curtained door, stood a hanging structure of milk on a perpetual drip into a working speaker, the music running through pressing the liquid up into liquid sculptures, which led to a room filled with wires, speakers all over the floor, filling the room with sound. Back through the corridor, small tapestries of scores and circuitry hung in tiny round frames, leading me through to the end of my visit.

The narrative gestures of the art works seemed to reference mostly my relationship to sound and to my willingness to live in an unconscious relationship to sound. Even the parts of my day that use sound as a tool (speech, familiar message-laden noise etc) the pathways I forge as I use sound are also forming me, preventing me from missing sounds I unconsciously block out, but even more than that, removing an aspect of myself and my awareness that I relegate, not to a subconscious but more to a political refusal to let sound be anything other than what I decided it needs to be. The sound of (for example) the fire of my gas cooker tells me only that the gas is on, the flame is hot, and to treat flame with caution. I have almost no relationship to the sound except to use it as a symbol of other signs, and yet I am making a sound, a series of sounds, just as surely as I boil water, and those sounds don’t really mean anything and are an experience of their own.

The NOW now group show is on at the SNO gallery,  Lv 1/175 Marickville Rd, Marickville. The gallery is open 12 – 5 PM and the show will be there until January 12.

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