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6 March 2009

Two very different takes on The NIS

Two very different takes on The NIS

Described as 'a true multimedia experience' and 'a sonic performance', The NIS is a unique collaborative show by the Amplified Elephants (an ensemble for sound artists with and without disability), the BOLT Chamber Orchestra and James Hullick. The name of the show is a word made up by one of the participants - it has no meaning. According to the performers, the show itself is about 'exploring those experiences in life that can't be explained'. Nevertheless, we asked two people to try to explain what The NIS is all about - and got two very different answers.

Merryon Ryall on The NIS

Collaborations are always a learning experience, although how and what you learn is often unexpected. A major benefit of working with other artists is what you take away from the experience to use in your own practice, which often ends up being of more or equal importance to what you’ve created as a group.

The NIS brings together a diverse selection of sound artists, classical musicians and animators, as well as a robotics engineer, to create an evocative and inspiring sound experience. NIS Director James Hullick has combined two unique groups of musicians, The Amplified Elephants and the BOLT Ensemble, to produce a fusion of found object created sounds and classical instrumentation.

Through the process of creating The NIS, both groups have influenced and furthered the skills and knowledge of the other. The Amplified Elephants — an ensemble of sound artists with and without a disability—have further developed their confidence in their music and in their timing and improvisation skills; there is a noticeable difference when comparing their work in rehearsals for this show to earlier performances.

The classical musicians of the BOLT Ensemble have in turn learnt to appreciate the simplicity and clarity of sound created by the Amplified Elephants and brought that back to their own work and performance.

The show’s essence is summed up by its title. NIS is a word made up by Catherine Sutherland, one of the sound artists from the Amplified Elephants. It has no specific meaning and as such sums up the core of the show which is about exploring those experiences in life that can't be explained. Sharing their different expressions of these experiences, the artists have produced a unique show and a mesmerising sound.

The NIS is a great example of what collaboration can achieve and the ongoing benefit to all involved when a group of artists with such different experiences of life and their artform work together in a supportive environment.

Martin MacKerras on The NIS

Now I 've been playing contemporary music for ages, but this has to be the most amazing and bizarre show I've ever been involved with. It's the brainchild of James Hullick who has been writing music, refining his vision and craft for years. I think he's really done it with this show, bringing together his own ensemble BOLT (with some really great players, including Peter Neville, Adam Simmons, Anita Hustas, harpist Mary Doumany, just to name a few), The Amplified Elephants (who are people with intellectual disability James has worked with for many years), these incredible robots that trigger sounds and are played by the Amplified Elephants, animation on a large screen, as well as a really nice light show.

Just an example of what you can expect: the musicians wear bowler hats and wigs. That's just twisted! The music is at times sparse, there's a scene with just these beautiful long chords, an occasional long tone on the clarinet, marbles spinning around bowls, electronic bows being drawn across violin strings, mallets and other implements hitting a large piano frame, all of these being played by the Amplified Elephants. One of the girls kind of crawling around the floor and staring up at the ceiling, then doing a dance - it takes you somewhere very subconscious, as if inside her mind.

Another scene: Catherine from the Amplified Elephants is continually hitting a punching bag with a stick, triggering really strange noise samples. She's being attacked by these monsters wearing masks, she fights them off, then kind of balances the stick on her hand - she's so intense about what she's doing. Meanwhile the BOLT ensemble are playing really full-on multiphonics and strange textures, Anita Hustas and Peter Neville play amazing solos, it's Apocalyptic! And yet quite euphoric. What more can I say - come and see it!

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Martin MacKerras is a composer and one of the musicians of The NIS. After graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and QE2 scholarship to study clarinet and composition at the Manhattan School of Music. His compositions The Waves for solo piano and As all the Heavens were a Bell for 10-piece ensemble and recitation have been recorded and released on a double compact disc under the direction and produced by the composer.


Merryon Ryall is a friend of the Footscray Community Arts Centre as well as a writer and book reviewer who has worked with Opera Queensland and the Art Gallery of Queensland before moving to Melbourne this year. 



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When are they coming to Sydney?

They sound amazing!