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3 December 2009

Carte Blanche - Ros Bandt and Brigid Burke

Melbourne // VIC // 22.11.2009

Ros Bandt Image: Ros Bandt  

In Sunday's short concert, Ros Bandt and Brigid Burke explored the relationship between the visual and the aural in performance art, with intriguing results. Often it is the music that suffers, taking a subservient or complementary role to the more easily assimilated visual aspects of the work, but this was not necessarily the case at this event. Broadly, these composer/performers make the film an integral aspect part of the compositional process. The visual imagery is organised along quasi-musical lines with regard to structure and dynamics, and is made part of the performance itself through live manipulation of the imagery. Music generates images in the same way that the pictures affect the sounds themselves.

The first work, Arc for Percy favoured the more traditional relationship of music to film. Against a backdrop of Melbourne's Princes Bridge, Burke improvised on the bass clarinet using strings of trills and multiphonics, which Bandt complemented with breathy glissandi on a variety of tin whistles. These flurries of activity were echoed in the beetling pedestrians and sweeping birds that energised the film, which presented a single-shot view and a washed-out black-and-white palette.

In From the Train, the interactive process became more complex. The film was a stills collage of railway signage and infrastructure as seen from various Melbourne train routes. In this work, which also featured pre-recorded sound, Burke manipulated both the soundtrack and the film itself live, to create a dynamic structure in which both the music and the film were able to change tempo as the train journey developed. Unfortunately, curious local planning regulations did not allow the performers to amplify their instruments, though they were permitted a modest PA for their pre-recorded sound. This made balance tenuous, and though Burke worked hard to monitor levels throughout, there were passages where the acoustic instruments were overwhelmed by their electronic counterparts. Bandt's tarhu, a hybrid bowed string instrument with sympathetically resonating strings and a bewitchingly nasal tone, suffered from this imbalance.

Acoustic balance problems also affected the following work, Stargazer Remix, in which Bandt played a musical sculpture made from four music boxes suspended over a resonator. Burke accompanied this with electronically treated samples of the same instrument, but the heavy effects overshadowed the delicacy of the live boxes, at times drowning them out completely. The accompanying visual was a film of Bandt playing these boxes, shot from above. There was a tantalising disconnect between the three elements, all reflections of the same process - live music boxes, manipulated recording of music boxes, and silent movie of music boxes.

Live performance was entirely absent from the next offering. Pressing the Space combined Burke's imagery of scribbled figures and stark abstract forms with an expressionistic soundtrack, heavy on found percussion. In From a Dead Car, Bandt followed on from her previous piece, in that this work also featured a film that parallelled the live aspect of the performance. A mobile of 'installed dead car parts' (Bandt's words) was played with mallets and piano keys to generate a coarsely resonant industrial soundscape, not quite in sync with a film of the same event.

The concluding work Confetti 2007-9 joined up all aspects of the performance, in that it featured live video of the performance itself. As a film of brightly coloured confetti moving in a breeze was projected, the performers interacted with woodwind key noise, the stop-start movements of the paper generating rhythmic density. Halfway through, Bandt crossed the boundary between film and performance, and played with steel bowls of confetti onstage, whilst a live video camera projected her movements onto the screen behind.

The most fascinating aspect of this performance was not the music itself, but rather how it interacted and combined with the visual parts to create interesting performance art. These composers are not making big statements, and there is a feeling that they are 'playing' their instruments (especially Bandt) in an almost childlike, exploratory manner. As a duo, Burke seems to be doing the lion's share of the technological work, mixing the sound playback and also manipulating the film, as well as playing the bass clarinet. Bandt has the more dramatic stage presence, and seems to provide more of the performer focus. I would like to have heard more of the tarhu - I suspect the musical language apparent in these works limited Bandt's expressiveness.

Event Details

Carte Blanche - sound art films from 2009 + performance
Ros Bandt - tarhu, slide whistle, music box sculpture, installed dead car parts, flute keys, soundscape recordings, photography and collaborative films.
Brigit Burke - bass clarinet, sudiomulch, photographic stills, films, original drawings, video cameras and live electronics.
22 November 2009, Dante's upstairs gallery, Fitzroy, VIC

Further links

Ros Bandt - AMC profile
Brigid Burke - AMC profile
Ros Bandt - homepage
Brigid Burke - homepage
Carte Blanche - event details in the AMC Calendar

Subjects discussed by this article:

Mark Viggiani is a Melbourne-based composer. His recent works include pieces for the Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, The Song Company and Speak Percussion. In 1997 Move Records released The Rainmaker, a CD of original compositions, to international critical acclaim. In 2009 Viggiani was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award towards a PhD in composition, following studies with Stuart Greenbaum and Elliott Gyger at Melbourne University.


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